Culinary “sensei” reveals secret to great sushi


It was on a push bicycle tour of Japan, with little more than a sleeping bag and his notebook, Kengo Hiromatsu decided he would become a chef.

From East to West, North to South, Kengo quite literally ate his way around his home country, taking notes as he went.

With each region having its own signature dish, he decided food was such an important part of every day life, he’d like to be a part of that.

He tried cooking school, but left before completing the degree and turned to a hands-on education instead, working his way diligently from front of house, to back of house, before returning to specialise in Japanese cuisine and get the obligatory qualification.

Kengo honed his trade in various restaurants around Japan for some 20 years before he came to Paul Mathis’ Tokyo inspired restaurant and bar, Akachochin ( in the newly developed South Wharf precinct of Melbourne.

It’s no surprise he was chosen for Akachochin, whose specialty sake range comprises 50 different varieties matched to the region from which dishes originate – allowing you to eat and drink you way around Japan.

From sushi to specialised Japanese dishes – you’ll find it here.

But Kengo’s top pick? The Hiramasa Namerou, or kingfish tartare .. a signature dish in east coast Japan .. and now a signature dish at Akachochin.

To speak with him you’d never know that just a matter of months ago he was living in the western part of Japan unable to speak any English.

“I like Australia, it’s actually quite similar to my home town and the people are very kind. They really like the authentic Japanese cuisine.”

So what’s this culinary sensei’s secret to cooking the best sushi?

“Don’t put it in the fridge” he says.

“It hardens the rice, changes the texture and when you put fresh fish on it, it tastes much better if it’s room temperature.”

It’s the simple things that matter, he tells me.

His other tip – pour sushi vinegar in the rice straight after cooking the rice, when it’s hot, not cold, and don’t stir it, but instead use a cutting action through the rice to separate it.

Fresh fish is imperative at Akachochin, and it’s something Kengo lives by, going to the fish markets and choosing his own fish every day.

Besides his travel epiphany to become a chef, there was another influence – his mother.

“My mother loved cooking and introduced lots of dishes to us, I have sometimes tried to make dishes like her.”

“Do you succeed?” I ask.

“No, no”, he says, “just try.”

Looking at the dishes he’s preparing for the day, I’m guessing she’d be well impressed.


IFWTWA Australasia launches Travel Writers radio show

ifwtwaAUST-smlsqThe International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), a global network of journalists who cover the hospitality and lifestyle fields, today launched the Travel Writers radio show, an initiative of IFWTWA’s Australasia division.
The program will be heard on Melbourne’s newest FM station J-AIR and via the Internet to a mobile and a global audience (  J-AIR is a community-based broadcaster with a narrowcast commercial FM licence to transmit for 10 km around Caulfield to a potential audience of almost one million people.  J-AIR has been broadcasting via the Internet for 18 months, but its FM signal is expected to be live later this month at 87.8 FM. The Travel Writers radio show airs Wednesdays at 1pm (AEST), hosted by industry veterans, Graeme Kemlo and Peter Watson.
Announcing the move, IFWTWA Australasia chair, Graeme Kemlo, said the program covering both leisure and business travel topics as well as culinary and wine tourism.
“It is designed to entertain, inform and inspire”.  It features IFWTWA members from across its global membership base reporting the latest travel news, interviews, travel tips, reviews of destinations, food, wine and unique experiences for travellers around the world, or around the corner in Australia’s cities and regions.
“We have a wonderful network of experienced travellers who cover the globe in words and pictures and will provide first-hand accounts of their adventures.  It will be a collaborative effort co-ordinated from Melbourne with reporting by members across Australia, South East Asia, the South Pacific, United States, Canada and Europe,” Graeme said.
“The ‘wireless’, as we once described it, is a wonderful medium that allows a listener to dream of exotic locations and aspirational experiences.  So, alongside the expertise of our writers in food, wine and travel – many have their own columns, travel apps, books, websites and blogs – we’ll supplement their radio reportage with information and images posted to the IFWTWA website ( and the blog – foodwinetraveltips,” he said.
Peter Watson, who spent many years as a senior executive in the Australian travel industry, said the program was also designed to lift the veil on the industry for travel consumers and would cover topics such as: should you book everything on the Net; how far out should you buy an air ticket/ hotel/cruise; how (not) to get an upgrade; travel health; the best travel technology; how to identify and avoid travel scams; should you believe online hotel reviews; and how to choose from the myriad of travel money options.

