Cait Mitchelhill creates a healthy
dish for her fellow Australian, Test
Match cricket star Shane Warne. It's
a tough job, as his idea of a balanced
diet is a cheese roll in each hand
"Shane Warne looks as if he could lose a few pounds, says Cait Mitchelhill. "So I've created the light kind of dish he ought to be eating all the time."
Cait is head chef at London's Oxo Tower Brasserie and, with no fewer than five Australians in her kitchen, is keeping an anxious eye on the Test team's summer battle for the Ashes. "Shane is a big man, but if he's taking wickets he can do no wrong. If he's not, then you wonder, shouldn't he try to get fitter?"
But aren't cricketers (indeed all sportsmen) subject to strict nutritional guidelines these days? "Yes, but haven't you heard of Foster's?" asks Cait. What's that, some kind of nutritional drink? Too right it is, 250 calories a pint. And it's not been unknown for an Aussie cricketer to partake of the odd chilled tinnie.
Non-cricketers may not know that Shane Warne is the King of Spin, and perhaps the greatest leg-spin bowler of all time. That the Australians are unofficial world cricket champions is in no small way due to the havoc that this boyish and burly blond is so often able to wreak.
Shane Warne's face is the most recognisable in cricket, he being one of the first to perform in war paint. He daubs the end of his nose and his lower lip with white Zinc salve, a natural precaution for a blond in an Antipodean summer, but he wears it in the UK, even when the sun stays behind the clouds. His visage is a mask in the traditions of Greek drama. The god has appeared almost mortal at times in the last year, following an operation to his spinning finger. But in other respects the slow bowler doesn't suffer the wear and tear of fast bowlers who pound in from the sightscreen to hurl down their thunderbolts.
In fact, Shane Warne doesn't expend an awful lot of energy at all. He doesn't even run up to the wicket. He actually WALKS the first seven paces, before skipping three steps in order to generate the windmill of his right arm. It's all in the wrist and fingers, the artful flight and spin deluding the batsman, sometimes fizzing off the pitch into the pads (howzat!) or rearing up like a snake to nick the bat or the glove (howzat!).
Cait Mitchelhill says she doesn't know much about cricket, but don't believe it. She's like the French person who says they don't know anything about food. But eating too has become a subject close to the Aussie heart, and all in a very short time-span. Ten years ago Cait got in at the beginning of the Australian restaurant revolution and has ascended rapidly. Three years ago she made her mark at the Fifth Floor Cafe of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, and last year she took over at the eighth floor Brasserie of the Oxo Tower, also owned by Harvey Nichols.
She comes from a country town outside Sydney, and shocked her father, a real estate agent, and her mother, a midwife, when she announced her intention to become a cook. She rejected the idea of entering catering college, instead starting at the bottom working in the new wave Sydney kitchens run by the pioneering Anders Ousback.
It was a good decision. Australia has long suffered a sense of inferiority about cooking and their catering colleges teach irrelevant and outdated European techniques. According to Cait, "They show you dozens of fussy ways of cooking sole and flatfish, but there are very few such fish in Australian waters. They don't teach you about the wonderful fish which we do have - barramundi, coral trout, Maori wrasse."
Cait believes the biggest change to Australian food has been its Asianisation. This is due entirely to a huge influx of manual workers in the last 10 years. There had always been ethnic contributions - notably from Italian, Greek and Chinese immigrants - but the new wave embraces the Middle East and Asia. "People came from Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, and often worked as kitchen porters. It wasn't long before they were cooking the staff meals." Soon their tastes and techniques found favour on the restaurant menus.
The multi-cultural mix has been greeted as the New Australian cooking, says Cait, with many young chefs rushing into print with their versions of it. One such book is Fusions by the Australian chef Martin Webb. Webb, who was the first chef at Sir Terence Conran's Mayfair restaurant Quaglino's, has written his book with Richard Whittington. Fusions is published in the UK this month by Ebury Press, priced pounds 19.99.
