The waiter was pleasant enough, but took a bit too long to take our order. It all went downhill from there. There was some delay in receiving our food, for which the manager was good enough to apologise, but then our entrees arrived at the same time as our mains!
My wife’s garlic prawn entree was passable but with not enough garlic. My entree of sugar cured salmon with blood orange and fennel came with ordinary orange pieces. OK, I then remembered that blood oranges are out of season, but they shouldn’t have advertised this dish as a special.
By this stage, of course our main courses were cold. My wife’s chicken parma was average, but the ‘thick cut chips’ were a bit soggy – not very crisp. My fillet steak was medium and dry, rather than medium-rare as I ordered and juicy as I expected. The red wine gravy was unable to rescue the steak because there seemed be very little, if any, red wine in it. It tasted like Gravox out of a packet. The ‘tangy slaw’ was limp rather than crisp, indicating that it had probably been made a few hours ago. The ‘tang’ seemed to come from a slight excess of cheap cleaning vinegar rather than decent white wine vinegar.
The wine list was quite good, and the two shiraz’s we ordered by the glass were fine. But the white wine I ordered didn’t arrive, so when I pointed this out a glass of pinot noir that I hadn’t ordered (and didn’t arrive either) appeared on the bill instead. How lucky that I only received 2 glasses of wine for the night! Otherwise, I might not have noticed these errors on the bill. Other guests seem to have been more fortunate with their drinks delivery, because they were laughing very loudly – it was almost painful to the ear.
Total price of $125.10 for two, including three glasses of wine, without dessert, was not good value for money, in either food or service. We won’t be going back. I suspect their main problem is complacency – a regular clientele with no other nearby pubs to go to.
I was the leader and manager of the Australian Cotton Club Orchestra for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. (The band is still going, under different management). The Orchestra was a 12-piece big band (including a singer) playing jazz, swing and popular songs from the 1930s and 40s.
During this time we played hundreds of gigs, mainly at high society functions in 5-star international hotels in the Melbourne CBD. 99% of the time we were well paid and treated, usually eating the same food as served to the guests in our own large dressing room etc. But there were a few gigs where we were not as well treated, and I think it may be cathartic to get them off my chest in this memoir.
One of the worst ones was for an AFL football club, where a couple of drunken players tried to sing with the band. One of them got up on stage, pushed our singer aside and insisted that we play some current pop song that we had never heard of. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and not a single club official tried to stop him. (I gather that these players are treated like gods and nobody ever says no to them, including women). We started playing one of our usual songs that the football player had never heard of, so he eventually staggered off stage and back to his table. To add injury to insult, the club wouldn’t pay us for about 3 months, and then only because we threatened legal action. After that particular gig from hell, we resolved never to play for a football club again. We were always previously engaged whenever a footy club rang us.
Another gig from hell was when we shared the bill with a cowboy on a horse. Yes, that’s right, he brought his horse inside the hotel and up the stairs to the ballroom where we were playing. He and his horse galloped towards us and leaped onto the temporary stage. Some of our quicker-witted musicians fled for their lives, whilst the rest of us stayed riveted to our seats in shock, with the horse prancing and rearing on the stage making us almost seasick with the rocking motion. I thought the stage was about to collapse!
The cowboy then reached into his saddle bags and handed out the musical parts for some country song that we had never heard of before, let alone seen the music for, or rehearsed. But being professional musicians (except for me) the band played it OK and the cowboy sang along with us, still seated on his horse. Then without a word of thanks or acknowledgement, the cowboy and his horse leaped off the stage and galloped around the guest tables at high speed. I was horrified that if even one drunken guest had got up from his table at the wrong time, he or she could have been trampled to death by this horse.
One gig not quite so bad was at a leading 5-star hotel where they tried to serve us stale sandwiches for dinner that had obviously been left over from lunch time. We sent them back to the kitchen saying they were unacceptable. The hotel refused to serve us a proper meal (which was in our contract with the booking agent) so we rang and ordered pizzas to be delivered from outside the hotel. Hopefully, the hotel management were embarrassed at the sight of pizza deliverers marching through the reception area and ballroom of the hotel. Needless to say, we refused to work at that hotel (or for the agent who booked us) again.
