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Alex Herbert/©ak.images

Alex Herbert began her cooking career in 1989, starting as an apprentice chef in the busy kitchen of Berowra Waters Inn, under the direction of Gay Bilson and Janni Kyritsis. From then, Alex has clocked hours with Maggie Beer, Christine Manfield, David Thompson and Martin Boetz.

In 1996, Alex Herbert opened Bird Cow Fish in partnership with her partner Howard Gardner, scoring sound reviews from Terry Durrack whom described the bistro as “being a dream”.

Nowadays, Alex Herbert can be found in her busy “one hatted” bistro in Surry Hills with regular appearance at the Accoutrement cooking school as well as showcasing her products at the Eveleigh Markets every Saturday morning.

– QUESTIONS & ANSWERS WITH ALEX HERBERT –

1– How do you define your style of cooking and the philosophy at your restaurant?

Alex Herbert I don’t really see it as restaurant food even though its food cooked in a restaurant. It’s very real, it’s the sort of food that probably people – when take the time and effort would cook for themselves. Classic sort of dishes that are craft-based but without being too fancy pants, it still involves a lot of skills and a lot of techniques but it’s probably a bit more old school in the craft side of things rather than molecular and all that.

Bird Cow Fish exterior/©Molnar Freeman

2- What will/should your diners expect when dining in your restaurant? 

Alex Herbert- Hopefully just really good food and really good service.

3- The cuisine you cook can be defined as Modern Australian, what does Modern Australian mean to you? 

Alex Herbert- I suppose it means food that’s cooked with Australian produce. We’re such a young country and we’re so influenced and particularly with the way the internet is, it gets harder and harder to define individual cuisine. My food isn’t Indigenous Australia, which would be a whole other game but its Australia because I’m Australian cooking with Australian produce in Australia.

4- Have you got a particular ingredient/product that you tend to use in your dishes.

Alex Herbert- I suppose one thing that we use a lot of, probably more than a lot of other chefs would be Verjuice. We use that in both sweet and savoury dishes so if you were to take Verjuice off my kitchen, I would be lost.

5- Establishing a great relationship with your suppliers ensures great produce delivered to your door, how are the relationships with you and your suppliers?  

Alex Herbert- I think so, I don’t know if they think so. I think it’s really important to have an open chain of communication. I try to get to Flemington every week and of course, we’re down at Eveleigh’s every Saturday.

6- Wine matching is an essential part of dining; do you work closely with your sommelier to ensure the perfect marriages?

Alex Herbert- Probably more so now than ever. We’re really looking very closely at the wine list at the moment and “rejigging” the whole emphasis of it and yeah, we’re working through the menu and making sure that we’ve always for pairings so that from a staff point of view that it’s really easy to guide the customers that perhaps want a bit more direction with their choices.

 7-  How do you bring balance to each menu at your restaurants?  

Alex Herbert- Its produce driven and obviously seasonal. What I mean by produce driven is its more I sort of think “do I want to put lamb on the menu and take it from there” or “do I feel like cooking scallops”. It starts with the ingredient and I look around to see what’s available in the markets and take it from there.

8-  Have you got a mentor or figure that you particularly admire/respect throughout your career as a chef? 

Alex Herbert- Heaps and heaps. I mean I worked with Janni Kyritsis, David Thompson, Martin Boetz and then there’s all the food writers that I’ve been influenced by like Alice waters and Elizabeth David.

10- With Masterchef and media attention on chefs, young people are coming into the industry wanting to be on tv (celebrity chef), what are your thoughts about this? 

Alex Herbert- I think it’s a mixed bag so i think some people wanna cook and some people wanna be famous and somewhere along the lines, those two things have bundled togehter but you know it will sort itself out. You very rarely stay famous if you haven’t got the goods to back it up.

11- Have you got any tips or advice for anyone who wants to be a chef? 

Alex Herbert- Yeah, lots. There’s lots of jobs out there in this day and age that can earn you lots of money and I think it’s just about really deciding what it is that you want and being prepared to really pursue that and be happy with it and not winge about it afterwords. There’s plenty of people that go into cooking and then who don’t wanna work the hours or who don’t like the pay. It’s like, well, it is what it is so do your research before you decide to engage in it, otherwise find something else and keep cooking at home.

Bird Cow Fish interior/©Molnar Freeman

12- Where would your favourite eating hot spots be in Sydney?

