Every time we go out for a meal, I am always initially distracted if there is any kind of view of the kitchen from where I am sitting. The more open and visible the kitchen is, the better for me...Luke would probably disagree (no-one likes a distracted dinner date!). I don't know why it is, but I love watching the preparation of food...the activity & sequence of a small space...the plating up & the presenting. So being on the receiving end of a tweet from Simon at Borchelli Ristorante in View Street asking if I would like to spend the next afternoon learning how to make gnocchi in his kitchen...well let's just say it might be the fastest I've ever replied to a tweet.
I've tried to make gnocchi more than once in the past, and it's never been how I imagined it should be...I've been intimidated by the "you must use this exact flour, only these types of potatoes, bake first & hollow out vs boil & use a mouli" when really it can be the simple comforting meal it's intended to be without these distractions (except for the mouli...I am getting one of these pronto!). There's something to be said for getting the basics sorted...and then you can experiment as much as you like. I'm a visual learner and I wanted to be able to recognise the textures and tastes so I knew I was headed in the right direction.
On a rain slicked View St, Borchelli's cosy kitchen was the perfect place to be late on a winter afternoon. The first thing I thought of, looking through the windows across to the art gallery, was what level of work was involved in this space during Grace Kelly's visit to Bendigo earlier this year? In fact, there's a chalkboard proudly displaying the record number of dishes served on a given day during the exhibition...more than double their average 80. I try and imagine what it would be like to do this every day from 11 March - 17 June...they have every right to be proud of this.
Simon shows me how the kitchen is laid out, and talks me through the prep that is happening around me at the time. I love watching thin layers of avocado being carefully arranged to show off their colour gradients. His iPhone always handy, he shows me photos of the finished dish with a beautiful green base layer. But the potatoes are ready and waiting so he gets to work...taking the time to explain every step and pausing so I can take photos.
Once everything is mixed together and ready to go, I get to practice rolling my gnocchi. I'm surprised at how rough you can be with the dough despite its delicate feel. There is flour on my iPhone & my glass of wine (Knights Granite Hills Riesling `05) but I'm loving this. The batches of gnocchi are plunged into a giant bubbling saucepan and make their way to the top when they're ready to be rescued by a well loved strainer, cooled off and tossed in a light coating of oil. I feel far less intimidated now that I've created my own little pillows of gnocchi...I'm looking forward to trying this at home.
When we're done we talk desserts. I find out that Simon and Steve (Favourite Flavours) collaborate on all kinds of obscure ice cream flavours to match the gorgeous desserts I can see in his collection of photos. When I ask questions about textures and garnishes, I get to sample some of them...including a Newbridge Shiraz Sorbet which is somewhat like tasting summer on a spoon...sooo good. I try to imagine what it would be like to dream up these flavour combinations with desserts to match, and to have the skills to bring them to life on a plate...then to watch them delivered to delighted customers in your very own restaurant.
Simon packs some gnocchi for me to take home and I take a few last photos, and then it's time to be on my way. He's planning on incorporating these types of lessons/foodie experiences into Borchelli Ristorante...and just quietly I know that if future visitors to his kitchen have as much fun as I did...he's on a winner with this idea.
I drive home, the sky still grey, the streets busy after 5pm on a Friday...stopping only briefly to acquire a home made napoli sauce to compliment my hand made gnocchi. Luke and I share it for dinner...with some freshly grated parmesan and garlic bread. If that's not the perfect end to a cold August day & working week, I don't know what is.
With thanks to Simon and his staff...for answering all of my questions, allowing me to take a stack of photos, and for not letting me drive off having forgotten I left my rings on one of the kitchen shelves! Talking pasta and dessert = a very distracted Petit Pixel :)