At other posh society functions we were occasionally approached by tipsy female opera singers who wanted to sing with the band. For the sake of both their reputations and ours, I tactfully tried to explain that our musical arrangements were in the wrong keys for their soprano voices, which was probably at least half true.
Earlier in our career, we played in various pubs in the suburbs of South Melbourne, Richmond and Hawthorn. Here we were paid less and received no meals or drinks, but we were playing up to 3 or 4 nights per week gradually improving our repertoire and becoming better known around town. Whilst we didn’t do ‘door deals’, staff collecting entry fees told me that plain-clothes policemen and women used to ‘flash their freddies’ and get in free. Publicans and bandleaders like me were happy to have police present in case there was any trouble. Although we would also get the occasional ‘dontcha know who I am?’ VIP who could easily afford the modest entry fee and was less welcome.
We often played with a female vocal trio named Rhapsody in Red, and their pianist also became our pianist. We recorded a CD album with them, although it was not our best one, in my view. Everything seemed to be going well until the girls suddenly demanded a much higher fee which priced themselves out of the market, and that was the end of that.
We didn’t have much trouble playing in pubs; although I do remember one muso who got out his trumpet and started playing along with us uninvited. If he had asked us, we might have let him take an ad lib solo or two (he said he couldn’t read music). One or two audience members asked me “Can’t youse play any rock ‘n roll?”. My usual answer was “Do you go to a French restaurant and order Chinese?”.
Another guy insisted that we play a tune that was not in our repertoire (unlike small groups, it is not possible for big bands to ‘fake’ a tune – the music needs to be pre-arranged). This guy would simply not take no for an answer, and he used to follow us around the pubs harassing me between sets (the pubs had no dressing rooms). Fortunately, some burly band members and sometimes audience members (but not the plain clothes police) realised what was happening, and used to stand between me and this guy for my protection. If it wasn’t for their help, I would have seriously thought about hiring a bodyguard because I suspected that my harasser ‘had a kangaroo loose in the top paddock’ as we say in Australia. (Police tell me that threats of violence should always be taken seriously).
We had the occasional gigs in pubs where the staff played Muzak over their PA whilst we were playing. I remember one where the publican turned the lights off (we are a reading big band). So we had to stop playing mid-tune until they turned the lights back on again. I don’t think that these minor incidents were malicious – just lack of attention to detail.
Celebrities of nutrition evoke feelings of awe, envy and adulation in many of us. While the Gwyneth Paltrows of the group first achieve celebrity status in other fields, others first make a name for themselves in food and nutrition, despite not having formal nutrition qualifications. Think Pete Evans, Sarah Wilson and Belle Gibson, whose nutrition empire has crumbled over the past week.
Nutrition celebrities often promote “fad diets”, which are strict diets that often eliminate entire food groups and don’t have a solid scientific basis. In fact, they often demonstrate a misunderstanding of biochemistry and other basic nutrition science.
The Paleo Way by Pete Evans forbids grains, legumes, dairy and coffee, among other things. Evans’ website claims “Paleo is all about balance”, but in reality, is anything but balanced.
Before Belle Gibson’s cancer diagnosis was questioned, she touted “clean eating”, discouraging the consumption of gluten, dairy and genetically modified foods, among other things. She promoted “detoxing”, which involved “alkalising your system” by drinking lemon water, and recalibrating “your digestive and immune system” by cutting out fruits such as bananas and apples.
Sarah Wilson “quit sugar” and recommends cutting out fruit for the first few weeks of her eight-week I Quit Sugar program because it “allows you to break your sugar addiction and for your body to recalibrate”.
It’s no surprise that the British Dietetic Association listed
the paleo diet and the sugar-free diet as two of their top five worst celebrity diets.
When it comes to healthy eating, we know what works. The Australian Dietary Guidelines may not sound as sexy as these fad diets, but they’re the result of painstaking work to summarise the best scientific evidence on what constitutes a healthy diet and how diet can promote health.
So why do nutrition celebrities have so much pull? And what impact might it have?
Nutrition celebrities have done some good in the world. They have undoubtedly changed the nutrition habits of some of their followers for the better. This might include increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables, abandoning added sugar- and salt-laden foods such as some breakfast cereals, and helping followers who are overweight or obese to lose weight.