Here’s a link to the podcast of the first episode –

– Graeme Kemlo

Spanish chef woos with swinging sausages and traditional Paella


Head chef of one of Melbourne’s newest Spanish restaurants, Bohemian, has 30 swinging sausages, he tells me proudly .. all hanging behind the lavish floor to ceiling curtain in his restaurant.

Josep Espunga Solans has only been in Australia 18 months – moving here to open Eddie Muto’s new restaurant in South Wharf from New York, and he has that sparkle when he talks about the sausage he creates from scratch, and that cheeky smile only a Spanish chef can possess.

Having never visited Australian shores before moving here, he’s now well settled into life here, riding his bike to and from work and enjoying the diverse culinary experiences Melbourne offers.

He is impressed with the Spanish cuisine already in the city and it inspires him he tells me, but he wants to do things a bit differently – and he loves to make things on site too – the sausages of course and then there’s goat’s cheese and ice-cream, all made from scratch.

It’s this approach which has Spanish visitors and those wanting an authentic Spanish experience coming back – oh and maybe the pop-up bar and flamingo dancers too.

The area has a laneway feel to it, despite being along the Yarra River – and with multiple restaurants it’s definitely catching the eye of local foodies.

Whether it’s a three-hatted restaurant or the best of cheap eats – you’ll find it all here along with every kind of cuisine you could imagine, reflecting the city’s diverse cultural influence from Japanese to street Thai food.

Josep’s own cultural influence growing up in a small town north of Catalonia at the base of the Pyrenees, where his parents owned their own restaurant, plays a part in his food too and his mother is still his harshest critic.

“She kept checking the kitchen to see if the pots were clean” he tells me of her last visit.

She’s a tough critic when it comes to his dishes, but his signature Paella is a winner.

It’s all in the stock, he says.

“If a Paella is yellow, it’s because they use food colourings. I only use stock from real fresh food – whether it’s from fresh local seafood from the markets or chicken bones. So the paella is the colour of the food you use to create the stock.”

His mother was less impressed with his suckling pig served with fresh carrot ice-cream – again made from freshly squeezed carrot juice on site.

“She likes traditional dishes, roast goes with roast vegetables for her.”

But for Josep, just like the entertainment he brings it to the restaurant, it’s all about the overall experience.

“I want people to be able to try something they couldn’t or wouldn’t make at home, to give them a real dining experience.”

It’s certainly hitting a nerve with his repeat customers who he plans to continue to surprise – maybe next time it’ll be a dish using one of his swinging sausages.

Dear Ketut, loved Bali, could have passed on the airport


There seem to be a few camps when it comes to Bali – those dedicated tourists who go year after year for a cheap and cheerful holiday basking in the Indonesia sun; those who have been once and vow never to go back; or those who simply would never set foot on its shores.

Then there are the likes of me, who loved the weather, along with its humidity, the food, the resorts and the landscape –but not enough to make it an annual event.

I’d heard a few stories from friends before leaving, two in particular about hiring a motorbike and being pulled over and fined on the spot – having their wallets emptied.  Another couple had their passport taken from them and were separated with no explanation, only to be released some time later.

I guess as a virgin to this Indonesian island these are things you need to hear, but it’s equally important (if not more so) to know the details about entering and leaving the country.

Firstly let me say this.  Our resort, the Laguna Resort and Spa at Nusa Dua, was everything I could have ever imagined and more.  It looks exactly as the photos depict on the website.  The pools, food and climate could not have been better, and the service was exceptional.  Although make sure you get your head around the currency before you get there and don’t blindly order a cocktail thinking it’ll be about A$10 only to find you paid A$35 – I did wonder why when serving it the waiter said “Here’s your ‘special special’ drink Madame.”  Needless to say my husband gave me a new nickname during our stay – ‘special special’.

Before going to Bali, you need to make sure your vaccinations are up to date.  As my doctor said – sure there are those that say it’s being pedantic, but if they’re prepared to risk contracting Hepatitis A from the water or rabies or measles – then that’s a risk which is up to them.  I choose to be precautionary.

You need US$25 each to enter the country and Rp 150,000 each to depart.

Once you get to the airport and walk through to get your bags, porters will take your bag from you and start walking towards customs with it, often saying ‘customs’ and nothing else. This simply means they will take your bags to the conveyor belt to go through customs and follow you expecting a small payment.  If you don’t have small notes, or want to pay for this service, you need to get to your bag first and firmly but politely inform them that you’ll take your own bag.   This often needs to be repeated three or four times.

