Cleaning out my wardrobe the other day, I have uncovered a bag of my Malaysian costumes which I have brought with me when I first came to Australia. Looking at my floral modernised cheong sum and intricately embroidered pink baju kebaya, the memories of buntings made out of national flags, fashion parades of cultural costumes, lines of stalls serving exotic street food during the Multicultural Week at my university had flooded my mind. At the time, the Multicultural Week was the event I was most excited to attend. I loved it so much that I’ve decided to join the organising community in the final year of my tertiary study.
A decade later, an opportunity has presented itself to relive one of my fondness memories in university. This opportunity is called A Taste of Harmony. It is the premier workplace cultural diversity event in Australia whereby workplaces register and then organise a lunch or afternoon/morning tea. Unlike my previous endeavour, the idea of A Taste of Harmony event is a simple one – employees are encouraged to bring a dish that represents their cultural background or from a culture they haven’t tried before (think pot luck at work!). Not only you get to share your favourite dish with others, it’s a great opportunity to share stories about your cultural backgrounds as well as to learn more about the people you work with.
As the online partner of the Taste of Harmony, I had the chance to meet a celebrated chef, restaurateur as well as one of the ambassadors of the program, Guy Grossi, to talk about food and culture at one of his restaurants, the Merchant.
Me: How has the food culture changed in Australia over the last decades?
Guy: The food culture has grown immensely over the last few decades. I think it has become a lot more eclectic and there are different types of cooking from all parts of the world. We are very lucky that we have such influx of all parts of the world to be able to give us this amazing melting pot of all these different cuisines. You can go out to a restaurant for a month and try different cooking and never have the same cuisine twice if you like.
Me: Apart from Italian cooking, what other types of food do you like to cook?
Guy: Personally at home, I try to make different things. I really like all types of food. I really love Chinese, Greek and Spanish food. I’ve done a little bit of Indian at home sometimes and I like to cook Thai food if I can. It’s not as good as what a Thai Nonna would cook you know, but I try my best.
Me: As more people have special dietary requirements, how does it influence your menu design process?
Guy: Very much so. We always try to accommodate dietary requirements and we want to make sure there’s something there for people with special dietary needs. For example, we’ve found a really good product which we are going to put on our menu in one of our restaurants, which is gluten free pasta. There’s never been really good gluten free pasta but we’ve recently found a good quality product which we will put on as one of the dishes on the menu. This gives people who can’t have gluten an option and be able to enjoy pasta still. Pasta is nice, unfortunately, people who don’t have gluten can’t enjoy it. So we are listening more from the cultural point of view and also from the health and medical point of view. We are listening more from our guests than ever! Once you listen to them and hear what they say, we will try to accommodate and help them.
Me: Any tips, tricks or considerations on bringing food to share with your colleagues?
Guy: Keep it simple is the first key. This is because if you over complicate things, you’ll end up with something that may not work out quite so well. Try something fresh and easy to put together like a simple salad that has a particular connotation of the place where you come from. I love things that can be reheated and all the hard work that has been done ahead of time like a really good braised beef cheek or osso buco. This is always a winner because it takes a long time to slow cook but you can warm them up and a lot of love has gone into them!
Thanks for the tips, Guy!
There’s a good braised dish that’s definitely going to be crowd pleaser, that is the Malaysian beef rendang! It was the first thing that came to mind because it is a highly requested recipe from you guys. 😉
Diced beef cooked in spiced coconut gravy until it is melt in your mouth. What really gives the dish the wow factor, I think, is the nuttiness from the toasted dessicated coconut that one can associate with rendang. Please note that my easy rendang recipe is tweaked from the traditional version to cater to the ingredients I can easily access from where I live.
- 1 large brown/red onion, diced
- 2 inched thick ginger, peeled & cut into smaller pieces
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced the white part only
- 1 red chilli
- 3 Tbsps Malaysian meat curry powder (I used this brand)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened fine dessicated coconut (I used this brand)
- Cooking oil
- 3 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
- 1kg of diced beef (meant for slow cooking)
- 270ml light coconut milk (I used this brand)
- 1 Tbsp Indonesian sweet soy sauce [see note 2]
- Salt to taste
- Add onion, ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chill into a food processor. Process until paste-like and set aside.
- Mix 3 Tbsps of the meat curry powder with 3 Tbsps of water and stir until the mixture resembles a thick paste. Set aside.
- Toast the dessicated coconut in a 5-litres pot over low heat until golden brown. Stir the dessicated coconut constantly to ensure it is evenly toasted. Please make sure that you keep a watchful eye over it as it is easily burnt. Transfer the toasted desiccated coconut to a flat plate. Rinse and dry the pot and return it to the stove,
- Add 2 Tbsps of cooking oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion-garlic-ginger mixture and kaffir lime leaves. Saute over low heat for a minute and a half (until the mixture has turned into very light brown colour).
- Add the curry powder paste. Stir to combine the ingredients. If the mixture begins to stick to the pot, add 1/2 cup water and allow the mixture to simmer over low heat until the oil separates from the sauce (the process takes roughly about 2 minutes) - see note 3. Stir the mixture occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the pot. In addition to seeing the oil separates from the sauce, you will also need to taste test to make sure the sauce does not feel grainy. Keep cooking (and adding a little more water) until the sauce does not feel grainy.
- Stir in beef , 2 tsps of salt and 1.5 cups of water. Allow the beef to simmer over low heat for 45 minutes, covered. Check the beef after 30 minutes to make sure it does not stick to the pot.
- Add coconut milk and toasted dessicated coconut. Mix well and continue to simmer the rendang for another 45 minutes. Check the rendang occasionally to make sure it does not stick to the pot. After this, depending how much liquid you're left with, you may need to keep cooking (uncovered this time) until the gravy becomes really thick.
- When the rendang has achieved the thick consistency, season with Indonesian sweet soy sauce and salt to taste. Let it cook for another a minute or so and you're now ready to serve with rice. If you have crispy shallots on hand, they would make a great garnish for the rendang too!
[Note 1] You will need a food processor. [Note 2] Substitute Indonesian soy sauce with 1/2 tbsp brown sugar and 1/2 tbsp soy sauce. [Note 3] When I say the oil separates from the mixture, the mixture should resemble something like a store-bought Thai or Indian curry paste where you can see a layer of oil on the surface of the paste.
A Taste of Harmony is a free and delicious way to celebrate your workplace’s cultural diversity. Just register your workplace, choose a day and time that suits in the week of 16 to 22 March 2015, and tell your workmates to bring a plate of food to share. No fundraising is required!
Step 1: Register online.
Step 2: Plan your event. Let these event ideas be your inspiration!
Step 3: Share food & stories. See how business organisations celebrate A Taste of Harmony and how they benefit from participating.
Disclaimer: This is not sponsored. My partnership with A Taste of Harmony is on a probono basis.
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Christine @ Cooking Crusade says
Great interview! How funny, I am actually hosting a “Taste of Harmony” this lunch at my house this Saturday with a few other bloggers, really looking forward to it (and seeing what food everyone brings!)