Alex Herbert- There’s so many. Well, I always really liked going to Longrain, it’s been a long favourite of mine and particularly cause the foods very different to what I cook so it’s just a really refreshing change to me and you know, I think Sean’s Panaromas’ fantastic. I really love Rockpool Bar and Grill cause I just feel completely transported and I think that’s the resturant that gives me a really exciting dining experience and makes me feel really special and as if I’ve been transported to somewhere else and it still meets my satisfaction in terms of just leaving feeling really well fed, so I think that’s probably my favourite at the moment.

13- Can you tell us more about your very own range of Bird Cow Fish products?

Alex Herbert- It’s a kind of off shoot of the food that we make for our restaurants. So we make jams because we’re open for brunch and we use our jams for that and we make panforte and we sell granola, bircher because they’re products we actually sell through the bistro as food on the plate and so i suppose it’s just a nice little extension to package it up so people can bring a little bit of Bird Cow Fish home.

14- You have been constantly awarded a chef’s hat for your bistro – what are the future plans of Alex Herbert and Bird Cow Fish? 

Alex Herbert- We’re going to be changing our Espresso bar so we’re gonna be turning it into a separate little entity of it’s own, that will be sort of a wine bar at night so we will be redoing the whole are and we’re going to put a few beer on taps and have a lot more wins by the glass. That’s my big plan right now and it’s sort of an extension to some of the stuff that we do down at Eveleigh that wil be available more during the day. But it’s also just about consolidating the bistro entity separate to the espresso bar.

13- Can you give us a recipe for one of your dishes? 

Alex Herbert – Potato Gnocchi with Sauteed Prawns in a Burnt Butter Verjus sauce (recipe below)

Potato Gnocchi with Sauteed Prawns in a Burnt Butter Verjus sauce/©Haruka Kanamaru

Potato Gnocchi with Sauteed Prawns in a Burnt Butter Verjus sauce

 

 Serves 6

Ingredients

300 gms prawns

60 gms unsalted butter

6 tsp salted baby Capers, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup flat- leaf Parsley, finely chopped

Verjus

Potato Gnocchi

1.5 kg Desiree potatoes

1 egg

2 tbs Grana parmesan

125 gms plain flour

2 tsp sea salt

Sage Butter

200 gms unsalted butter

1 bunch sage, picked

Method

Place unpeeled potatoes in a large saucepan of cold water; bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. The potatoes must be neither under nor over cooked, test with a skewer – when it is easily inserted, they are cooked (avoid testing too frequently otherwise they may become water logged).

Drain potatoes into a colander, cover with a fresh tea towel and place colander over the original pot in a warm place for 10 minutes to drain completely.

Peel potatoes and pass through a mouli, in batches, into the original dry saucepan. Gently mix in the egg, salt and parmesan. Sieve in the flour and combine with a few swift folds. Tip potato mixture onto a lightly floured bench and gently work it into a smooth uniform mound.

Using a pastry scrape, scrape down the bench, wash and dry your hands and lightly flour the surface again. Cut off ¼ of the potato mix at a time and roll out into a sausage shape to a thickness of about 1½ cm. Cut each sausage into 2cm pieces. Makes approx 60 pieces. Place these on a tray lined with grease proof paper, ready for cooking in salted boiling water.

For the sage butter, heat the butter in a shallow frying pan. When starting to bubble, add the sage leaves and cook until crisp and almost translucent. Pour through a sieve placed over a bowl. Spread the leaves on paper towel to drain. Keep warm. Reserve butter.

When ready to cook the gnocchi, heat 20g of unsalted butter in a wide frying pan. It should reach beurre noisette (nut brown stage) before adding 100g of prawn meat. Sauté for one minute, deglaze with a dash of verjuice and add 2 tsp of capers.

Cook gnocchi in a large pan of boiling salted water in small batches of 20 pieces at a time. Shortly after the gnocchi has risen to the surface (test to see if it is cooked) remove with a strainer, drain and add to the pan. Toss the pan to coat the gnocchi in the butter. Season with salt and pepper and add 1 tbs of chopped parsley. Spoon among 2 serving plates and top with fried sage leaves.

Deglaze the pan with a little of the sage butter previously saved and pour over the finished gnocchi. Repeat twice more to complete 6 serves. Season to taste.

Season to taste.

© Alex.Herbert 2011


– FURTHER INFORMATION –

CHEF : ALEX HERBERT

Bistro Bird Cow Fish

500 Crown Street

Surry Hills, Sydney

http://www.birdcowfish.com.au

http://twitter.com/#!/birdcowfish

info@birdcowfish.com.au

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