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Monthly Archives: January 2019

Bill of fare retains his distinctive flair

Written on January 22, 2019 at 18:20, by

Like a postcard of Sydney: Bill Granger was Australia’s celebrity cook before we had celebrity chefs. Photo: Marco Del GrandeBill Granger’s teeth are big and so fantastically white that someone once asked him if they were real. He laughs at the memory and the sound turns heads in his eponymous Darlinghurst cafe. His choppers could light up a dark alley. But the most surprising thing about the man whose face graces so many cookbooks are his eyes. They are brown when they really should be blue.
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I look into them and tell him so. ”It’s funny, people do think they are blue. It happens all the time,” he says. In every other way Granger is like a postcard of Sydney: bright and blond, smiling and shiny. He wouldn’t look out of place in Lycra on the Bondi to Bronte walk, which he does often. This morning, backlit by winter sunshine, he wears a blue blazer, blue shirt, blue jeans and brown boots.

Diners stop him for photographs as he walks in the door, flashing that smile. ”I’ve got a good dentist.” Actor Hugo Weaving is eating brunch by our table but this is ”bills” and has been for 20 years. Sydney restaurants mark time in dog years – which makes Granger some 140 years young.

His name is written on the cafe wall on Liverpool Street, still in lower case without an apostrophe. ”That was very much an early ’90s affectation. It was cute when I was young. But I am just too old to be cute,” he says.

He was 23 when he opened this cafe – he now has four in Sydney – and in a hurry. He borrowed $30,000 against his grandfather’s life-insurance policy to set up. ”I remember thinking time was running out. I felt an overwhelming need to put down a stamp and do something,” Granger says.

It was 1993. Prime Minister Paul Keating claimed ”the sweetest victory of all”, Shane Warne delivered the ball of the century and Prince became The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. A Country Practice was taken out to the back paddock and shot by Channel Seven.

It was a time before peptides. Before detailed programmatic specificity and moving forward. Before reality television. Before quinoa.

Do you remember when you first heard about quinoa, I ask Granger, who is now 43. It turns out he does. ”I was on a food shoot for a cookbook in England about six, seven years ago and an American food stylist came with a pack of quinoa, boiled it up in a bowl and dressed it up with olive oil and salt and pepper,” he says.

”Now when [his wife] Natalie [Elliott] thinks we have been eating out too much she’ll say, ‘OK, we’re having a quinoa salad for lunch,’ and the kids are like, ‘Nooo, not again!”’

There’s a quinoa salad on the lunch menu at bills. But much has stayed the same over the past two decades. The communal table – novel in its day – and matching American oak chairs have gone the distance, as have the Tasmanian oak floorboards.

Granger orders toast with avocado. I opt for his famed scrambled eggs, which sit up on the plate like creamy mousse terriers. No one asks to be the Egg Master. Granger was so anointed by The New York Times on the basis of those famous fluffy ova alone.

Does he ever feel typecast? He answers by telling me about the time he removed the cafe’s communal table and stained the wood floor black. ”I think that was me trying to get away from the guy with the smiling eyes, big teeth and white T-shirt – I did want to change,” he says. ”But now I am quite relaxed; if people like something, great.

”For a restaurant to be successful it has got to be the same all the time. People like to know what they are coming in for … The floor I used to polish every year but now I quite like the fact that it’s getting older.”

Granger grew up in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Mentone, later immortalised in song by musician Eddie Perfect (whose tributes to Mentone include The Middle of the World and My Sister Worked at Bunnings).

Granger moved to Sydney at age 18 to study art and worked part-time at the restaurant La Passion De Fruit on Oxford Street. Sydney’s food scene was then corralled within the inner city. The recession had killed the power lunch.

Along came Granger with his $7.50 eggs (now $14.50). The cafe didn’t take bookings or credit cards. The walls were whitewashed and the food was market fresh. Council restrictions meant he could open for breakfast and lunch only. He could seat about 32 people, so planted a big communal table by the door.

The same sensibilities have since been replicated in cafes across Sydney. ”It was minimalism, things were stripped back, it was a reaction to all the glitz of the 1980s,” he says.

”Often difficult economic times are great times for creative people and creative ideas, because when things are going well people just cruise along and don’t change.”

Granger also has four restaurants in Japan – he is big in Japan – plus one in London, where he has been living with his wife and three daughters (aged nine to 12) for about three years.

They’re home for a spell while Granger organises the opening of his first restaurant in Honolulu, in August. His second London restaurant, in Clerkenwell, will open in October.

Granger was Australia’s celebrity cook before we had celebrity chefs. Indeed, about the turn of the century he was omnipresent: on bookshelves, in kitchens and on the TV.

