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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Series launch of My Family Feast with Sean Connolly at Sean's Kitchen, Pyrmont, Sydney

Jamon Iberico in the jamon room

Food. And family.

For many of us, food and family are naturally intertwined. A family gathering is a good excuse for a feast, and a feast just isn't the same unless it's shared with loved ones.

As an Australia-born Chinese, the importance of food has always played a part in my upbringing. We use it to celebrate, to commemorate, to commiserate, and my mother always taught us to respect food, and to never take it for granted.

Growing up, the best kind of Sundays were the ones that involved the chaotic glee of yum cha. And eating at Grandma's involved dishes which even today I don't know the names of, or how to cook. She'd always save the chicken legs for the grandkids and there'd be a clucking plea to eat more as she snuck another piece of meat into our bowls.

It's this inter-relationship between food, family, history and culture that underlies the new SBS series My Family Feast, launched last week at series host Sean Connolly's restaurant Sean's Kitchen.

Prep in the kitchen

My Family Feast is a 13-part series that sees Sean partaking in a different family feast each week, a culturally diverse collection that reflects Sydney's immigrant roots and future. The families are broad and varied, the first seven episodes featuring the Congolese, Italian, Chinese, Mandeaen Iraqis, Vietnamese, Cubans and Burmese Kachin.

At the series launch last week, representatives from each family were invited to celebrate with Sean, the production team and assorted media. Having been the recipient of warm hospitality from the show's families and a grateful participant in their wonderful feasts, Sean explains, he's keen to return the favour with an English feast of his own.

Spanner crab sandwiches

There's plenty of small talk and sparkling wine as waiters circle with platters of English-themed canapes. I'm quite fond of the spanner crab sandwiches - sweet crab and mayonnaise in thick fluffy clouds of white bread. Fillets of sardine are firm and salty on toasted baguette rounds with slices of semi-dried tomato. The mini cottage pies are adorably cute, buds of mashed potato over a hum of tender-cooked beef.

It's quite a sight to see Sean welcome and embrace each family like a long-lost uncle, posing for photos together for both the event photographer and their own point-and-shoots.

Cottage pie

Sardines on toast

Table setting

We move into the private dining room for dinner, an entrance that bizarrely reminds me of a Chinese restaurant with its semi-circular arch and glass doors illuminated in fire-engine red. Two long tables run the length of the room, partly for space factors, one presumes, but it also adds to the sense we're having our own communal feast together too.

My Family Feast show reel

When Sean takes to the microphone, he's quietly passionate. He's an immigrant himself, arriving in Australia in 1988 on a working holiday visa. His Yorkshire accent is still strong, and he is all too aware of the important of preserving one's culture, something that is often sadly diluted with each descending generation in a new country. He laughs as he recounts that he thought he would be sharing recipes with the families he meets - instead, he says, he ends up being taught how to dance by the end of every episode. "And I'm not a dancer!" he laments.

The producers admit that having Sean as a host was a bit of a wildcard. Watching the compilation of highlights, however, Sean's reserved demeanour seems suited for this format - his patience and unassuming manner makes him a nautral and appreciative observer to the hubbub that surrounds him. The families are exuberant and giving, extending a natural warmth to Sean, and it has to be said that the women seem to have the best one-liners!

Bread and butter (I love the cow-print on top of the butter!)

Sean extends his thanks to everyone involved and soon we are all invited to join in his feast, something similar to what he would love to serve his family, he says.

Sean's Family Feast menu

Yorkshire pudding and Yorkshire sauce
with duck confit, mushrooms and slow roasted garlic

I've had quite a few good homemade Yorkshire puddings in ol' Blighty but none as fancy as the version we are served tonight. The pastry is wonderfully crisp with a deliciously subtle chewiness to it. It's filled with shreds of confit duck, topped with a cube of foie gras and ladled inside with a puddle of jus.

'Fish and chip'
Steamed jewfish, fat chip and mushy pea

Fish and chip is also a fancy take on an English classic. The jewfish (more often known as mulloway these days), is moist and tender, flaking away beneath the crisp tiled skin. A baton of fried potato is crunchy on the outside and fluffy within. The slick of mushy pea is a smooth and silky puree.

