20/03/2007 - 22:00

Taking the heat out of the kitchen

20/03/2007 - 22:00


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David Coomer has some exciting changes in store for diners at his popular Star Anise restaurant in Shenton Park.

Taking the heat out of the kitchen

David Coomer has some exciting changes in store for diners at his popular Star Anise restaurant in Shenton Park.

The first is the introduction of some dishes using a method of slow, low temperature cooking.

Mr Coomer says the technique has been around for a long time and involves vacuum packing a cut of meat with ingredients such as olive oil and herbs. The plastic-covered meat is then placed in water, heated, and slowly cooked.

It’s hard not to think of it as boiling meat in a plastic bag, which was what Mr Coomer first thought when he was told about it.

But, he assures Gusto, it’s nothing of the sort.

“Browning something on the grill brings with it associations of sealing in the juices and creating those caramalisation flavours, but they are really false terms because when you seal something it still loses juices,” Mr Coomer says.

The most important reaction in cooking is the Maillard reaction, he says, which takes place between carbohydrates and proteins when heat is applied to food, causing the change in colour, flavour and nutrition.

The reaction was discovered by French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard in the 1910s.

Mr Coomer says he read about the science of cooking a while ago in a book by Harold McGee called On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Since then, he says, he’s always wanted to give low temperature cooking a go.

It’s a technique embraced by Michelin star chef Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck in Bray, England, and Alain Fabregues at The Loose Box.

In order to do it, Mr Coomer has bought a Roner Thermostat, a device that monitors the exact temperature of the cooking water.

Mr Coomer has spent several months experimenting in the kitchen and will start including dishes using the method in the coming months, the first being a lamb shoulder dish.

The shoulder is cooked at 63 degrees for 24 hours.

“The beauty of it is that it is hot enough to convert the collagen, which is tough and chewy, into gelatine, which gives it that rich moistness,” Mr Coomer says.

“But it’s not hot enough to turn the myoglobin grey. The meat becomes a beautiful rosy colour with really rich flavours. You can’t do that with a beef fillet because there’s not enough collagen there.”

After cooking it at low heat for 24 hours, the Star Anise team cuts the meat from the bone and sears it on one side.

Helping Mr Coomer in the kitchen at Star Anise is Matt Stone, who will be elevated to the sous chef position in May.

Mr Stone will take over from Kim Copping, who is headed to Europe.

Like Mr Coomer, Mr Stone has been experimenting in the kitchen, but with pastry. One success has been putting chocolate mousse in a can usually used for whipped cream.

“It comes out so light and fluffy with a real velvety texture,” Mr Stone says. “It just melts in your mouth.”

Mr Stone fell into cooking after organising his work experience for high school at the last minute.

“The only thing left to do was in a kitchen,” Mr Stone says. “I did it and I really loved it.”

That kitchen experience was at Café Forte in Margaret River.

He started his apprenticeship there before moving to the kitchen of Leeuwin Estate.

It was his experience at Leeuwin that helped Mr Stone get a job at Star Anise, where he has worked for the past two years.

He set his sights on a move to Perth, and says his head chef at Leeuwin, Scott Spicer, put in a good word for him with his mate, Mr Coomer.

Mr Stone is understandably chuffed to take on a bigger role in the restaurant.


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