On the 30th April, my husband surprised me for date night. He told me two weeks before the date to be ready by 4.30pm and to wear something elegant and stylish. WOW! I wonder where we’re going? What could we be doing? It’s not our Wedding Anniversary, this must be something really special that doesn’t come along everyday!
I met my husband at his workplace in Eltham (about 45 minutes from the CBD by public transport) where we would head to the ‘surprise’ from there. “It’s not too far from here” says my husband, as we drive about 5 minutes down the road.
We drive up a driveway to this beautiful restaurant Element. Romantic lighting lit the pathway to the main entrance, where we were greeted by the lovely owners of Eltham Bookstore, who handed my husband Poh’s cookbook and a gift voucher for their bookstore. I had no idea we were here for Poh’s cookbook signing until I saw the posters around the restaurant! Really!? Her cookbook launch! We’re here! I’m going to meet Poh!? WOW!! This is amazing, thank you loving husband of mine! After being offered a glass of champagne, we were shown to our seats. Am I really going to meet Poh? I’m so excited!
For all of you who aren’t familiar with Poh, I’ll give you some background into who she is. In Australia we have a cooking show called MasterChef, which is now being shown around the world, are you familiar with the show? Poh was runner up on the first series in 2008. Since finishing MasterChef, she’s had her own TV cooking show, Poh’s Kitchen, and a very successful first cookbook Poh’s Kitchen – My cooking adventures.
Poh Ling Yeow is of Malaysian/Chinese descent and came to Australia when she was quite young, settling with her family in South Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Design specialising in illustration at the University of South Australia, Poh freelanced as a graphic designer and illustrator. She has been painting full-time since the beginning of 2002, with many exhibitions throughout Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney. (ref. http://www.pohlingyeow.com/artist.htm)
The name Same Same But Different came about when she was on holiday in Asia. “Same, same but different” is a common saying everywhere you go in Asia and she immediately fell in love with it. Great name for a cookbook don’t you think!?
The concept for her recipes in this cookbook came from either having the same process, texture or ingredients. In the cookbook, Poh will show you two recipes side by side. They’ll either have the same ingredients, same process or use the same textural elements but are two completely different dishes. The whole idea is that once you make one dish, you should feel more confident in making that second dish. Example – pages 38-41, Something Wobbly, where the two dishes are the same texturally, but two different dishes from 2 different countries. It’s very interesting.
Poh finds Australian cooking very multi-cultural, which is shown throughout this cookbook. Australia is a fairly new country (only 200+ years old) and we don’t really have a cooking repertoire like China, France or Italy. Australians like to cook meals from all over the world, strongly influenced by our migrants, who have made Australia their home over the past 60-70 years. Poh doesn’t just share recipes from her homeland Malaysia or heritage China but also her influences from France, Italy and beyond.
Australians like to cook more than just meat and 3 vegetables every night. We like to cook pizza or pasta (Italian), stir fries (Chinese) or even hamburgers (American) during the week, mixing up our taste buds every day of the week. Poh has captured some of those differences in her cookbook, Same Same But Different.
Over the past year, Poh has been making jams made from local South Australian produce and selling them at the local Farmer’s Markets. The community is where she feels most comfortable. She’s enjoyed taking time out from TV and travelling to pursue her artistic career, launching her second cookbook and spending time with her family.
Here comes Poh to sign our books! So excited to meet her in person! Poh is exactly the same in real life as she is on TV. Poh would be that person who you just meet and immediately feel a connection. She’s funny and has a passion for cooking. She calls herself a cook, not a chef, and is quite proud of that fact. Poh is gorgeous! She’s happy to sign everyone’s cookbooks and get photos taken with all of us. Her laughter can be heard from the other end of the restaurant and it makes all of us laugh too!
On our table, we are joined by some fellow foodies – Geoff & Lindsay and Mandy & Phil (Phil not photographed) – and the conversation flows freely about what to expect from tonight, how we all love food and cooking and our many food experiences we’ve all had.
After a couple of glasses of champagne, our food starts to come out. Element have prepared a 5 course degustation menu, where they’ve been inspired by Poh’s recipes and the recipes chosen sound absolutely amazing – what do you think?
First course of a seared scallop, dressed green apple, wasabi cream sphere and crackling dust looks absolutely perfect! The wasabi cream sphere wasn’t over powering and complemented the scallop and apple sauce. Wish there was more – but it was only the first course. We still had four more courses to go!
Kunyit fried quail with Chinese pickles was second course and it was to die for! When my husband asked me what my favourite meal of the night was, this would be the one I definitely cook first! This reminded me of a modern day chicken schnitzel and coleslaw. It had a touch of black salt all over the quail and plate, which was truly an experience in itself. Fantastic dish – 10/10
While Elements prepare the next course, Poh is introduced by the owner of the restaurant. Poh talks about why she applied for MasterChef and how MasterChef changed her life. She never expected to go all the way to the Grand Final of MasterChef and was quite happy with the possibility of getting an apprenticeship or maybe becoming a food stylist after the show ended.
Third course makes its way to the tables as Poh finishes talking. Chinese congee with twice cooked pork and a duck cigar garnish. Congee is a staple of most Asian cuisines. Made of rice, it has the texture of porridge but savoury, not sweet and can be eaten for breakfast or as a side dish. I’m not a real big congee fan, but I thought I’d better try it (travelling to Thailand over the past four years and I’d never been game enough to try it!) I was quite surprised at how delicious it was. It was salty and creamy just like porridge but savoury instead of sweet, like I was used to with porridge. The duck cigars were absolutely amazing and actually complimented the congee extremely well. The duck cigar was my highlight of this course for me – something I can’t wait to make.
The 4th course was a Rempah crusted beef fillet on garlic, chilli and chard potatoes. Rempah is a wet spice paste consisting of chillies, onions and spices which is fried off – much like a curry paste made from scratch – and then the meat is added to the paste to cook together. Chard is from the same family as spinach and kale with the same taste as kale too. The meat was cooked perfectly and melted in your mouth.
Poh then talked some more about how food is a universal tool – food speaks different languages, knows no age boundaries crossing generational gaps and shows affection, both from the person who cooks the food to the people who eat the dish. So true! I wrote about the language of food when I had the opportunity of cooking in Thailand last year.
Poh is a keen supporter of local and seasonal produce. When asked a question about organic produce, Poh was saying that there’s still a long way to go before we’re totally organic in our produce. There’s too many ‘grey areas’ concerning organic at the moment. The best idea Poh had was to buy from your local green grocer or Farmer’s Markets – this is supporting clean, seasonal produce. She’s was quite concerned that avocados (amongst other fruit and vegetables) can be bought all year round from supermarkets!? We should be eating and cooking with seasonal produce.
Fifth and final course – dessert!! Everyone was looking forward to this! Hazelnut and chocolate fudge cookie and berry sherbet sandwich – yumm! How good do these look?! The chocolate and berry worked perfectly together and all we needed was a coffee to make it perfect – which unfortunately we didn’t get to have! Oh well, we all just savoured the dessert anyway. The berry sherbet is something I look forward to making, even if it was something that Elements made specifically.
So that was the Same Same but Different cookbook signing with Poh. An amazing night shared with my husband with amazing food and company. Poh’s cookbook is amazing and I can’t wait to get in there and create some beautiful dishes!
A HUGE thank you goes out to Element Restaurant for having us and preparing some beautifully delicious dishes – just perfect! And a BIG thank you to Eltham bookshop for promoting the evening – the night was fantastic!
PS These photos were taken with my Samsung camera phone, so they may not be of the best quality.