If your travel agent has arranged a transfer to your resort, they are often from a local tourism venture trying to sell you experiences along the way and they will try and lock you into it right then and there. Should you want some time to consider your options – make that clear.  The commute will likely involve your car being  bomb checked too.

The alternative to a tourism venture/driver, is to get a taxi, but make sure you get a fixed price up front, or ensure they turn the meter on so no bargaining can be had at the end.

Even in the most exclusive tourist resort destinations, if you walk along the beachfront, you will be approached by hawkers.  Even when riding a bike.   With the average Balinese earning little more than $5 a day and working often 12 hour days, it’s not surprising they are trying to earn a living this way, and the same person will ask you to buy the same thing from them every time you pass.

If you do want to purchase a tourism experience, bracelet or scarf from those who walk up and down the beaches – be prepared to barter.  They expect it, and in fact in some cases, it’s said to be considered polite to barter.

In your resort, typically the water in the bathroom is free, otherwise you pay.  Be prepared to pay up to A$10 a bottle in the resorts.  It’s best to find a local supermarket and stock up there.   In Nusa Dua it’s only a short bicycle ride and you can hire bikes at the resort for less than $10 an hour which is also a great chance to do some local sight seeing and see the local markets.

For drinks, it’s best to go to happy hour to avoid the ‘special special’ experience and stick to the local beer and cocktails.   Cocktails from the resorts are exceptionally good, and very reasonable and in Nusa Dua you can walk from resort to resort along a beautifully lit boulevard and visit any bar along the way – we loved the frozen Margarita’s at the Tapas Bar at Melia Bali, and the Chess Club at Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Resort, where you could get a carafe of good quality Rose for about A$20.

Cornerstone at Laguna Resort and Spa had exceptional Indonesia cuisine – I couldn’t go past the Bakso, chicken meatball soup with glass noodles and fresh celery leaves or try the Indonesian Chicken Curry with sambal, shrimp crackers and crispy shallot flakes; or Bakhmi Goreng with seafood from Jimbaran, vegetable acar, red chilli and spicy sambal.

This was one of the most affordable restaurants we found in the resort area of Nusa Dua, probably because it is back a little from the beachfront, but you dine al fresco in what has a roof top feel, and it was by far the best food we experienced.

So all in all you did well Ketut, and at least I’ll be well prepared next time I enter your shores.

We’re not drinking…we’re learning!

DSCF1727Here’s a name and a mantra to remember: Francesco Lafranconi is a mixologist and spirits educator who says, holding a Maui Negroni cocktail: “we’re not drinking, we’re learning!”
Francesco, was educating me, and other members of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association, at our annual conference in Hawaii recently.  And while we were graduating our way to the bottom of the cocktail glass, Francesco, a tall, slim, uber cool Lecchesi (he hails from Lecco in north west Italy), resplendent in powder blue and apricot, was explaining the resurgence in classic cocktails from the 1800s to the 1950s.
Explaining the use of spices, aromatics and bitters, Francecso describes today’s mixology as “more science and cooking technique” with distilleries still jealously guarding the secret formulas that were originally homeopathic remedies.
So this is sounding even better – not only are we getting educated but we’re getting healthy at the same time.
And among the gems of learning is that since the 15th century they have been extracting alcoholic flavours from ginger, gentian, nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, even coriander and artichoke.  And we can thank Italian-born French Queen Catherine de Medici who took the idea from Italy to France suggesting it was the “elisir di lunga vita” (the elixir of life – cheers to that!).
Francesco reaches for a favourite aperitif, Aperol, derived from bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and quinine.

DSCF1716He says it is designed to help create the apetite, ” increasing salivation through stimulation of gastric acids…triggered by compounds on the palate”.    While we were salivating he offers a recipe for the increasingly popular Spritz:  3 oz Prosecco (“the real prosecco is made  in Veneto from the glera grape “), 1 oz club soda, 1 oz Aperol, a slice of orange and ice cubes.
He offers a new take on the classic Negroni, which originated in 1919 in Florence as Campari and vermouth on the rocks with a little gin.  He keeps the Campari (1 oz) but substitutes 1 oz of Cocci Americano ( a vermouth made from moscato, brandy, gentian, quinine, orange peel and herbs), and 1 oz of Ciroc coconut vodka.
As we watched the Maui sun slide from view at Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas, Francesco, consultant mixologist to the resort, recreates the subtle pinks and oranges of sundown in a glass.
He raises his Maui Negroni in salute: “to Italian flavour with Hawaiian spirit”.

