The Hyperreal Wonders of Glacé Fruit

A time-consuming, glossy confection beloved by 16th-century royalty is making an unlikely return.

Article by Alexa Brazilian

glazed over_1An assortment of glacé citrons, clementines, figs, green cherries and orange slices from Frank and Sal Italian Market and Sahadi’s, both in New York City, and the specialty food company IfiGourmet. Photograph by Kyoko Hamada.

Inside a gilded Rococo room on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, candied fruits dangled from winterberry tree branches. Hand-sewn to the limbs with waxed twine by the food artist Imogen Kwok and her team, the sugar-confit-dipped pears, clementines and cherries resembled orbs of glass and were clipped off by guests with bonsai scissors for an interactive dessert course. 

That event was for the fashion house Loewe, but candied fruits are a signature for the Sydney-born, London-based Kwok, who trained in the Michelin-starred New York kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Kwok incorporates them frequently in her work: she has arranged candied kumquats in the pattern of fish scales atop salmon fillets for an afternoon tea hosted by Prada and filled 17th-century vessels with heaps of candied clementines and yellow cherries for a Sotheby’s fete. “I positioned a spotlight over the cherries to make them really light up; it was like looking at a jewel,” says Kwok, who holds a master’s degree in art history and was inspired by the Dutch golden age painter Adriaen Coorte’s hyperrealistic renderings of produce. “Candied fruit is so luminous; it has this ethereal quality when the light hits it.”

Kwok isn’t the only one bewitched by the properties of candied fruit these days. “Just like in fashion or design, in food there are aesthetic trends, and they’re always a reaction to what’s come before,” says the New York artist Laila Gohar, who served glistening candied peaches, plums, clementines and green shishito peppers on simple white plates at an Hermès party in Milan in April. “The mid-2000s was very rustic. But now we’re inspired by something that might be found in the court of Marie Antoinette.” Growing up in Cairo, Gohar watched her father candy oranges and grapefruits in the kitchen. The process involves preserving a fruit by replacing its water content with sugar and is laborious and time-consuming. One first cores the fruit if necessary, briefly blanches it to soften the membrane of the skin and then repeatedly heats, cools and reheats it in an increasingly sugary syrup each day for weeks until it appears semitranslucent, while retaining its flavour. 

“From Persia to France, everyone has their version and tradition,” says Gohar and, indeed, candied fruit goes by many names across cultures, from glacé fruit to sweetmeats to fruits confits. The practice dates to the ancient Romans, who preserved the summer’s bounty of dates, pears and grapes for the winter in jars of honey. In 16th-century Elizabethan England, conspicuous displays of sugar, a pricey commodity at the time, became the ultimate boast, and banquet tables gleamed with candied fruits. “That was really one of the first ways people consumed sugar,” says Camilla Wynne, the preserving expert and author of the book “Nature’s Candy” (to be published in 2024), about the methods of preserving fruit. Sucket, as candied fruit was called in the Tudor era — the name is derived from the French succade and the Italian succata — was consumed with special silver forks, she says: “They had two prongs on one end to spear the flesh and a spoon on the other to ladle the syrup.” 

Refrigeration and the global produce trade may have obviated the need to preserve fresh fruit, but the British baker Stroma Sinclair, the former head pastry chef at Spring in London and the current cake maker at Leila’s Shop in the city’s Shoreditch district, says the process makes her more mindful of Europe’s growing seasons and the rhythms of nature. She preserves Pursha limes, pomelo, Tarocco blood oranges and kumquats each winter and uses them to adorn her confections throughout the year. 

The London caterer and creator Marie Cassis, of the @aromecassis Instagram account, which features evocative images of her Old World recipes, returns each spring to her family’s farm in northeast Cairo to candy their small, thin-skinned clementines. “It’s a very long and difficult process but, at the end, you have this beautiful object that looks like stained glass,” she says. Her annual pilgrimage is a tribute to her Greek grandmother, who makes clementine and apricot glyko tou koutaliou, or “spoon sweets”, a homemade Greek dish of fruit — typically sour cherries or citrus — preserved in syrup and served in a spoon with coffee. Cassis recalls her opening jars of shiny globes of citrus that had been candied the spring before in the middle of winter, when fresh fruit was scarce. “She always talks about honouring the fruit and the beauty of keeping it whole,” Cassis says. “That’s what I find so special about the process — the result is something that’s completely transformed yet has also kept its original shape. You work so hard to achieve it, but it makes you feel good.”  

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our fifteenth edition, Page 80 of T Australia with the headline: “Glazed Over”

How the Chilli Became Hot

Why did the consumption of hot peppers — after centuries of cultivation and global migration — come to confer status and sophistication?

Article by Ligaya Mishan

Chilli_1A still life featuring, from left, orange habanero and poblano chillies, arrayed with Sichuan peppercorns and dark chocolate. Photograph by Patricia Heal.

In 2007, a mysterious cloud, more scent than smoke, bloomed in a small corner of the seedy turned swanky Soho district of London. People started coughing and tearing up. The fire brigade was summoned, buildings evacuated, roads blocked. For three hours, firefighters — equipped with compressed-air tanks and lung-demand valves, to protect them from noxious gases — scoured the neighbourhood for the source of the potential bioterror attack. Finally, they broke into a Thai restaurant and emerged with a nine-pound pot of charred chillies. The chef had been interrupted while making nam prik pao, a jammy, earthy-sweet chilli paste that may be deployed as a condiment or a dip, or spread straight on toast.

Chillies are fruits, borne by plants of the genus Capsicum and the family Solanaceae, popularly known as nightshades and often demonised for their supposed inflammatory effects on the human body. There are thousands of varieties of chillies: They are smoky, musky, grassy, woodsy, dark and brooding, tart and bright, with notes as wide-ranging as chocolate, liquorice, tobacco, raisin, lemon, cherry and blackberry. But such nuances of flavour are sometimes lost in cultures that have no history of cooking with chillies and see them primarily as torture devices — vehicles of fierce, punishing, even mind-melting heat. (Not all chillies are that hot, nor does everyone register such heat in the same way; within the Thai culinary canon, nam prik pao, typically made with spur chillies, is considered strong in flavour but mild.)