The country's new cuisine, explains Cait, has an emphasis on grilling meats (every Australian knows how to use the barbie) and the steaming of fish, with plenty of fresh vegetables and salads. Australia, so long dependent on eating a day-in day-out menu of beef and lamb (not to mention its meat pies and mushy peas - their equivalent of our fish and chips), now exploits both the ocean riches and tropical fruits of Queensland and a range of spices and herbs that previously went unnoticed, such as lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and basil, along with limes, chillies, soy sauce, and fermented Vietnamese and Thai fish sauces, such as nuoc mam.
A glance at Cait's colourful Brasserie menu gives you the idea of this multi-cultural inspiration. Starters include Par-mesan crusted sardines with chick-pea, red onion and feta salad (Mediterranean) and steamed mussels with coconut, chilli and tamarind sauce (Asian). Or smoked salmon with wasabi (Japanese horseradish), pickled cucumber and lattice chips (east- west). Or a mixture of all cultures: such as seared tuna with black beans and asparagus with a sweetcorn salsa. Or a confit of duck leg with a salad of radicchio, mizuna (a decorative Japanese salad leaf) and rocket, with cabernet sauvignon vinaigrette. In the same spirit, then, here is Cait's dish dedicated to Shane Warne, an irresistible ceviche of seasoned monkfish, sole and scallops with a mango and pawpaw salad.
It would be nice to report Shane Warne's utter delight at having a healthy dish dedicated to him, but he was on Test Match duty and not available to respond. However, Tim de Lisle, editor of the cricket magazine Wisden monthly, suggests he might not be overly impressed. According to the Australian wicket-keeper Ian Healey, Shane's idea of a balanced diet is "a cheese roll in each hand".
MARINATED MONKFISH, LEMON SOLE AND SCALLOP SALAD
500g/1lb 2oz monkfish fillets
4 lemon sole fillets
8 Queen scallops in the 12 shell marinated in Nam Jim
For the Nam Jim:
500ml/16fl oz lime juice
2 tablespoons palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 clove garlic
2 coriander roots
2 small chillies
2 small purple shallots
12 stalk of lemon grass
For the Nan Jim, roughly pound the coriander root, the clove of garlic, chillies, shallots and lemon grass in a mortar and pestle. Dissolve the palm sugar in the lime juice and add the fish sauce. Infuse all the ingredients together and leave for half an hour. (The liquid should be hot, sweet and salty.)
Thinly slice the monkfish and lemon sole and lay on a flat tray. Shuck the scallops, clean well and also remove the roe. Pour the Nam Jim over the seafood and leave to marinate (roughly half to one hour).
GREEN MANGO SALAD
1 green mango (ripe)
1 small green pawpaw
1 bunch spring onions
1/2 bunch coriander, stalks removed
1/2 bunch mint
1/2 bunch chervil or flat-leaf parsley
For the garnish:
2 cloves garlic (thinly sliced)
4 small Thai purple shallots (thinly sliced)
50g/11/2oz peanuts (raw)
500ml/16fl oz vegetable or peanut oil for frying
Pick and wash the herbs. Peel the mango, remove from the stone and cut into julienne strips. Peel the pawpaw, remove seeds and, again, cut into julienne strips. Chop the spring onions into two-inch-lengths and place pieces into iced water until they begin to curl. Toss all the above ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.
To make the garnish, place oil in a heavy based pan or wok. Place thinly sliced garlic in the cold oil and cook the garlic until golden brown. Strain and place on absorbent paper. Using the same oil, fry the shallots also until golden brown, and drain on absorbent paper. Fry the peanuts in the same oil until golden brown, and drain. Toss together and sprinkle with salt.
Toss the paw paw, mango and other salad ingredients together using the strained marinade from the recipe above to dress. Place the fish and scallops on top and garnish with crisp garlic, shallots and peanuts.Reuse content