Pooley's poetry on plates
Updated: 2012-08-11 07:49
By Ye Jun (China Daily)
Foie gras and brioche are a fine example of David Pooley's culinary art. Photos provided to China Daily
There is a new Australian in town, and he's giving the food at Aria some wonderful new notes. Ye Jun talks to David Pooley and finds out how he looks at food.
Australian chef David Pooley says being a chef is 50 percent cooking and 50 percent bringing ideas together. All he needs is the right ingredients to start with, and after he figures out the proper details and structure, everything falls into place.
Just two months after he has arrived in Beijing, the new chef de cuisine of Aria Restaurant at the China World Hotel has finished refreshing the lunch and dinner menus, and is working on a degustation menu of seven courses.
Pooley's food has been described as poetry on a plate, and according to Beijing food columnist Zhao Ziyun, his use of ingredients is like a poet's use of words. Pooley has developed his own distinctive style - which is what differentiates a master from a mere chef.
A good example of his art comes from Pooley's presentation of foie gras, three ways on the same plate, as terrine, pate and torchon, served with brioche. That is followed by a lobster with chamomile consomme served in a tea pot and a main of Blackmore Wagyu with olive ash. Dessert was a lychee pavlova.
The 28-year-old Australian chef started in the kitchen at 14. Although there were no chefs in the family, the young man told his parents at 10 years old that he wanted to be a professional cook.
Fourteen years later, the chef has already worked at two restaurants in Australia with three chefs hats, the equivalent of three Michelin stars. Both Quay and Claude's are epicurean icons in Sydney.
Pooley considers himself lucky to get a chance to work in Quay as an apprentice. The restaurant is ranked among the top 50 restaurants in the world, and is probably the best restaurant in Australia. Pooley started at the bottom, making salads, cooking fish, and getting grounded in the basics.
"It was fast, hard and mean," he says. "But you can see all the hard work in the dish."
He describes Quay's celebrity chef Peter Gilmore as a "kind and exceptional man", whom young chefs can look up to.
"He is a very genuine man, which is reflected in his food. I learned from him how to respect food and bring the best ingredients together."
Pooley compares creating a dish to building a house - you have to start from the foundations, and success starts with the small things, like how you slice an onion.
His next move was to Claude's as sous chef under Chui Lee Luk, the Chinese-Australian chef known for her classic French cooking.
Pooley says this was probably his best cooking experience. While Quay has a flotilla of 16 to 17 chefs, Claude's has four, and a 40-seater dining room.
Pooley also says Chui was "the kindest but toughest lady" he had ever worked with.
"While Peter showed me respect for food, and texture of ingredients, I learned how to use ingredients from Chui," he says.
Another important thing Chui told him was not to look too far into food, but take it as it is, and avoid the mistakes most new chefs commit.
Although he gratefully acknowledges his mentors, Pooley is on his own culinary journey.
"I think I've found my own style," he says. It is a style that comes from the influences in his life, from his mentors to the neighborhood cafe his grandparents bought after they retired, and even Australia's climate.
It is a style that he describes as "always flowing, always organic, always relaxed, and natural".
He is also looking at food at source. He compared the white asparagus he found in Beijing with the imported variety, and found that Beijing produces the better ingredient. He also found some farmers from Beijing offering good organic food such as potatoes.
Pooley, with the help of his team of Chinese chefs, has changed almost all items on the menu at Aria. He says he wants to give people what they want, but also pique their interest.
"Right now I'm offering the best we have to offer," he says. The restaurant is investing a lot on quality beef, including Blackmore beef, Australian Wagyu, and Black Angus.
Pooley's tasting menu will start soon, at 600 yuan ($94) a person, featuring top grade Wagyu, foie gras and pigeon, ending with a deconstructed cheesecake, which he had kept from the old menu.
"The food is our way of communicating," he says. "If people walk away feeling the meal is different, interesting and stimulating, then we are happy. Because they've understood us."
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(China Daily 08/11/2012 page12)