Archaeologists have found evidence that chillies were harvested from the wild for cooking about 9,000 years ago in what is now Mexico and by 4100 B.C. had been domesticated for regular use in meals. Yet these peppers, indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and later embraced in Asia and Africa, were long treated as outsiders in North America and much of Europe — what we call the Western world. Although they arrived in Europe and were cultivated there beginning in the late 15th century, little trace of them may be found in cookbooks before the 18th and 19th centuries, when the elite allowed them into their kitchens, as chronicled by the French anthropologist Esther Katz.

For that matter, it’s only in recent years that Americans have begun to come around. Consumption per capita in the United States more than doubled from 1980 to 2020, according to a study published in Agronomy last year, with those who make chillies a regular part of their diet more likely to be nonwhite (a sign of the country’s changing demographics) and younger than 65, and/or to identify as “food explorers”: those who pride themselves on their interest in and knowledge of “top-notch” or “unique, gourmet, new or exotic” ingredients.

This portrait of the archetypal American chilli eater might suggest that peppers, while perhaps coveted by sophisticates or as the objects of cult fascination, have not yet fully entered the mainstream. But in the first year of the pandemic, sales of hot sauce in the United States surged by 24.6 percent, as tracked by Nielsen data. With restaurants closed for indoor dining across much of the country, many Americans had only their own cooking to fall back on. They needed “a shortcut to flavour,” says Jing Gao, 35, of Fly by Jing, an American company whose marquee product is Sichuan chilli crisp — a spicy, crunchy condiment of dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns (berries from a shrub of the Zanthoxylum genus) — and which grew tenfold in size in 2020. 

That April, The New York Times ran an article titled “Your Quarantine Cooking Needs Condiments,” highlighting Fly by Jing. Gao sold out half a year’s worth of inventory practically overnight. For the next four months, while negotiating supply-chain issues, the company maintained a waiting list of more than 30,000 potential customers. In a time of distress and isolation, when meals had become a retread of the old and familiar, that touch of heat was a small salvation: a flicker in the pulse, a smack of the jaw, a call back to life.

Technically, heat is not a flavour but a sensation (likewise the cooling brought on by menthol). A chilli’s ferocity depends on the presence of the chemical compound capsaicin and its associate capsaicinoids, lurking in the flesh and pith. Since 1912, this concentration has been measured according to the Scoville scale, which was originally based on the amount of sugar water required to dilute an extract of chilli before a tester detects not a hint of burn; today, scientists use high-performance liquid chromatography. Although conventional wisdom holds that removing the seeds before cooking reduces the heat, the seeds, in fact, contain no capsaicin. Theirs is mere guilt by association, as they may take on a coating of the compound in their proximity to the pith. 

Capsaicin triggers TRPV1 receptors, the same ones that are primed to recognise temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a baseline that may qualify as a brutal summer day but is not quite hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk or literally burn you. (In 2016, a case was reported of a man whose esophagus ruptured after he ate ghost peppers, among the most ferocious of chillies, but doctors determined that this was caused by retching and vomiting in response to the pain brought on by capsaicin, not by the capsaicin itself.) Scientists used to describe this effect as “irritation,” which seems a slightly dismissive word for the trembling sweats caused by too many habaneros (100,000 to 892,700 Scoville Heat Units) or the near-death experience of the Carolina Reaper, known to reach as many as 2.2 million S.H.U.s — more potent than some pepper sprays — and certified by Guinness World Records as the hottest chilli on earth. Since 1990, our sensitivity to such substances has been called, less chidingly, chemesthesis. 

But how can we properly describe an experience that is essentially a trick of the mind, a false cry of fire? It’s only an illusion of heat, and still we weep. After one significantly capsaicin-heavy meal, “I had to lie down because I felt high from it,” the American flavour scientist Arielle Johnson says. (Her book, “Flavorama: The Unbridled Science of Flavor and How to Get It to Work for You,” is due out next year.) The blessing is the aftermath, when a strange euphoria can set in, akin to the flooding of endorphins. Maybe eating chillies is a kind of catharsis, voluntarily putting ourselves through suffering in order to come out the other side, to restore our faith in a happy ending. 

Notably, the more chillies we eat, “the less it hurts,” says Johnson, 35. Our minds stop insisting, “This is pain,” so we can pay more attention to actual taste, noticing, maybe for the first time, all the other flavours chillies bring to a dish, relegating flame to the backdrop.

From the perspective of evolution, capsaicin is a weapon, enabling chillies to thwart predators. The British cultural critic Stuart Walton, writing in “The Devil’s Dinner” (2018), points out that the hotter peppers are less vulnerable to fungus, which likely made them attractive to our primal ancestors as a food that stayed fresh longer. (It helped that chillies turned out to be vitamin rich, as well.) And because birds are unaffected by capsaicin, they could blithely eat chillies and then unknowingly disseminate the seeds, supporting not just the peppers’ survival but their proliferation — and, eventually, their conquest of the world.

For unlike the coveted spices of old like cloves and cinnamon, chillies didn’t require tropical environments to flourish. They weren’t anchored to a place that had to be pillaged and controlled; instead, they grew easily in their new homes, which meant they couldn’t be reserved for the rich or monopolised by traders as a high-priced rarity. So chillies never conferred status; rather, they eluded the capitalist system of value. A food of the people, they were adopted by commoners in Asia and Africa who ate them perhaps simply because they liked them. 

In an added benefit, some cultures viewed chillis’ fervent properties as curative. Traditional Chinese medicine has long advocated ingredients that evoke heat, to help you sweat out and expel dampness — the fog that settles within, obstructing blood flow and leaving you achy and lethargic. And what have we lived through the past two years but a time of dampness, of blurred, soul-depleting days and stasis? Could chillies be the prescription for our age? “What is culture,” Johnson asks, “but a sensory experience you share with people around you?”