Lancashire hot pot with slow confit of lamb

When the waitstaff emerge with the Lancashire hot pots, Eileen Yip (from the Chinese episode) is convinced we're onto dessert. In part it's because everyone is almost reaching satiation, but also because the rosemary stalks have been lit so they smoulder like birthday candles as they're ferried through.

This dish is a celebration of protein, a lamb cutlet still pink but cooked in a slow confit to a melting tenderness. Perfect and adorable tiny discs of golden brown potato shield a sticky rich mass of onion and lamb, slow-cooked so it's unctious in the mouth.

Savoy cabbage

Sides of cabbage and buttered carrots are barely touched by the struggling guests, but I confess I really do have a thing for the savoy cabbage, which is sweet, barely wilted, a touch nutty and indulgently buttery.

Buttered carrots

Blackberry and apple crumble
with deconstructed blackberry jelly and apple crisps

Dessert is not your usual bread-and-butter pudding but blackberry and apple crumble, againly impeccably elegant. A tower of cooked cinnamon apple slices have been dusted with sugar and then blow-torched so there's a thin shell of toffee that delights. A ball of vanilla ice cream is coated in biscuit crumbs and, after a few minutes of eating, Sean and a herd of waiters are suddenly hovering over our shoulders, pouring creme anglaise onto the ice cream. "It's a little bit frozen," I hear him apologise, and I presume the creme anglaise was a last minute addition out of concern.

Slicks are obviously all the rage these days, and the blackberry puree has a nice balance between tartness and sweet. Brittle apple crisps in the middle of the plate sandwich a splodge of blackberry jelly.

Sean Connolly

Sean happily and obligingly poses for a photo for me when I leave (and also insists on giving everyone a good bye peck! awww!). I've since watched the first episode of My Family Feast--provided for me in the press pack--which focuses on the Congolese. It's a fascinating episode where the family explains their use of the rosella plant, pumpkin leaves, ngai ngai (a kind of sorrel) and how to remove cynanide from cassava leaves in order to eat. There's music, dancing, a home-made banjo and the look on Sean's face when the men head out to catch their own goat is absolutely priceless!

My Family Feast premieres on Thurday August 27, 2009 at 7.30pm on SBS One.

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Sean's Kitchen
Level 2, Star City Hotel
80 Pyrmont Street
Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9777 9000

Opening hours
Monday to Friday 12pm - 10pm
Saturday and Sunday 6pm - 10.30pm
19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/18/2009 01:41:00 am


  • At 8/18/2009 2:05 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Lucky you Helen! What an exquisite menu too...that lamb dish looks absolutely heavenly. Will have to look out for this new series when it premieres.

  • At 8/18/2009 7:33 am, Anonymous Reemski said…

    I've seen the ads on tv and can't wait to see the whole show!

  • At 8/18/2009 9:44 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Oh have been meaning to go to Sean's kitchen for ages! Especially since it's only around the corner from me... the butter with its cow print cracked me up!

  • At 8/18/2009 10:15 am, Blogger pojaya said…

    Thanks for your blog, it is one of my favourite!

    I don't know whether it is just me.

    I follow your blog using Google Reader, but your last couple of posts were not displayed in full when I open up the Reader. I would only get a one sentence summary, whereas my other subscriptions are showing up normally. I just wondered whether you changed some setting.

  • At 8/18/2009 10:47 am, Blogger Forager said…

    Sounds like it'd be a great show - and the food at the launch looked delicious - mm, sardines on toast..

  • At 8/18/2009 11:14 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    Oh I love Sean's Kitchen! I actually love the whole Astral/Star City service they're really professional. And of course - the food is absolutely fantastic! I can't wait for the My Family Feasts to start airing on SBS!

  • At 8/18/2009 11:16 am, Anonymous Jen (jenius.com.au) said…

    Your recount of the first episode has me hooked. I can't wait to see it! There's nothing more intimate than a combination of food and family. Oh, and what a feast you had ;)

  • At 8/18/2009 11:17 am, Anonymous Howard said…

    Can't wait for the show, I think there are a few other new cooking shows as well on ABC or SBS .. can't remember exactly.