He is practically post-celebrity now. Does he miss the spotlight? ”It is never something I have really chased,” he says.

He shows me a photograph of himself as a 23-year-old – the picture of affected nonchalance in a plain white T-shirt and board shorts – outside his new cafe. Twenty years have passed but Granger wears his age well. He has bright (brown) eyes and seems to have more blond hair than ever.

”The older I get the simpler I think it is. You want to be looked after and respected,” he says.

”Because life is hard, so when you go to a restaurant you want to feel like it is a bit easier.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

South Africa faces its future

Written on January 22, 2019 at 18:20, by

Sunrise over Alexandra township is an unimposing affair. Night gently rolls itself away, revealing a rust-coloured smudge of wood-fire haze, hanging on the horizon above the hundreds of silhouetted figures silently walking to work along narrow streets.
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Every morning, on their chilly commute, they pass newspaper headlines hanging from lamp posts. In the past year, these have spoken of the 34 miners shot by police at a platinum mine in Marikana, the Mozambican taxi driver found dead in his cell after he was dragged by a police car, the secret millions spent on upgrading the President’s homestead, the young girl gang-raped and killed in Cape Town, the model shot dead by her Paralympian boyfriend and the debates about gun crime and domestic abuse that followed.

Over the past week, the posters have given daily updates of former president Nelson Mandela’s health, declaring it to be ”serious, but stable” after he was taken to hospital for a recurrent lung infection.

Alex, as its residents call it, is one of Johannesburg’s oldest informal settlements, a natural starting point for those who’ve arrived in the big city, seeking their fortune. It is where Mandela found a home decades ago, when he arrived in town as a young legal clerk.

There have been some improvements in recent years. A concrete block with vast glass windows has appeared on the edge of the township, casting shadows on the neat new state-funded homes with solar water heaters on corrugated iron roofs. It is a promise fulfilled: a Gautrain station, a high-speed rail service connecting Alex and its affluent suburban neighbours to Pretoria and downtown Johannesburg.

The walk between platforms offers a view of South Africa’s newfound diversity: to the right, the gleaming office blocks and mall towers of Sandton, some of the country’s most expensive real estate, mosque minarets and an industrial park; to the left, a few rows of government-sponsored housing masking a sprawling, litter-strewn squatter camp on the banks of the Jukskei River.

It is 3 degrees at dawn. On the platforms, there are no blue overalls, no menial labourers, gardeners, factory workers. They cannot afford to take the train, so they walk.

On Gautrain Platform A, heading north, receptionist Jacky Tshabalala clutches her black handbag and shakes her head.

”What’s happening in our country when we say have freedom?” she asks. ”Where is that freedom? Maybe we don’t understand the word freedom. We have to be free, but the freedom, we don’t feel it.”

”Those years when I was still at school, we asked ourselves what’s going to happen if Mandela was released? We are going to live that normal life. But the normal life that we are living, we are living in fear, and everything is so expensive.”

Those who have benefited – the former Alex residents now living in the luxury of neighbouring Sandton – have turned their backs on the crime and poverty, she explains.

On Platform B, heading south, 28-year-old Trevor, dark blonde, blue-eyed and on his iPad, says he’s disappointed, too.

”Twenty years later, we’re still blaming apartheid for our economic woes,” he says. ”Mandela would be sad to see this lack of leadership. It’s not what he would have envisaged. But he’s an old man, he’s given so much, it’s time to let him go.”

Security guard Justice Muluvhahothe watches the commuters – black, white – come and go. He smiles widely as he speaks of change and opportunity, but his grin disappears as he talks about the government. ”People are just taking advantage. They are hiding behind their political parties, they’re like lions in the sheepskins. They say they do it for the people, but they do it for themselves.

”We are only voting ANC because of that man, Mandela. If he is passing away, we won’t vote for them again.”

Justice is not alone in his disillusionment. Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and close friend of Mandela, says he, too, can no longer vote for the African National Congress, the liberation movement and ruling party that Mandela headed.

Last month, the Nobel laureate wrote: ”The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running, a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered, and where other people knew that each person mattered.”

Nineteen years after voting for freedom, South Africa is suffering a painful, pimpled adolescence, full of self-doubt and disillusionment and needing reassurance.

Now the country’s safety blanket, its father, its anchor in legitimacy – both outwardly perceived and inwardly believed – is being slowly pulled away. Without the comforting smokescreen of liberation legitimacy, the country will be forced to examine its own reflection.

”He hasn’t been very politically active since he left he presidency, but he was the man where we expected moral leadership,” says Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, where Mandela once studied.