A trio of cayenne chillies with crushed cherries. Photographs by Patricia Heal.

At Chintan Pandya’s fast-casual restaurant, Rowdy Rooster, which opened in New York’s East Village in February, fried chicken is offered at five spice levels, each an escalation on its predecessor. The penultimate, No. 4, is ravaging. Conversation ceases; gulps of Limca, the Indian-made lemon-lime soda, are required. No. 5, in comparison, is more rounded, with deep, earthy flavours that muffle the heat — or so it seems: Give it half an hour and your mouth goes up in flames.

Pandya, 42, only put three spice levels on the menu at first: Rebel (Hot), Rogue (Extra Hot) and Rowdy (Crazy Hot). But the majority of his customers insisted on ordering Rogue, to their regret. “One guy said, ‘It hurts my ego if I have to eat at the lowest level,’ ” Pandya recalls. So he added Rascal (Mild) and Ruffian (Medium), to frame Rebel as a reasonable but still daring option. It’s also the level he chooses for himself: “If I eat a 4 or 5, I find it difficult to taste anything else.” 

The machismo of wanting to eat the hottest food possible — and to breed ever-hotter chillies to sate that desire (the Carolina Reaper entered the market in 2012) without necessarily caring about how they taste — is a fairly recent development, spurred in part by the YouTube phenomenon “Hot Ones,” which premiered in 2015 and earns millions of views per episode. The show is structured as a celebrity interview, but the real mission is to test, torment and humiliate the guest stars by making them eat chicken wings doused with a series of increasingly traumatising hot sauces. You can hear the gleeful cackle in the episode titles: The victim of the day “Has a Tongue Seizure While Eating Spicy Wings,” “Sets His Face on Fire,” “Cries for Her Mom,” “Fears for Her Life.”

Gao credits the belated American passion for chillies to “the effect of globalisation and all the heat in food coming from immigrant cultures.” Chillies landed in Virginia in 1621, courtesy of a British ship from Bermuda and identified only as “red pepper.” Eventually they wound up in some recipes for barbecue, a tradition that emerged from enslaved people. Mexican salsa made its way to supermarket shelves nationwide in the approximate form of Pace Picante sauce, created after the Second World War by David Pace, who, although not of Mexican descent, wanted to replicate the kind of hot sauce he found at taco shops in San Antonio, using locally harvested jalapeños (and even trying to grow them himself), as recounted by the architectural historian Mary Carolyn Hollers George in “Pearl Sets the Pace” (2020). In 1965, in the midst of a countercultural uprising that was questioning dominant narratives and seeking to expand consciousness of other cultures and cuisines, Pace decided Americans were ready to see Picante sauce not as a specialty ethnic product but as simply a condiment. It was a long bet that paid off: Campbell Soup bought Pace in 1995 for more than $1 billion. 

By 1991, salsa was outselling ketchup in the United States, although the mass-produced jars still tended toward the affable and unthreatening. Today, corporations are looking for more febrile investments: McCormick & Company, the world’s industry leader in spice production, headquartered north of Baltimore, bought Frank’s RedHot Louisiana-style sauce (a cayenne-spiked collaboration between a Cincinnati spice merchant and a Cajun pepper farmer from the end of the First World War) in 2017 and Cholula (a hot sauce of arbol and piquín chillies, made in Jalisco, Mexico, from a recipe passed down through generations) in 2020.

But Gao suggests that America learned to tolerate heat thanks to the tempering sweetness of a different hot sauce, this one dating back to 1983: Huy Fong Foods’ Sriracha, a concoction of red chillies, vinegar, sugar and garlic that is the colour of a dying sun and sold in a now-iconic green-nozzled bottle. Its maker, David Tran, named his California-based company after a run-down freighter that in 1978 rescued more than 3,000 refugees — twice its passenger capacity, with Tran among them — from Vietnam. Two decades after its quiet, unadvertised launch, Sriracha became a household name, popularised by Asian American chefs, including David Chang in New York and Roy Choi in Los Angeles, the latter of whom squeezed the sauce over his kimchi-topped hot dogs, part of a brash new idiom of Asian cooking that simultaneously celebrated and flaunted tradition.

By 2019, Tran’s brand of Sriracha, despite imitators, commanded nearly 10 percent of the estimated $1.5 billion hot sauce market, and his factory in Irwindale was producing 12,000 bottles an hour. Nevertheless, in 2013, in an echo of the London nam prik pao incident, neighbours complained of noxious fumes. A lawsuit was filed — leading to a brief, partial shutdown — but eventually dropped. Still, the incident revealed that suspicions of chillies linger; the battle has not been wholly won.

There is an irony to the misgivings that greeted chillies in Europe in the late 15th century. Europeans have clamoured for spice — for piquancy, something to enliven the dullness of their food — since at least the fifth century B.C., when the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of Arab traders bringing cinnamon from some unknown land, collected (or so the Greeks were told) from the nests of giant birds. The age of exploration, the first global corporations: Spice was the treasure on the far side of the map, a goad to invasion and domination. Christopher Columbus was hunting spice when he crossed
the Atlantic in 1492 and observed chillies in the Caribbean (to him, the West Indies). Eliding botanical differences, he determined that the chilli was not only a type of pepper but a worthy rival to black pepper (the unrelated Piper nigrum), “more abundant,” he wrote in his diary, adding, perhaps wishfully, “and more valuable.” 

“Chilli” is a borrowing from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, but as the French sociologist Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat notes in “A History of Food” (1987), the name that first took hold in Europe, as a result of Columbus’s attempt at marketing, was “pimiento,” a stronger “and therefore grammatically masculine” version of “pimienta,” black pepper. It was reportedly the Dutch who, after rising to dominate the black pepper trade in the 17th century, promoted the Nahuatl “chilli,” wanting to protect the name and singularity of their product.