These changes are of particular importance when you consider the high rate of excess weight and obesity and the low intake of good foods like vegetables in the Australian population.
The negative effects of celebrity nutrition range from public confusion about what is good to eat and drink, to death.
A trusting, vulnerable and adoring member of the public might just decide that Belle Gibson is right – who needs modern medicine for cancer? Gibson claimed she cured her multiple cancers through alternative means. Jessica Ainscough, founder of the Wellness Warrior, died prematurely last month after choosing alternative cancer therapy that included endless juices and coffee enemas.
Belle Gibson’s book, The Whole Pantry, has been pulled from circulation in Australia and the US launch of the book next month has been cancelled. Her “health, wellness and lifestyle” app has also been pulled from Australian and US app stores.
Also this week, Pete Evans’ Bubba Yum Yum DIY baby milk, which is composed of blended liver and bone, has attracted criticism that it could risk the health of babies. This broth provides toxic levels of micronutrients such as vitamin A. This can cause permanent damage and even death.
While Evans’ publisher Pan McMillan has announced it will not be releasing the book, Evans plans to release it as an e-book.
Followers of celebrity nutrition advice may become unnecessarily strict with their eating and drinking (think awkward dinner parties), develop an eating disorder, or become malnourished.
A paleo diet can compromise bone health by reducing calcium intake. A gluten-free diet can be associated with reduced fibre and vitamin intakes.
A sugar-free diet that suggests reducing fruit intake is just plain unhealthy. And sugar-free eating isn’t actually sugar-free. Many recipes contain rice malt syrup, which is chemically defined as a sugar and increases blood sugar levels much more so than an apple would.
So, why do nutrition celebrities have so many followers when what they are selling isn’t usually evidence-based, reliable or healthy for most?
So many of us are stressed and tired, and looking for quick fixes. We associate celebrity with happiness and wealth. We’re sold a whole lifestyle and the idea that food can be a magical elixir that can cure all ails.
We are drawn in by fancy blogs, colourful cook books, Instagram feeds of stylised food photography shoots, the Twitter hashtags #paleo #cleaneating #rawfood #sugarfree #glutenfree #detox #juice, and Facebook stories of struggling lives turned around in an instant.
It’s easy to see why this is more appealing that listening to government guidelines and advice from doctors, nutritionists and dietitians that scientific evidence doesn’t support the elimination of entire food groups or elements such as dairy, gluten, legumes, grains and fruit from the diets of most people.
Perhaps we need to strategically market evidence-based nutrition information to have broader appeal.
So, turn this:
To counter the fads, we need to consider innovative ways of communicating to Australians about what constitutes a eat a healthy, balanced diet that is based on evidence. Nutrition celebrities’ marketing strategies might teach us a thing or two about how to sell this message.
And on Tuesday, independent senator Jacqui Lambie threatened to introduce a private senator’s bill to close what she claims are “legal loopholes” that:
… could allow financing of terrorists and Australia’s enemies through halal money.
Lambie is not the first to raise the issue in federal parliament. WA Liberal MP Luke Simpkins claimed that halal is converting unwitting consumers to Islam. LNP MP George Christensen linked halal certification to religious extremism.
Activist groups are telling consumers to boycott halal products. They also claim that certification funds extremist groups and is part of a campaign to introduce sharia law.
Halal food certifiers and others in the Australian Muslim community have rejected these claims, and those who make them are yet to produce any evidence. But a lack of transparency from certifiers, along with a fragmented marketplace and confusion over what the halal certification process involves, creates a climate of uncertainty for anti-halal campaigners and Muslim consumers alike.
What is halal food?
Muslims choose to eat halal food because it meets requirements that they believe make it suitable for consumption. Halal originates from rules set out in the Qur’an and the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad’s example), which have been followed throughout generations of Islamic practice.
As a concept, halal does not only pertain to food. Halal means “permissible” and can refer to any aspect of life covered by the teachings of Islam.
Halal is a part of sharia as a system of morals to guide Muslims’ actions and behaviour, but this should not be confused with halal as part of a codified system of sharia law. Halal prescriptions might be considered by observant Muslims to be religious obligations, but Australia is a secular country and halal forms no part of any Australian law.
