Dig deeper

Dig deeper

By
Brent Owens
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742709666
Photographer
Mark Roper

The other day I got tagged in a facebook photo. The photo was taken a couple of years ago and shows me wearing chef’s whites that belonged to a friend who works in catering. In the photo I look so incredibly happy – I think that’s the day that everyone, including me, realised just how much I love cooking.

I don’t think anyone in my family knew I could cook until Christmas last year, when I cooked lunch single-handed for the extended family – twenty-odd people. I did the whole spread and everyone was blown away.

Like most people, I first started cooking from necessity. I became independent at sixteen, so I had to learn to fend for myself. I remember being in year 10 and coming home from school to cook up some burgers for lunch. I’d sit down and watch television during lunch break, and often there happened to be a cooking show on. It was a gradual progression from there. I liked watching Jamie Oliver, then saw there was another show of his on a cable food channel, so I’d watch that. Then I’d get involved in the show that came after it and eventually I was in front of that food channel for hours every night. Then I’d go and try out something I’d seen on TV. I pretty much learned everything from these shows.

I’d always been a fan of MasterChef too, and often thought I’d like to give it a try. For two or three years I kept saying, ‘I’m going to do that one day.’ My family began to believe that I could do it too and started to encourage me, saying, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ My girlfriend, Madison, got sick of me talking about it so we made a pact to both audition for different reality shows. I filled in my application and it sat there for weeks. On the very last day for applications, I thought ‘What the hell!’ and pressed the send button.

I developed a lot through the MasterChef experience. Before the show, my cooking was very rustic – big spreads with a range of hearty dishes and huge portions. But it was quite rough and ready. Through my time on the show I learned how to be more intricate and delicate and how to make food look good on the plate. I still love making a big spread, but now it looks more like a show table! I believe the way you prepare and present food can change the result completely. If people are in love with the look of something they’re already engaged and, chances are, they’re going to love the flavour even more.

Seeing people enjoy the food I cook is huge for me. I have always loved entertaining for friends and I tend to go overboard. If someone only eats seafood, then I’ll put up four seafood dishes for them, not just one – I don’t like seeing people disappointed. I have a great memory of that Christmas Day last year, seeing everyone so impressed and enjoying the food. It was an amazing feeling.

I would describe my cooking as generous. I love everyone sharing dishes or preparing the components so each person can build their own taco or whatever. I also love the element of surprise – to put things in dishes that people wouldn’t really expect.

Before MasterChef, because I was used to cooking Thai and Mexican food at home, I had already learned a little about balancing flavours, but through being on the show I learned a lot more about how to balance and rebalance. A lot of people think that if you follow a recipe and put everything in a pot and cook it, at the end the flavour will always be the same. But it’s not like that. You need to taste, taste, taste and, if something is out, you need to bring it back. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and practice.

I am way more experimental and creative since MasterChef. I invent new dishes and reinvent classics. I think about different tastes – about acidity, bitterness, sweetness and saltiness – in everything I do. I also try to incorporate contrasts of texture and flavour, as well as colour and shape. I play with ingredients and try to do something a little bit unexpected – like working out creative ways to use simple ingredients like barley, or getting a cauliflower and thinking of five different ways I can use it in the same dish.

But because I’ve eaten a lot of fine food since winning MasterChef, I've started to crave what I love best – hearty home-cooked dishes. This is my favourite kind of food, as it triggers memories for me. It’s what I ate while growing up and what I first fell in love with.

In this book I have included many classic recipes that I make all the time, which I have reinvented or added a bit of a twist to. They’re hearty dishes, usually with robust, memorable flavours. Although there are also some more sophisticated dishes in the book, I believe these are achievable by any home cook. Just give everything a go – making your own pastry, pizza dough, curry pastes, pickles, sauces and smoking food. It’s not that hard and each time you do it, it gets easier. It’s so worth it, as the satisfaction you get from doing it yourself and seeing people enjoy it, is just awesome.

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