Seeds brought back from the Americas were soon bearing fruit in the monastery gardens of Spain. Still, while Europeans may have been intrigued by chillies, some found their potency vexing. The English herbalist John Gerard, author of the magisterial “The Herbal, or General History of Plants” (1597), detected in the pepper a “malicious quality, whereby it is an enemy to the liver and other of the entrails.” Some cooks tried to tame the peppers through a complex method of drying, chopping and mixing them with flour and yeast, then baking and finally crushing them, all in hopes of diminishing the heat, which was seen as an “inconvenience” when eating, in the words of the Italian friar Fra Gregorio da Reggio, the reigning chilli expert of the region, as cited by the Hungarian historian Ottó Gecser in “Some Like It Hot: Piquant Taste Between the Middle Ages and Modern Times” (2019).

One notable exception to chilli resistance was Hungary, where the peppers first appeared in the 16th century — gifts from Spain, according to written records, although some historians propose a secondary source: the invading Ottomans, who themselves are believed to have adopted chillies from India, introduced there by Portuguese explorers whose specimens were descendants of those grown in Spain from the first seeds taken from the Americas. In the 18th century, Hungarians created their own blend of chillies, named after the paprika peppers used to make it. The seasoning gained unexpected notoriety this past spring, when Dracula Daily, a Substack newsletter, began posting piecemeal (for the second year in a row) the entirety of the 1897 novel “Dracula,” by Bram Stoker. The book opens with Jonathan Harker, a young solicitor, en route to Transylvania — “leaving the West and entering the East,” he confides to his journal — to meet a new client, Count Dracula. After eating a paprika-suffused stew, he suffers a restless night of “queer dreams”: “It may have been the paprika, for I had to drink up all the water in my carafe, and was still thirsty.” 

His turmoil confused some contemporary readers: Paprika as we know it today is harmless and sweet. The hashtag #paprika started trending on Tumblr as some mocked the hapless Englishman for quailing before such innocuous spice. But others argued that when the novel was written, there was no sweet paprika; only in the early 20th century did plant breeders in Hungary start taming and denaturing chillies through hybridisation. In fact, milling techniques introduced in 1859 that expedited removal of the hotter parts of the chilli had made sweeter blends widely available by the time innocent Harker would have encountered it. (More feverish versions persist, like one made with heirloom Szegedi 178 chillies from Hungary’s oldest paprika-producing region, sold in the United States by the spice company Burlap & Barrel.)

“Dracula” is fiction, but history intrudes. A plant that for thousands of years fed one people, in one part of the world, is now claimed by many, and not despite its heat but because of it. If the chilli’s fire was once disdained as immoderation and effrontery, violating the propriety of the table, now that response is revealed for what it always was: You’re not curious, brave or tough enough. You just can’t handle the heat.

Why Is Chamomile Suddenly Everywhere?

The humble flower has come to captivate the worlds of fashion and food.

Article by Hetty Lui McKinnon

CHAMOMILEBrooklyn-based Joshua Werber is just one of the floral artists looking at once-humble chamomile in a new light. Here, he used three different cultivars of the flower to add layers of texture to a dramatic free- flowing cascade inspired, he says, by the work of the early 20th-century British florist Constance Spry. Photography by Kyoko Hamada.

In ancient Egypt, chamomile was considered a gift from the divine. Offerings of the flower were made to the powerful sun god Ra as a form of worship; King Tut’s sandals were decorated with the bloom’s likeness; and the plant’s oil was used to anoint the dead, including the body of Ramses II. The ancient Greeks and Romans, too, were enamoured with chamomile, named — for its fruity aroma — from the Greek chamai, meaning “on the ground,” and melon (“apple”).

Practitioners in each culture considered chamomile medicinal, using it crushed and in teas to treat skin conditions and other ailments. A few millenniums later, the herb is considered a natural sedative — possibly due to a compound called apigenin — and has been studied as a remedy for generalised anxiety disorder. 

Perhaps it’s that promise of calm that explains why chamomile is suddenly ubiquitous. The flower is showing up on wedding cakes, in cocktails and mocktails and at restaurants in dishes both savoury and sweet. Its image has appeared in runway prints, and its leaves and flowers are being used to make natural dyes. The flower is even trending on TikTok: In August last year, Vice World News reported that Nepalese chamomile farmers — the flower, which is hardy and adaptable, thrives in both warm and cool climates around the globe — are apoplectic about social media creators trampling their crops in an effort to find dreamy, bucolic backgrounds for their videos. 

Part of the appeal of chamomile — the name actually refers to many different species within the Asteraceae family — is its modesty. With its tiny, daisylike blooms, feathery foliage and untamed stems, it has an old-fashioned back-to-the-land look that, according to the New York-based floral designer Emily Thompson, answers our collective longing for simpler times. “Chamomile has a charming, nostalgic identity,” says Thompson, who likes to pair it with daisies or zinnias.

Chefs are attracted to the flower, as well, for its mild, honeyed perfume and gentle, herbaceous flavour, which is why it’s long been used in teas and tisanes. Rae Kramer, the executive chef at the New York restaurant-cum-flower shop Il Fiorista, serves a burger with chamomile aioli and uses chamomile mustard as a condiment for speck. She even adds the flowers — along with lemon and other herbs — to her turkey brine, noting that the bud’s subtle sweetness pairs particularly well with poultry. The pastry chef Natasha Li Pickowicz says that chamomile has a place in home kitchens, too. She grows the plant in her Brooklyn garden and uses it to marinate pork shoulder and stuff whole fish before roasting. The petals are “so small,” she points out, “that you’re mostly tasting the rich yellow pollen, which is dusty and thick and soft.” 

The Brooklyn-based baker Aimee France uses chamomile to flavour batters, buttercreams and jams but, for her, the flower’s appeal is also aesthetic. France has decorated her wedding cakes with both fresh and dried versions of the plant, which she forages from her home state of New Hampshire. She’s particularly fond of its long, twisty stems, which, she says, “add a delicate, whimsical look” that feels especially modern in contrast to stiff fondant or sugar flowers.