    Sean Connelly was on ABC radio a few weeks ago and he sounded like a really nice guy, very passionate about what he is doing.

  • At 8/18/2009 1:28 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Sounds like a really interesting series, I will definitely be tuning in! The food looks great, I love the idea of fancying up old favourites :)

  • At 8/18/2009 3:00 pm, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Sounds like it's going to be a great show! I love the premise, looking forward to it!

  • At 8/18/2009 3:32 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    What a fabulous night and event! Can't wait for the show!

  • At 8/18/2009 7:15 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    Some of the food looks really good (love the look of the lamb!) I'm not too sure about the crumble though. It looks way too deconstructed.

    Like a bad joke, if it has to be explained...

  • At 8/18/2009 7:18 pm, Anonymous ms ed said…

    lucky you helen!! u should bring me and mr ed more on one of ur "yummy" adventures!!! hahaha.. anyway ], i like chef sean i think he is creative and yet simple his food tastes good too (tried astral before)

  • At 8/18/2009 11:03 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    cow print is so cool. good looks delicious.

  • At 8/19/2009 12:09 am, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    *gasp* beautiful dishes! Can't wait for the show!

    me wanty some his duck fat chips.

  • At 8/19/2009 2:05 am, Anonymous divemummy said…

    Lurved Sean's presentation of the food - it all looked delightful!

    Hmm....must try cooking savoy cabbage that way...

    The show sounds wonderful - food always gives such an insight into people's customs and culture.

    Look forward to finding out more about Sean, having eaten at Astral a few times now.

  • At 8/19/2009 2:24 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter G - The menu was fantastic and the lamb was so tender. It looks like a great series and I can't wait to learn more about each family.

    Hi Reemski - I've noticed the ads too. Am sure it will do well.

    Hi Minh - I thought the cow print was so cute! And you should push for a work lunch there, you know, for working so hard etc? lol

    Hi pojaya - Sorry but I've recently had to change my RSS feed to short as I found too many sites using my feed to generate content on dummy websites. Hope you still click-through to read the full article on the website.

    Hi Forager - I think it's a great premise for a show, and the families they found are all so diverse and giving. Food was delish!

    Hi Trisha - It was my first time at Sean's Kitchen although I have eaten at Astral before. I'm looking forward to the series too. So many fascinating cultures to explore!

    Hi Jen - It was a great feast and I love that SBS will have the family recipes available on the website after the show each week too.

    Hi Howard - SBS is launching a lot of new food shows. I'm personally looking forward to the series Luke Nguyen's Vietnam which will be followed by Gourmet Farmer with Matthew Evans.

    Sean Connolly is lovely. So down-to-earth, humble and friendly.

    Hi Stephcookie - The food was very fancy, esp the Yorkshire pud! I don't think I've ever been to a fancier family feast!

    Hi Betty - It is a great idea and one that should strike a chord with many viewers. Love the idea of exploring the concept of culture and family, and also about the importance of preserving it and appreciating it to.

    Hi Karen - It was a great night and yep, I'm already looking forward to the next episode!

    Hi Simon - I thought the descriptor was unnecessary too. Each element was delicious on its own and together.

    Hi Ms Ed - Ahh you'd have to start a food blog then! lol. Sean's food was a lovely twist on the traditional.

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - Another cow lover. Yay!

    Hi Yas - The chips were delicious, and so admirable that they were almost the exact same size as the pieces of fish.

    Hi Divemummy - The savoy cabbage was so good, although usually it's quite expensive. Shame it's not as widely available here as it is in England.

    I agree. Food is the summation of so many aspects of our lives and values.

  • At 8/22/2009 10:08 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    The seared scallops here are so tasty and sweet ... the best I've had and the Churros and Salty Chocolate Ganache for deseert ... pure heaven.

  • At 8/24/2009 2:37 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter - Mmm I love churros. And beautifully seared fresh scallops are hard to beat!


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