A path on the edge of uncertainty

Anything cooked with love tastes better. In this 5th and final edition of our Sensory First Aid Kit for these socially isolating times we focus on the therapeutic beauty of the culinary world.

It was actually my love of cooking from a very young age with all its raw ingredients and strange aromas that lead to my fascination with the world of natural perfumery as an adult. From making humble gnocchi with homegrown tomatoes and herbs to taking the uncertain path of cooking over fire with its deeply primal and very romantic dance of the flame. I’ve always found cooking for family and friends to be incredibly satisfying and its why my heart definitely sleeps at the kitchen door.

Although we’re now quarantined at home, that hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for slow-cooked anything in my trusty old wood-fired oven. I particularly love the smell of smoke that is infused in the food and the subtleties of flavour that are enhanced with different wood selection. A log fire at dusk on a crisp autumn evening is still one of my favourite childhood scent memories.

Two of my favorite chefs who cook over fire are South American Francis Mallmann and, closer to home, Sydney resident, Lennox Hastie.

Francis is somewhat of a free-spirited Argentinian philosopher who serves up extraordinary produce at his rustic island hideaway in Patagonia, complete with breathtaking lakes and mountainous scenery. Lennox on the other hand draws on his early years at Etxebarri in the Basque mountains and offers a wider palate of delicious wood-fired morsels from his amazing Sydney restaurant, Firedoor 
Watch a day in the life of Francis Mallmann here.
I wanted to share a quick and easy dish that you can prepare at home, preferably in a wood fired oven (or over a backyard fire) but otherwise a traditional gas or electric hob will do.

- 100ml olive oil
- 1.5kg mussels, thoroughly scrubbed,  
beards removed, and soaked in fresh water for 10 minutes before use
- 225g hot chorizo sausage
- 1 red onion, finely sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 4 red chillies, finely sliced (have extra fresh sliced chilli on hand for those guests who love more heat)
- Half a bulb of fennel, finely sliced and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups crushed cherry tomatoes
- 300ml rosé or dry white wine
- A small handful of torn basil (or oregano)
- A small handful of flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
- Fennel fronds coarsely chopped
- 1 lemon, cut in half
Heat the heavy based large (and deep) sauce pan in the wood-fired oven for 2 minutes (or on traditional cooking surface will do) to warm it up.

Add the oil to the pan, and let the pan get to a med/ high heat. Fry the chorizo for 3 to 5 mins until it starts to brown. Add the onion, garlic, chillies, fennel and bay leaves. Stir occasionally and let it all cook together for a further 4-5 mins. Add the crushed cherry tomatoes and stir before letting it simmer for 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the wine and mussels and stir in the fresh herbs. Cover the saucepan and cook, covered, for 8 to 10 mins (shake the pot gently once or twice to get the mussels to turnover and move closer to the heat at the bottom of the pan, this will help them all to cook evenly and open). Remove, then discard any that haven’t opened.

Serve into deep bowls with a drizzle of olive oil, a quick squeeze of lemon and coarsely torn baguette slices with dollops of butter.

Less than an hour north of Sydney, the Ventnor Boathouse is nestled on the edge of the Ku Ring Gai National Park among spotted gums and mangroves. It’s accessed by seaplane or boat only and is on the Elvina Bay foreshore of Ventnor, the original homestead of Pittwater (built 1862). It comes complete with its own woodfired oven. Secluded, romantic and nature-loving getaways can be booked here.