But the flower, says Liz Spencer, the owner of the Dogwood Dyer in Southern California, isn’t just for eating (or drinking). Spencer, who has tinted textiles for eco-focused brands like Jungmaven and Outerknown, grows an organic dyer’s variety of the plant, which she uses to make botanical prints on fabric. The leaves, petals and pollen, she says, impart hues ranging from “straw to vibrant yellow, and almost orange to green.” A bonus: The process smells lovely, making it a plant for all eras — and, indeed, all the senses, too. 

One-Bite Wonders: Tasty Morsels to Try at Home

Australian chefs share their high-impact, low-fuss canapes for home entertaining.

Article by Paul Chai

Canapes_1Marion's anchovies on toast with salsa verde. Photography by Jo McGann.

A canape is an opportunity for a chef to pack as much punch, flair, craftsmanship and balance as they can into a single bite. The word originates in France in the 1800s, where chefs and home cooks putt a savoury toppings on small pieces of bread. The result was said to resemble a person sitting on a sofa, or canape, in French.

In today’s restaurants, the canape, hor d’ouevre or amuse bouche are like an elevator pitch that seeks to make the maximum impact in the minimum amount of time. They lean into big flavours such as anchovies that can be seen everywhere from Movida’s famous one-bite wonder (with smoked tomato sorbet) to newcomers like Nick and Nora’s lightly curried egg take.

“The best snacks should always pique the appetite, but not ruin it,” says Melbourne chef and restaurateur Andrew McConnell, whose Trader House group of companies includes Marion Wine Bar, Cutler and Co and Cumulus Inc. “And of course, they always taste better with a glass of something cold and delicious in the other hand.”

There have been a few bumps in the road of the canape from the 1800s to now – think 70s creations like vol au vents full of soupy mushroom filling and Fanny Craddock’s terrifying boiled egg “swans” with pipe cleaners for necks and heads. Here, T Australia asks some of the country’s best chefs for their favourite recipes for the canape season.

Marion Anchovy Toast by Andrew McConnell, chef and owner, Trader House (Marion)

Marion is McConnell’s treasured Fitzroy wine bar, and the laidback neighbour to his flagship fine-diner, Cutler & Co. Inspired by McConnell’s adventures in convivial bars and bistros across the world, Marion is a place to pause for a moment or to settle in for a relaxed session of eating and drinking.

This recipe for a simple anchovy toast is not overtly “cheffy” and perfect for recreating at home (makes 10).

1 x 50g tin Ortiz anchovies
1 White sourdough loaf
Salsa Verde
Pinch of espelette pepper
Pickled shallots

Slice the bread into small batons, about 2cm thick.

Brush with good olive oil, and char both sides over a hot grill. Rub each slice of grilled bread with a cut garlic clove.

Next, generously smear each slice of bread with salsa verde and top with fillet of anchovy.

To finish add a pinch of pickled shallots, a dusting of espelette pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Oysters with green cucumber granita by Derek Boath, chef at Underbar

Underbar is an awarded, innovative and intimate restaurant that acts as chef Derek Boath’s seasonal playground. Recently the restaurant moved into Hotel Vera, a boutique hotel in Ballarat from the team behind Hotel Ernest in Bendigo. Underbar has just 14 seats and produces dishes like Boath’s “adult snow cone” – a bowl of first-of-the-season baby tomatoes with rainbow trout roe, shaved ice and nasturtium.

“I think the classic Australian summer canapé is oysters,” Boath says. “Oysters need to be cold and I do mine with a salad of cucumber, tomato and nasturtium in the form or granita.”

Green cucumber granita
6 Lebanese cucumbers
2 Granny Smith apples
20 large nasturtium leaves
Juice 1 lemon
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar

Blend all ingredients.

Pass through chinoise pressing with ladle to get out all liquid.

Place liquid in 1/2 gastro tray and freeze overnight.

Next day scrape frozen granita to produce small shards of ice.

Reserve in freezer for later use.

Tomato water granita
10 large ripe tomatoes
20 nasturtium flowers
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch salt
Pinch sugar

Blend all ingredients.

Pass through a chinoise lined with cheesecloth Do not press this one as you want the tomato water to be clear as possible.

Place liquid in 1/2 gastro tray and freeze overnight.

Next day scrape frozen granita to produce small shards of ice. Reserve in freezer for later use.

Shuck fresh oysters and remove any broken shell or grit.

Place a teaspoon of each granita on each oyster and garnish with baby nasturtium leaves and a drop or 2 of agrumato lemon oil.

Eat quickly with a champagne, two.

Anchovy and tomato crostini by Nick Mahlook, Group Executive Chef at Public Hospitality Group

Public Hospitality Group’s recently opened Oxford House (OH!) hotel in Paddington is Sydney’s newest hotspot, featuring a Palm Springs aesthetic and pool parties soundtracked by local DJs. Executive Chef Nick Mahlook’s go-to poolside snack is Oxford House’s now-famous lobster roll with garlic butter, lemon mayo and chives on a toasted milk bun but he keeps things a little simpler when creating quick snacks for home entertaining.

“When I think of one-bite snacks, I think cold drink, feet up and relaxing, usually with friends so I like to make them simple, this is one I use regularly at home and it’s easy!” he says. 

Sourdough baguette
Ortiz anchovies
Tomatoes (very ripe)
Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Chilli (optional)


Slice the baguette (anchovy size) and ½ cm thick, then thinly slice the tomato.

Lightly drizzle your bread with olive oil and in a hot griddle pan toast on both sides until you have a crunchy, slightly blackened crostini, while hot gently rub one side with a garlic clove.

Lightly butter each crostini, top with tomato, anchovy, parsley, then give them a small squeeze of lemon, a crack of pepper (chilli optional)

Pour a cold drink and enjoy.