”Is South Africa likely to have some major challenges?” Habib asks. ”Will it make big mistakes? Yes. But it’s to do with its own failures and successes, not about Mandela’s presence or absence.”

Habib believes the elder statesman would be ”utterly disappointed and sad, if he was fully aware of what South Africa is today”, but would not necessarily act. ”If there was a weakness to Mandela, it was that he was a party man to the core. He subscribed to collective discipline, and I don’t think he would have raised his voice.”

Habib describes a growing cynicism about the democratic process, especially among the generation of those ”born free” after 1994.

”We are going through a period of disillusionment and Marikana was a symptom. The fundamental cause is inequality, a polarisation of society. If he’d remained president, Mandela would have been sullied by the smuttiness of government and the decisions required. By leaving government, he went from national leader to global icon.”

A belief in possibility is as dangerous as it is inspiring. South Africa is grappling with how it turns the imagined into the real: houses, health and education for all; a labour force that demands better conditions and better pay with strikes that cripple the economy; a citizenry violently protesting in the streets because it wants more from the government.

Outside Mandela’s first Johannesburg house, on 7th Avenue in Alex, the streets are tarred, but a tangle of wires snakes from cables where residents are tapping into the electricity supply. Makeshift shacks of cardboard and metal lean against rough brick walls.

A monument local authorities built to Mandela’s heritage lies empty and unfinished. His prison number, 46664, is scrawled on a cement wall in black paint, in place of a street number. Around the dirt yard, 16 families share three toilets in a corrugated iron outhouse.

Mangisi Xhoma is plugging headphones into his scarlet smartphone, for his walk to college.

He is an ”almost born free”, born in 1993, and will vote for the first time next year.

”Mandela, he’s played his part,” Xhoma says. ”And he’ll be forever remembered. But it doesn’t feel the same with me as it does with my grandparents. He did a lot. And, well done.

”We must try to be different from our parents, and the struggle.

”We’re way past that right now. Now it’s time to look ahead. Let’s forget about then, and focus on now. That’s all that matters.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Facebook authorised to reveal some surveillance request data

Written on January 22, 2019 at 18:20, by

Facebook has revealed that it received between 9000 and 10,000 requests for user data from US authorities in the second half of last year, as it seeks to shield itself from a growing scandal.
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The requests covered issues from child disappearances to petty crimes and terrorist threats and targeted between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts, the social networking site said on Friday, without revealing how often it complied with the requests.

Facebook general counsel Ted Ullyot said it ”aggressively” protected its users’ data.

”We frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law,” he said.

Facebook is fighting an expanding public backlash after a government contractor revealed it was among nine internet giants that turned over user data to the secret National Security Agency surveillance program PRISM.

The companies, which also include Apple, Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft, have denied claims the NSA could directly access their servers. US authorities have said the program helped prevent terrorist attacks.

Facebook said it was able to report all US national security-related requests, which no company had previously been allowed to do, after pressing the government to release more details about PRISM.

But, for now, it said the government would not allow Facebook to reveal exact numbers.

”This is progress, but we’re continuing to push for even more transparency, so that our users around the world can understand how infrequently we are asked to provide user data on national security grounds,” Mr Ullyot said.

Google asked the FBI and Justice Department last week for permission to release numbers related to its handing of data for PRISM.

AFP

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Rag-tag Easts in huge upset

Written on January 22, 2019 at 18:20, by

Easts player Danny Messenger tries to make a break against Queanbeyan at Campese Field. Photo: Jay CronanEASTS coach Jeremy Osborne has described his side’s against-the-odds win over the Queanbeyan Whites as ”one of the best I’ve ever seen” as it overcame a depleted roster to score a last-gasp 25-23 triumph.
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Missing 11 regular first-graders – including prop Chris Cocca who will be named on Sunday in the ACT Brumbies side to take on the British and Irish Lions – Easts rallied late to score 10 points in the final 10 minutes to snatch a win at Campese Field on Saturday.

It was a massive boilover in a day of crazy results in the John I Dent Cup, which saw Wests thrash second-placed Royals 49-0 and Tuggeranong demolish Gungahlin 72-28.

But for the competition battlers Easts it was a monumental win in a resurgent season.

Osborne had to call on fourth grade players to fill his bench and an American professional skateboarder who only arrived in the country last Thursday.

In the end skateboarder Kolton Nelson set up a game-turning try in the dying minutes and then fullback Josh Munro booted a penalty with six minutes left to secure a tight two-point victory.