As with many aspects of Islamic practice, the definition of halal food is a contested issue. For example, there is disagreement within the Muslim community about whether stunning animals before slaughter produces halal meat. Both sides draw on Islamic teachings and traditions to support their positions. Disputes such as this highlight why halal certification is important for Muslim consumers.
How does halal certification work?
There are three different types of halal certification in Australia.
Individual products can be certified, meaning the production process and ingredients in that particular product are halal. So a consumer could buy halal yoghurt, for example, from a store that also sold non-halal yoghurt.
Production facilities can be certified, so that any products produced according to the certification standards can claim to be halal. For example, in an abattoir that is certified to produce halal meat, the meat will be halal no matter what cuts or final shape the meat takes. However, it may not even get labelled as halal when it reaches the market.
Retail premises can also be certified so that all food prepared and sold from that business is halal.
The halal certification process varies depending on who is performing the service. This is where uncertainty creeps in. Muslim consumers are largely unable to find out exactly what process has been followed in the certification process and what standards have been set by the certification provider.
Why is halal certification needed?
Halal certification is needed in Australia for two key reasons.
Firstly, certification helps local Muslims decide which products to buy. Modern food processing and globalised markets make it hard for Muslims in Australia to know how their food was produced and where it has come from. To get around this uncertainty, consumers who want to buy halal food need a system that checks whether products meet the requirements of being halal.
In this sense, halal certification is similar to any type of food certification and audit system. Whether it be halal, kosher, gluten-free or organic, food certification services help consumers to make informed decisions about the food they eat.
The second reason has to do with trade. With the global halal food trade estimated at A$1.75 trillion annually, Muslim markets provide a lucrative opportunity for Australian companies. If companies want to export their products to those markets, they need to have halal certification.
Who certifies halal food?
Certified halal products in Australia can come from two sources: domestic products that are produced locally and certified by local businesses, or imported products that have been certified overseas.
Numerous halal certifiers operate in Australia. The Department of Agriculture maintains a list of Islamic organisations that have an “Approved Arrangement” to certify halal meat for export. There are 21 such organisations operating in Australia as of November 2014.
However, Australian government regulation applies only to providers that certify meat for export. While much of this meat may end up in the domestic market, certification providers that service only the Australian market do not come under any government regulation.
While some halal certification providers are associated with, or part of, larger Australian Islamic organisations, such as the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, others are stand-alone businesses that provide local certification services.
With so much uncertainty about what constitutes halal, how products are certified and who is doing the certification, consumers who wish to buy halal food can find that a difficult task.
For non-Muslim Australian consumers, however, halal food is little different to any other food available. It only matters whether or not food is halal if a person has the religious conviction and desire to eat only halal food. Although improvements could be made, halal certification is one way Muslims are able to do this.
If I hadn’t already got this book, it would definitely be on my wish-list for Christmas. Historic Heston is the ultimate book for anyone interested in the history of food and cooking, and it’s a sumptuously luxurious book of ‘food porn’ into the bargain. Unabashed by Wayne Macauley’s clever satire The Cook, we here chez The Spouse et Moi are devoted to Masterchef Australia, and always look forward to Heston Blumenthal’s appearances for the extravagance of his creations and his humorous adaptations of staples like hamburgers.
Historic Heston is a generous (i.e. hefty) book of 430-odd pages, printed on expensive high-quality paper with a silky bookmark – and the witty graphics by Dave McKean and photography by Romas Foord are superb works of art in their own right. The still life for eggs in verjuice is worthy of a place in the National Gallery. I am sorely tempted…
The Spouse and I are devoted to Masterchef: we watch it religiously and this 2014 series is the best yet. The spouse is a keen cook, you see, and so he’s always looking for beaut new ideas that are do-able at home. But until recently, there was one method of cooking that couldn’t be replicated at home, and that was sous vide, i.e. cooking in a low temperature water bath. It’s a fabulous way of cooking that results in perfectly tender, evenly-cooked meat and fish, with delicious flavour and texture.
So you can imagine how pleased I was to discover that Sunbeam have brought out a sous vide cooker for domestic kitchens, and DJ’s had parcelled it – on special – with the vacuum food sealer machine as well.
The first experiments were with the recipe book that comes with the instructions. We tried hapuka and salmon, and a…