Steak and oyster bite by Anton Eisenmenger and Tanya Bertino of Long Paddock

Eisenmenger and Bertino worked with top chefs in Melbourne and London including The Ledbury in London and The Botanical and Vue de Monde in Melbourne. A few years back, they left the frantic pace of fine dining in the city and returned to Bertino’s hometown of Lindenow in Gippsland. The pair now use the incredible produce of the Gippsland region, the food bowl of Victoria, to produce hearty meals from an old shopfront right across from farm fields.

“The perfect snacks should be umami and salty balanced with sweetness and a wafer crisp bite,” says Eisenmenger. “A snack that we love to make is a beer-battered oyster, on a little mound of steak tartare, on a crispy lettuce leaf wrap. The batter should be thin, shatteringly crisp and yeasty. The steak tartare should be fairly ‘sloppy’, with garlicky mayonnaise and plenty of hot sauce.”

Roughly chop some rump or fillet steak. Season with salt flakes and cracked pepper. Lube with olive oil.

Grate fresh horseradish as you desire. Grate lemon zest as you wish. Add some capers, fried or wet.

Finely chop some shallot and gherkin. Finely chop some chives. Mix all of this.

Shuck a few oysters. You can add some of the brine to your tartar mix if you wish.

Dry the oysters on a paper towel.

Blend some nori or laver bread with a small amount of mayonnaise or kewpie and put in a squeeze bottle.

Make a basic batter; spoon some tapioca flour and cornstarch together with a pinch of baking powder. Stir in soda water with a fork until sloppy and lumpy.

Prepare tiny cups or discs with lettuce of your choice with a teaspoon of the tartar mix in the middle. Squeeze a dot of the seaweed mayo on the tartar.

Lightly flour your oysters and dunk them in the batter. Lift them with the sharp end of a wooden skewer as you drop them into a shallow pan of hot oil.  (190 degrees C approx)

Fry until crispy. Remove with a sieve onto a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper.

Place on top of the steak and lettuce. Garnish with caviar or finger lime if you like and serve immediately.

The Most Memorable Fictional Dinner Parties to Inspire Your Own

Things to emulate — or avoid: 24 gatherings in films, plays and books, from an enviably bizarre dog-friendly meal to a nightmarish food fight.

Article by Juan A. Ramírez

7-TMAG-DINNER-PARTIES-3A scene from the 2008 Broadway production of Caryl Churchill’s “Top Girls” at the Biltmore Theater, featuring (from left) Ana Reeder, Jennifer Ikeda, Elizabeth Marvel, Marisa Tomei, Mary Catherine Garrison, Mary Beth Hurt and Martha Plimpton. Photography by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times.

Dinner parties, real or imagined, have long been a highly reliable source of drama: Whether joyful, combative, filled with laughter or dread, they offer filmmakers, playwrights and novelists a chance to explore what happens when characters who’ve known one another their whole lives — or who only just met — face off across a table. And since even the most informal dinner party is a kind of ritual, with its own customs and practices, it can be especially thrilling when the rules are shattered as easily as a wineglass. With the help of some guest nominators, we’ve assembled a list of fictional dinner parties that epitomise the possibilities of the genre.


“August: Osage County” (2007)

A family comes together to mourn the loss of their patriarch and winds up coming undone in Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, their brokenness laid bare during an act-long memorial dinner at which the matriarch, deep into her losing battle with a prescription pill addiction, insults her relatives past the point of no return.

Guest Pick: “Fairview” (2018)

“‘Fairview’ initially presents as a perky family comedy surrounding a Black family’s preparations for Grandma’s birthday, which ends up being the stuff of nightmares. Let’s just say that, when I saw the show a few years ago at TFANA [Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn], a giant fake sandwich smacking me in the face was far from the most arresting moment. [Playwright Jackie Sibblies Drury] is a certified genius and this production was one of the most deep, unflinching and blackly — not a pun, just true — comedic interrogations of race in America.” Gabby Beans, actor

“The Glass Menagerie” (1944)

In Tennessee Williams’s “memory play,” based on his own fraught family relationships, the faded Southern belle Amanda Wingfield makes her son invite a co-worker over for dinner with the intention of setting him up with her shy, disabled daughter. The meal doesn’t go remotely as planned, but Amanda keeps clinging to her hopes for the “gentleman caller” until her illusions are finally cracked.

Guest Pick: “A Little Night Music” (1973)

“The second act’s banquet scene in Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim’s musical begins mid-laugh and unravels from there. Couples re- and decouple, bitterness is the entree, and the guests strive mightily at ‘keeping control / while falling apart.’ Although the scene takes place in Sweden around 1900, one could imagine it reset and regendered — and with less eloquence — at a dinner party in the Fire Island Pines today.” — Mark Campbell, librettist

A first-edition cover of Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (1925). Courtesy Hogarth Press.
A first-edition cover of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (1945). Courtesy Secker & Warburg.

“Macbeth” (1606)

The psychological torment permeating William Shakespeare’s tale of regicide and bloodlust is made hauntingly manifest in the middle of its five acts when the newly crowned king sees the ghost of Banquo, a friend he’d ordered killed, sit in his place at the table. Driven mad by this illusion, he bursts into a fit of guilty rage, causing his guests to scatter.

“Top Girls” (1982)

The first scene of Caryl Churchill’s play is a dreamlike encounter in which contemporary businesswoman Marlene celebrates a promotion with the help of famous historical women — from British explorer Isabella Bird and Japanese noblewoman Lady Nijo to Griselda of Boccaccio’s “The Decameron.” After questioning the ethics of success as a woman in a businessman’s world, Churchill’s play goes on to explore and subvert female archetypes.


“Animal Farm” (1945)

Years have passed since the overworked livestock revolted against the humans and reorganised their society along caste lines in George Orwell’s parable of the Russian Revolution, with the pigs in charge. Napoleon, the Stalin stand-in, throws away the last vestiges of their socialist ideals by holding a dinner party for other pigs and local farmers, leaving the rest of the animals to fend for themselves. As the downtrodden look on from outside, they find it hard to tell the difference between oppressors new and old.

