Who doesn’t love good food? For me, it’s an obsession. My husband and kids joke that if I’m not around, it’s often easier to find something to eat. Why? I cook most of our meals and as a result, my food repertoire is very broad. I want to eat what I can’t easily make at home. Consequently, I’m constantly researching the best places to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, pho, curry, hamburgers, scones, steaks, sushi, dumplings etc.
My food obsession started in earnest when I lived in New York. New York’s food culture is well developed and at all price points. It dovetailed nicely with training for the New York City Marathon in 1996. While training, I discovered that food is fuel and that home cooking can often rival what we eat in restaurants. How? Restaurant cooking has a lot of added fat and salt to make it more delicious but it isn’t always necessary. Plus after running 20km or more, it’s beneficial to clean up and go straight to bed.
London was more difficult. I can remember indigestion being the primary motivation for cooking at home and having friends over for dinner. Despite living in Soho, I couldn’t eat at most of the restaurants because of the poor quality and/or high cost. Consequently, I was impressed that I could purchase rabbit at Tesco Covent Garden and I discovered the delicious King Edward potato. Fortunately, Chinatown was nearby and the Berwick Street Market where I could purchase fresh produce on a daily basis. My mother and I once bought a freshly skinned eel in Chinatown which we grilled with gochujang, a Korean spicy bean paste.
Consequently, when I landed in Sydney, I was delighted to find markets and a highly developed food culture that was a fusion of Eastern and Western cuisine. Because I had gestational diabetes twice, I have learned how to eat healthily. Lots of vegetables and legumes, certain fruits, a reasonable amount of low-GI carbohydrates and lean proteins. A treat once a week which I truly enjoy, instead of scoffing on the way to a meeting or sitting in front of the computer. And bicycling to work, to my kids’ music lessons, out for dinner with my husband, to meetings and everywhere has made it possible for me to keep my weight at a healthy BMI. And because I enjoy bicycling so much, I have also ventured into road and mountain biking and the occasional cyclocross race. Sometimes, I even wear lycra. (Gasp! Yes, it’s helpful for going fast.)
As a result, it was inevitable that I would meet Mark Jensen, the executive chef at Red Lantern Restaurant. My husband, who re-introduced me to bicycling years ago, is a fan of Speedvagen, a specialist racing bike manufacturer based in the US. He also attends the morning Rapha rides. He met Mark at one of their many events. In the summer, my husband and I were invited to attend a Speedvagen dinner. Sacha White and his team came to Sydney and Melbourne for their “Tour Down Under.” We had dinner at Mark’s seafood eatery Salmon and Bear in Zetland. We were treated to a delicious dinner but the fish was shockingly overcooked!
After dinner, I thanked Mark for dinner and mentioned that the fish had been dry. He agreed and said that he had been working to rectify this problem. Chefs are generally receptive to feedback. Mark was no exception. I kept hearing about him from my husband and the variety of bicycles that he owns including a beautiful butter-coloured Speedvagen Urban Racer.
Consequently, I hatched a variant of #bikeshopeat with Mark in mind. I’m an admirer of Red Lantern on Riley and the Vietnamese/European cuisine that they offer in beautiful surrounds. I proposed that we ride together to Carriageworks Farmers Market, buy some delicious produce and cook it at my house (eek)? And that is exactly what we did last Saturday morning. I also invited George from the Sydney Food Crew to meet Mark, take photos and stay for lunch. I met George in person during one of the Sydney X Rides. Previously, we had met on Instagram.
Timing was an issue with kids and work schedules. We decided on a date. The night before, Mark was concerned that he didn’t have childcare and would have to drive to the markets with the kids. The solution? The kids could ride in the Nihola while he bicycled. My kids would be away for sport with my husband in the morning and upon their return, we could all eat lunch together. Done!
I suggested that he dress his kids warmly because of they would be exposed to the wind while sitting in the cabin of the Nihola. When they saw it for the first time, they exclaimed, “Wow it’s so cool!” Mark’s son continued giggling because it was such a novelty for him. Like most parents, Mark drives his kids around for activities. Interestingly, I have found that most kids love the Nihola. I suspect it’s because their minds haven’t yet fixated on the idea of the car as the only mode of transport.
We set off and took a few shortcuts around the neighbourhood. We rode via Prince Alfred Park, took George Street Cycleway and turned right at Wells Street. We crossed Regent and Gibbons Street and took the shared cycleway/footpath on Lawson Street. We turned left at Little Eveleigh Street which leads to the Wilson Street Cycleway. I wanted to show Mark how quickly the Nihola can go with the electric-motor-boost on a straightaway. He was surprised but more so at the cycleways which make bicycling a safer proposition than riding on King Street, especially with kids.
We avoided the parking scrum along Wilson Street because it was early but also because we weren’t in a car. We locked up our bicycles and descended to the market. I had read about the high quality of the produce and we weren’t disappointed.
Fresh produce has a scent and quality that cannot be found at Coles, Woollies or Aldi. The pink lady apples had a sweet scent that swirled past. The mushrooms were from a tunnel somewhere in the Blue Mountains and had been picked the night before. The snow peas looked crisp and sweet.
Mark and I had a common strategy in mind. We would have a look around and then decide on what to make and purchase. I was gratified (and amazed) to be thinking in the same way as a professional chef! We walked the entire length of the market and the kids bought kumquats. We also ran into John and Erin from the blog livingez.us We had a great chat. They had seen the article in the Telegraph about #bikeshopeat with Mark. We were all pleased to have had the opportunity to meet.
It was now decision time. It was cold. We thought soup for lunch would be a good idea. The chicken thighs looked good.
I had seen broad beans. The super fresh mushrooms looked great. There was also truffle oil, fresh lemongrass, ginger and turmeric. The snow peas made the cut. I had onion, garlic and fish sauce at home along with other staples.
George introduced us to Pepe Saya. We had enjoyed his cultured butter on bread during our original promenade. Having the chance to meet him in person and to hear that the milk for his butter comes from Picton, NSW was a surprise. It was so local! He generously handed us a butter round to take home. I was mystified as to Mark’s plans for the butter.
Purchases in hand, we walked to our bicycles. We unlocked and made our way back to Surry Hills. The kids had eyed the giant slide at Prince Alfred Park. We stopped for a moment to give them some time to try it. I usually stop with my own kids and it’s a way to reward great behaviour. After 15 slides and a slight injury, it was time to venture home to cook.
We locked up in the garage and went up the stairs. It was a stress free “Bike” and “Shop” on bicycles with kids and shopping safely delivered home. And how did the soup turn out? You’ll find out in the next blog, the “Eat” of #bikeshopeat. Included will be the recipe for the soup that Mark and I made. Stay tuned!
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Mark Jensen can be found on Instagram @markredlantern
All photos, except for selfie, by George K of @Sydney Food Crew. Instagram @sydneyfoodcrew