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Biota grow gather cook

This book is every bit as extensive, meticulous and unique as its namesake restaurant. Biota is located not in New York, or Vegas, Shanghai or even Paris as you could expect, but tucked away in the NSW Southern Highlands, on the outskirts of the small town of Bowral. The force behind it is one man, the youngest ever, at 23, to be awarded a chef's hat by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. That same guide later awarded another hat and named Biota Restaurant of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

But let's back up a little. The author of both this book and founder of its eponymous restaurant did not grow up in a family of chefs. Which is perhaps a good thing. Instead, his mother was a horticulturalist and his childhood was spent with his family, outdoors, mowing, weeding, pruning. "I was addicted," he states. From this grew his love of getting back to the rootstock, the seeds of things. So much so that foraging for his menu is as natural as ordering online is for other chefs.

A recipe in the chapter, Forest (there are only three sections: Garden, Farm, Forest) is for roadside apples and blackberries, which sounds simple until you get to the part where  the apple juice needs to be put in a nitrogen bowl. Did I mention this chef is also a molecular cuisine addict as well?

Not everything requires equipment, though. Another 'Forest' recipe is for mulched pine caramels in which the chocolate caramels are coated in finely chopped pine needles fresh from the tree.

This is a big, beautiuful book with stunning full page photographs by Jason Loucas for each dish. Those alone will inspire you to delve further.

Because the restaurant serves degustation-style dishes, each one is minute, despite the intense care taken with the often many ingredients and processes. They are miniature works of art and taste, creations born from Viles' wide and inventive imagination and vision.

But the book is not all recipes. There are a number of chapters where James Viles talks about his vision for dining, praises local producers and how they contribute to the dishes he makes, or the experiences  in life which have shaped his world view of dining and cookery. Unsurprisingly most begin and end in the earth from whence his ingredients have sprung. And of course you learn too, about the gardens at Biota, producing much of what will appear on your plate if you should be lucky enough to dine here.

This is a beautiful, organic book. Not so much 'organic' in the farming and growing sense – although of course Chef James Viles endorses that – but in the way of looking at a food as an organism which can be used many ways, its facets displayed differently, its flavours employed to make its addition to a dish more than it might have been otherwise.

It is impossible to describe or honour this book adequately. Please, please find it in a bookshop or order online, read it it and absorb its message, then either try some of these recipes yourself, or make a speciial trip to Viles' beloved highlands and dine at this temple to true gastronomy. It will be as unforgetable as this book.

Biota - grow gather cook, by James Viles, published by Murdoch Books, hardcover, rrp A$59.99. 


- reviewed by Sally Hammond


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