“Atonement” (2001)

In Ian McEwan’s novel, a young girl mistakenly believes she’s just witnessed the rape of her older sister by their housekeeper’s son. Rattled by the vision, her strained nerves during the subsequent family dinner contribute to a tense atmosphere, after which the plot’s dominoes begin to topple.

Guest Pick: “The Bean Eaters” (1960)

“This exquisite poem [by Gwendolyn Brooks] shows us that a dinner party can consist of a humble spread for just two people with love and long years between them. ‘This old yellow pair’ enjoys a simple meal of ‘beans in their rented back room.’ Their stories and memories are evoked ‘with twinklings and twinges,’ as they think of the life they have shared over ‘plain chipware’ and ‘tin flatware.’ Ultimately, the beauty of our lives is in the living and in the ‘remembering … / Remembering,’ at a dinner party for two across a simple kitchen table.” — Elizabeth Alexander, poet

Heather Alicia Simms in Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fairview,” during the 2019 run at Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn. Photography by Richard Termine for The New York Times.

Guest Pick: “The Color Purple” (1982)

“All the women in this story are strong-willed and self-possessed, mercilessly controlled by society’s limitations. This moment [over dinner], in particular, is when their collective power in the story is evident in the sharpness of language, wit, testimony and solidarity. Celie stands up to her oppressive husband for the first time by freeing herself; a tinderbox of freedom sets a flame for the women at the table.” — Abigail DeVille, visual artist

“Mrs. Dalloway” (1925)

Featuring perhaps the most fussed-about dinner party in literature, “Mrs. Dalloway” charts the unsteady trajectory of a handful of post-World War I London society members as they prepare for a gathering at Clarissa Dalloway’s home, at which old passions, bad blood and distressing news each make an appearance: “Oh! thought Clarissa, in the middle of my party, here’s death.”

“Norwegian Wood” (1987)

Haruki Murakami’s fifth novel catapulted the writer to fame in Japan with its critique of the hollowness he perceived in his country’s 1960s counterculture. In it, Tokyo drama student Toru sees his history of complicated relationships come to a head while he’s out to dinner at a French restaurant with a classmate and his girlfriend. After it is revealed that he and his friend have previously swapped sex partners during the same night, their childish innocence gives way to the seriousness of adult consequences.

“The Satyricon” (first century A.D.)

Petronius captured the daily decadence of Emperor Nero’s Rome in this famous satire, which survives in fragments. Most unforgettable among its exploits is an extravagant dinner at the estate of Trimalchio, a former slave who has come into great wealth and who, still unwelcome in the upper echelon, is trying to outdo his new peers. Perhaps inspired by such lavish touches as a Zodiac-themed dinner course — as well as by the guests’ vulgar conversations — F. Scott Fitzgerald almost named his 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby” after the nouveau riche Roman character.

“Woodcutters” (1984)

A writer, shaken by the funeral earlier that day of a friend who had killed themself, narrates the events of a Viennese dinner party, while talking to no one and launching into internal diatribes against the guests from the few different chairs at which he sits throughout the gathering. Thomas Bernhard’s incisive roman à clef targets the never-ending rivalries and bitterness that can pervade any artistic milieu.


Guest Pick: “Alma’s Rainbow” (1994)

“A cinematic celebration of Black womanhood over an exuberant dinner party honouring the 10th anniversary of Alma’s (Kim Weston-Moran) beauty shop: Dinner is served — as is a sublime showcase of the ways Black women move to express joy, confidence and freedom. When a stranger from the past enters the night’s festivities, the film’s events are fully set in motion.” — Maya S. Cade, curator

“Black Girl” (1966)

With a stirring lead performance from Mbissine Thérèse Diop, this is considered one of the first major works of African cinema. In just under an hour, writer-director Ousmane Sembène paints a bleak portrait of Diouana, a young Senegalese woman working as a maid in France whose mistreatment by her employers leads to a tragic end. Among the indignities she is forced to endure is a lunch party at which one of the hosts’ friends kisses Diouana in a degrading show of power.

“Clue” (1985)

Six colorful strangers are anonymously invited to a spooky mansion dinner party hosted by a mysterious Mr. Boddy, who soon dies amid a room full of suspects holding various weapons, including a candlestick and a lead pipe. In a rare feat of spot-on adaptation, this cinematic version of the classic board game became a Reagan-era satire of McCarthyism with unimpeachable performances from Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn and an embarrassment of other comic actors at the top of their game. It has since developed a cult fan base among viewers who keep it alive through sheer memeability.

“The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” (1989)

Peter Greenaway’s scathing tirade against Thatcherism consists almost entirely of lavish dinners at a restaurant taken over by the nouveau riche thief (Michael Gambon). His wife (Helen Mirren, dressed in custom Jean Paul Gaultier) and her bookish lover (Alan Howard) are aided in their indiscretions by the cook (Richard Bohringer). A gorgeous exercise in formalism that takes its cues from Flemish Baroque art, the film’s violent final meal is the only one not prepared by chef Giorgio Locatelli, who crafted the prop food.

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972)

Reversing the setup of his earlier film “The Exterminating Angel” (1962), in which a wealthy coterie is unable to escape a hellish dinner party, Luis Buñuel cranked up the absurdism for this surrealist farce in which an international bourgeoisie cannot, for the life of them, start their meal — whether that’s because they’re being interrupted by armed militias or realising they’re onstage in a theater. The film’s increasingly bizarre antics helped it to become the iconic Spanish director’s only film to earn an Academy Award.

“Fanny and Alexander” (1983)

Originally conceived as a mini-series for public television in his native Sweden, the first episode of Ingmar Bergman’s five-plus-hour period epic (trimmed to three hours for the theatrical release) includes a wealthy family’s Christmas dinner. Warmly lit, the relatives sit side by side with their servants in a moment of shared joy, which the director complicates with intimately shot asides in which the family reveals its inner turmoils.