Graeme Kemlo

Kommune – a better class of red

KommuneWhen they describe Brunswick Street, the 2 km strip that runs north-south from the edge of Melbourne city, as ‘eclectic’, that’s usually a word of warning to anyone old enough to remember The Beatles.

And while the street clearly does cater to a twenty-something audience with its mix of styles (is it post-grunge, pre-punk or merely post-pubescent?), arty boutiques, cool bars and eateries (memorable and equally forgettable), there is emerging a more sophisticated wining and dining scene.

Such is new kid on the block, Kommune Canteen at number 370.  The name, complete with five pointed star above the ‘e’ is a tip of the hat by co-owner Jane Besgrove, to her many years living in Shanghai.  But whereas this street may have once harboured socialist leanings as a working class suburb, the only reds in this Kommune are bottled – like the lovely sweet Sangiovese from Pizzini’s King Valley vineyards.

Officially launched this week, this small wine bar is also an ideal function venue for the forty or fifty- somethings who want to enjoy a quiet drink while all the sweet young things clamour for a $4 pizza at Bimbo right next door.  It is also small enough that you can book it out for an exclusive evening, catered by Paul Le Noury (of Yum Catering and Fish Dish, the highly regarded CBD café bar restaurant).  Certainly the opening food and wine offerings were a cut above typical local fare – a beacon in a street offering almost 100 choices.

Jane Besgrove with partner, John Koukos, want to lift the standard in Brunswick Street by replacing the ‘vin ordinaire’ (tres ordinaire, some might say) with an appealing range of mostly local varietals, “for not much more than a house wine”.  If it looks busy inside, it is, but there’s always the candlelit courtyard out back.

Kommune is a cosy retreat for grown-ups with its interesting range of wines, beers, tasty bar snacks by Paul Le Noury, and memorable décor: bowler hats, upside down umbrellas, a scrapbook of images from the street and some comfy lounge chairs  –  there’s homage to the local eclectic, some Magritte surrealism thrown in, and a splash of Manhattan for good measure.  Friends will be curious to hear your latest “find” is a Kommune.

– Graeme Kemlo

Coffee for Cows

The narrative of Tasmania’s Huon Valley is beautifully simple. It spans rivers, orchards, forests, towns sans gentrification, friendly locals and, to a lesser extent, homes where smoke from chimneys drifts without purpose when the yachts on the nearby bays are becalmed.

It is 12033 kilometres from Kigali, Rwanda, to Hobart, Tasmania. That’s via the direct route. The estimated 20 Rwandans who initially arrived in Tasmania some 16 years ago had to travel much further than that to set up home in Australia’s island state. They were forced via hell first. They are some of the survivors of the [attempted] genocide of the minority Tutsi people in 1994.

A Rwandan Australia Friendship Association based in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart, has been assisting genocide survivors since it was formed in the 1990s. Coffee and the goodwill of a community of Tasmanians are the foundations of the association.

The group has established a Rwandan Coffee Club. The volunteer association sells five different types of coffee ($4.50 for 100 grams and $7.90 for 200grams plus postage costs) and three styles of tea ($5 for 100g) as a way of raising dollars for projects in Tasmania and Rwanda. The funds it raises from selling coffee directly support survivors of genocide in Rwanda.

John Middleton is president of the group. “One of their [the refugees] largest concerns was their inability to assist their fellows in Rwanda while they had financial and physical security. [In Rwanda] there were people dying of starvation and even people who were relatively healthy had their lives taken away,” says John.

The refugees were sending what money they could back to Rwanda. “But it was just a drop in the ocean compared to the real needs,” John says. In consultation with the Tasmanian Rwandans and volunteers from the association the idea of buying cows with coffee profits grew.

“Most of the Tutsi people have a very strong association with cows. Their ethnic association is probably with the Maasai who are also cow people,” says John. “Cows are closely associated with cultural life. The ownership of a cow provides not only nutrition but it is very symbolic.”

“We [established] a partnership with other associations and survivors of genocide in Rwanda. They identify the people who are to be the recipients of the cows,” says John. One of the fundamentals of the program is that the recipient of a cow must give the first progeny to another survivor.” The first recipients in the project then became partners in the project rather than just recipients of a cow.

