For centuries, many cultures have created their own approximations of ice cream. The Roman emperor, Nero, famously ordered ice be brought back from Italy’s highest mountains for his desserts, while in France, Louis XIV was said to have served ice cream perfumed with flowers at his banquets. Snow was commonly mixed with grape juice across the Persian Empire, and in ninth-century China, Emperor Jing Zong mixed buffalo milk with various ingredients and chilled them in ice pools.
It’s these stories that inspired the new CONNOISSEUR Empire Collection, which ranges from the hazelnut, chocolate and coffee combination of Nero to Jing Zong’s red bean and coconut version. When Broadsheet was given an opportunity to collaborate on the launch of this range, we saw a chance to use these stories as a jumping off point for an in-depth series exploring the origins of these flavours with some of our favourite chefs.
We start with Luxembourg’s Chris Watson. Few Melbourne chefs take modern French dining as seriously as the man who named his restaurant after the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of the biggest gardens in Paris. The inspiration for Watson’s restaurant was a trip he took with Andrew McConnell, where the pair ran French cooking classes out of a country house. "After that we went to Paris and pretty much ate and drank all day in local bistros and restaurants,” Watson grins. But the fact that two Australian chefs could run French cooking classes in the heart of France speaks volumes about his depth of knowledge.
From the bistros of Paris we look to one of Melbourne’s exceptional Chinese restaurants; David’s, and speak with chef David Zhou. Zhou is the man whose Chapel Street Oriental Teahouse made Yum Cha an everyday staple rather than a Sunday treat. Baked goods from Zaatar, run by George Choueiri, should also be a frequent occurrence rather than enjoyed only on a special occasion – they are that good. Choueiri’s parents run the legendary A1 Bakery on Sydney Road, arguably the spiritual home of Persian food in this city. The man practically has cinnamon and honey in his blood, while our Italian connection, D.O.C’s Tony Niccolini, definitely has espresso in his. Like Choueiri and Zhou, Niccolini was born into hospitality and food, and is renowned for the quality of the ingredients he brings to D.O.C.
All four understand that flavours are so much more than the sum of their parts. There’s also the experience, history and simple pleasure found in eating, sharing and socialising. In this series, each chef has given us not just the stories behind these flavours, but a window into the place they have in the cultural life of the cuisines they come from. If you’re inspired to dive in yourself, each chef has given us a recipe using these classic ingredients in some classic dishes, and we’ve highlighted the best places in the city to explore and experience these flavours in their natural homes. So what are you waiting for? Come on a tale of discovery.
This piece was produced in partnership with the CONNOISSEUR Empire Collection.