Guest Pick: “The Nutty Professor” (1996)

“Professor Klump tries to hip his family to the importance of eating healthy — only they ain’t having it. Roll-on-the-floor funny; Eddie Murphy playing most all the roles; ‘Hercules! Hercules!’” Suzan-Lori Parks, playwright

Guest Pick: “102 Dalmatians” (2000)

“Cruella de Vil has all of her guests bring their dogs for a doggy dinner [where the canines leap onto the table and devour the roast served]. It’s so bonkers and bizarre that I could imagine myself doing that. I have a trimming of the feathers from the red dress that she wears in that scene; I’m that obsessed with it.” — Elliot Joseph Rentz, a.k.a.Alexis Stone, performance artist

“Rope” (1948)

Two “close” college students and aesthetes strangle their old classmate hours before a dinner party they’re hosting in their Manhattan penthouse — leaving them with no choice but to set up the buffet atop the antique chest into which they’ve stuffed his body. Will they get away with what they’ve intellectualised as their “perfect murder?” Based on the 1929 play by Patrick Hamilton that was itself inspired by the infamous Leopold and Loeb murders, Hitchcock’s version is one of his most grippingly claustrophobic films, with the director using hidden cuts to make it appear to unspool in one thrilling take.

“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988)

Not a dinner gathering in the traditional sense: In the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s breakthrough comedy, a voice actress (Carmen Maura), recently dumped by her lover, whips up a batch of gazpacho and laces it with sleeping pills intended for him. Instead, the soup is consumed by a parade of mostly uninvited guests, including the telephone repairman, the police, and a young Antonio Banderas and Rossy de Palma, leaving them all on the floor. Yet it still feels like a party not to be missed.


Guest Pick: “Under the Table” (2020)

“It’s a familiar scene, even from reality TV — someone challenges the values of a fellow dinner guest and causes an altercation. But Fiona Apple’s song recharges this scenario by putting us inside the head of a principled dissenter at a ‘fancy’ party to which a social-climbing companion drags her. We don’t get many specifics, but that’s not the point. It’s a standout anthem on an excellent record [‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters’], many of whose songs are about breaking the bonds of self-censorship.” — James Hannaham, writer

Additional reporting by Coco Romack.

Shell Shucked: A Guide to Native Rock Oysters

Native rock oysters are fast becoming the variety of choice for discerning diners, thanks to their distinctive flavour and improved farming practices.

Article by Fred Siggins

SHELL SHUCKEDImage courtesy Suttershock.

On Christmas Day 2020, my family and I spent the afternoon burying our faces in several dozen spectacular fresh rock oysters from Merimbula, on the Far South Coast of New South Wales. My chef brother-in-law and I took turns showing my stepfather how to shuck with the shiny new oyster knife he’d been gifted. The champagne flowed as we indulged in a pent-up, mid-pandemic feast. At the time, restaurants were operating under restricted trading, so seafood distributors turned to bivalve-hungry retail customers such as us to take care of the excess. 

Shane Buckley, the owner of Wapengo Rocks Wild Organic Oysters (the first Australian oyster farm to receive organic certification), was among the many producers who relied on direct-to-consumer sales during the lockdowns. Located in New South Wales’ Bega Valley, Buckley has dealt with a lot over the past few years. Fires and floods have dramatically affected his ability to harvest, and the knock-on effects have impacted water quality and the health of his oysters. Soaring freight costs and supply-chain disruptions have also hindered the recovery of his business, but Buckley remains committed to producing sustainable seafood. 

 “We have the best water quality in the state, as we’re surrounded by national park land and classed as ‘near pristine’. Our practices have no impact whatsoever on the estuary, and we use no treated wood products that can introduce chemicals into the environment,” says Buckley. His wild-caught native oysters are known to Australia’s best chefs and are served at Sydney’s Saint Peter eatery and at venues run by the Melbourne-based MoVida group. “We’re sticking by the restaurants that stuck by us,” Buckley adds. 

Each year, the nation produces an estimated 16 million dozen oysters, with a farm gate production value of more than $90 million (that doesn’t include retail sales and other downstream economic value). “Australia grows some of the most amazing oysters in the world,” says Pez Collier, the owner of Melbourne’s Pearl Diver Cocktails & Oysters, a bar dedicated to bivalves and booze. “As oysters are filter feeders, they are a true reflection of their environment. Australia’s unique species of oyster, combined with favourable environmental conditions and quality farming, makes each oyster particularly special.”

Pearl Diver offers three or four varieties at any given time, including native New South Wales rock oysters from Merimbula, as well as Pacific oysters, a species originally introduced from Japan, sourced from as far south as Eaglehawk Neck in Tasmania and Coffin Bay in South Australia. “We really wanted to create a space to taste the amazing diversity of Australian oysters,” says Collier. “This gives guests the opportunity to explore the different species and environments.” 

When asked about his favourite drink and oyster match, Collier names Domaine Ménard-Gaborit’s 2020 Accostage muscadet from France’s Loire Valley paired with Appellation rock oysters from Merimbula (rock oysters from estuaries in New South Wales are graded each day, with the finest deemed “Appellation” oysters). “The wine is bright and fresh, with heaps of green apple and citrus fruit, beautiful texture and a touch of creaminess from lees aging. It combines beautifully with the high brine and mineral notes of the oyster,” Collier says.

Australia’s history is literally paved with oyster shells. The middens left by First Nations people mark an ongoing relationship with the environment and important gathering sites for groups from all over the area. A towering mound once stood where the Sydney Opera House now stands; in fact, so numerous were oysters in the waters of Sydney Harbour that, in the early days of European colonisation, crushed shells were used to make roads and houses. During the gold rush years, oyster saloons were common, often run by Greek immigrants who were barred from other employment.

Now, as farmers such as Buckley and conscientious operators such as Collier make a case for the regeneration of natural oyster reefs, along with renewed enjoyment by discerning diners, the future of Australian oysters is as promising as the summer sea.

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 32 of T Australia with the headline: “Shell Shucked”