The association has bought 91 local cows and two bulls to date – it costs from $200 to $300 Australian dollars to buy a cow in Africa.

The maths behind the coffee dollars for cows is, gulp, reasonably straight forward. The Rwandan Coffee Club sells 200grams of coffee for about $8. That’s $40 per kilogram. Which means around six to seven kilograms of coffee will buy a cow (there are costs of course).

The organisation guarantees that all funds donated reach the intended recipients. John and other volunteers have had two self-funded trips to Rwanda.

Not surprisingly the coffee club has received lots of media coverage over the years and according to John sales always increase after a mention in a magazine on TV and sometimes via blogs. It’s reason enough to write about the Rwandan Coffee Club now. and

– Greg Clarke

Saint-Émilion: not the Pétrus

Saint-Émilion’s wine is graded into three tiers – more or less – and there appears to be a correlation between the height of the tier and the width of your wallet.

A quick glance into a wine shop window tells me, I too can quaff a bottle of 1961 Pétrus for  €10,000. A quick calculation into Aussie dollars tells me I’ll have to be creative and google a virtual experience. According to the tasting notes of someone called the Wine Bum, it tasted like “iron-fillings and pencil sharpenings”. I’m sort of glad I skipped the tasting.

Apart from creating outstanding full-bodied reds, the village is picture post-card perfect. Perched on a hilltop, it oversees a patchwork of vineyards, rolling hills and limestone châteaux. The town itself comprises of cobblestone street and  ancient alleyways which co-exist alongside terrace cafes and dozens and dozens of wine stores.

So if your idea of a holiday is popping-in-and-out of wine shops, chatting to friendly sommeliers and quaffing a few good full-bodied reds then Saint-Émilion – the merlot capital of the world – is the place for you.

A pilgrimage-like destination for wine buffs and connoisseurs alike.

One handy travel hint though is to remain sober at all times; watch those sommeliers. There’s a good reason why they’re so friendly and it’s got nothin’ to do with your charm, beauty or wit.

For those that know me, this may seem a little out-of-character, but it appears I didn’t heed my own travel advice.

A few days ago a  friendly customs officer rang and apparently I have a box of Saint-Émilion wine sitting on the tarmac at Melbourne airport. It needs to be collected ASAP otherwise they are going to charge me storage costs.

I’m praying it’s not a box of Pétrus and so is my husband.

A good travel tip is to buy your French wines when you return home; believe me, it’s far cheaper.  Europa Cellars in East Melbourne has an excellent range of imported wines, even a few Saint-Émilion merlots.

MoVida Aqui: an impromptu sherry masterclass

Although I know one or two things about sherry, my only memory of fortified wine is embezzling a sip of my Nana’s Pale Cream. Unfortunately this doesn’t qualify me to be a sherry expert.

Recently I’ve noticed the inclusion of sherries on many restaurants’ wine lists. Words like Manzanilla and Oloroso are becoming more and more familiar.  In an attempt to come to grips with this global fortified wine phenomenon a night at MoVida Aqui seemed compulsory.

You know you’re in very good hands when you sheepishly admit to a MoVida sommelier that you’re behind the sherry eight ball, and their eyes light up.

Liz Carey – MoVida Aqui’s manager and sommelier – obviously likes a challenge. She listened to our dilemma and quickly devised a degustation menu – a tapas and sherry extravaganza – for the uninitiated.

Under her deft tuition we explored a gamut of styles. Manzanillas, Finos and Olorosos – obligatory tapas companions – were put to the test, and one thing’s for certain; these dryer style wines are extremely food friendly.

To say we enjoyed the Aceitunas (mixed olives), Anchoa (anchovy fillet with   smoked tomato sorbet) and Bocadillo De Calamares (mini calamari burgers) was an understatement. I seem to recall wielding my fork – in true matador style – to secure the last Gordal olive; some things are worth fighting for.

The biggest surprise of the evening, after traversing the fortified landscape – from salty dry finos to toffee driven PXs – was the realisation that both savoury and sweet foods are sherry compatible. Never once during our meal did we leave the towns of Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria.

The service at MoVida Aqui reminded me of what Paul Grieco (owner of Hearth and Terroir in New York) says about sommeliers; the best are humble.

Full marks to Liz Carey who welcomed us into the exciting world of sherry; thanks to her genuine interest in fortified wines, we’re no longer behind the eight ball.

Bon aperitif

Mandy Rowe

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