”It’s absolutely unbelievable, one of the best wins I’ve ever seen,” Osborne said. ”It was gutsy, we had no one. We almost had to go to uncontested scrums, but we dug deep and showed ticker. The Yankee ended up playing on the wing for the last 20 minutes, we didn’t even know who he was.

”Queanbeyan is my home town … I asked the boys for something. I didn’t care if we didn’t win for the rest of the year, but this is unbelievable.”

Easts raced out to a first-half lead, but the Whites’ superior power shone through as they fought back into the match and wrestled the lead away from the visitors.

Osborne feared his team would capitulate with a depleted line-up and a history of losing games by up to 100 points.

But they stayed tough to keep their season alive and remain in the hunt for premier division finals.

Cocca was absent from the Easts line-up, but he will get the opportunity of a lifetime when he plays for the Brumbies against the Lions at Canberra Stadium on Tuesday night.

Cocca moved to Canberra three years ago and has been a star for Easts and the ACT Griffins representative side.

The 122-kilogram tighthead prop admitted he was shocked when Brumbies coach Jake White delivered the news.

”I’ve been playing well, the club’s been struggling a bit,” Cocca said.

Cocca also had a chance to train with the Brumbies full-time during pre-season.

”I don’t know really what to expect against the Lions. Obviously it’s going to be a fast-paced game, and set pieces from them,” Cocca said. ”I’m hoping for at least 10, 20 minutes … and that would be huge. It’ll be something to look on.”

AT A GLANCE

John I Dent Cup: EASTS 25 bt QUEANBEYAN WHITES 23, WESTS 49 bt ROYALS 0, TUGGERANONG VIKINGS 17 bt GUNGAHLIN EAGLES 28

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.

Critic’s choice

Written on January 22, 2019 at 18:20, by

Stephen Curry and Michelle Vergara Moore in The Time of Our Lives.FREE TO AIR
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THE TIME OF OUR LIVES Sunday, 8.30pm, ABC1★★★★☆

These are exciting times for Australian television, no question about that. The big reality shows may be grabbing a great wedge of the ratings (and there’s nothing wrong with that – we make great reality shows, too) but our local dramas just keep getting better. This new 13-part series from Amanda Higgs and Judi McCrossin (The Secret Life of Us) is easily equal to the best in the world. Warmer than Tangle but more sophisticated than Offspring, it combines the best of both. The centre of the drama is the Tivoli family: siblings Chai Li (Michelle Vergara Moore), adopted from Vietnam; middle son Luce (Shane Jacobson), an easy-going musician; and classic eldest child Matt (William McInnes), high-achieving and responsible. We also meet their parents, Ray and Rosa (Tony Barry and Sue Jones), rather more in the traditional mould than Offspring’s Darcy and Geraldine. Rounding out the clan is Luce and Chai Li’s best mate, the unofficial third son of the family, Herb (Stephen Curry). As the action opens, they all have partners, and some former partners (Claudia Karvan plays Matt’s wife, Caroline; Justine Clark is Luce’s long-time partner, Bernadette). Some have children. It’s the kind of big, messy, diverse family that’s full of dramatic potential, and the superb cast and crew make the most of it. It’s extraordinary how quickly this manages to generate real emotional power. Often when big events are thrown at us from the get-go, the effect is the reverse. There’s no time for tension to be generated, we don’t know who any of these people are. But this is magnificently built to deliver a succession of escalating ”moments” that pack a huge punch. That’s largely because the script and performances are so flawless. But everything here contributes. The locations are fabulous. The houses in which each of these couples live beautifully embody something essential about them and their relationships. The styling, too, is spot on, from Caroline’s razor-edged asymmetrical bob to the pile of dirty laundry in Luce’s lounge room. All those details create a wonderfully rich experience, even if they’re working on us at a subconscious level. To round things out, The Time of Our Lives is also keenly interested in big contemporary social questions, not just the love lives of its characters. It’s the complete package. Don’t miss it.

MASTERCHEF Sunday-Thursday, 7.30m, Channel Ten★★★☆

I didn’t think the boys-versus-girls thing was the end of civilisation – or feminism – as we know it, but I did think it was a pretty cheap shot. The promos of the girls squabbling at the supermarket checkout made my heart sink even further. Had the success of MasterChef’s rival earlier in the year motivated the producers to tinker disastrously with my beloved show’s formula? Thankfully, no. As anyone who’s actually watched season five so far would have realised, that was all just a bit of pepper to get people to sit up and take notice. This is as warm and collegiate as it’s ever been. There’s a wonderfully diverse cast. Indeed, I get the feeling that as each season features more people from more varied backgrounds, more people from more varied backgrounds are encouraged to apply next time around. Not so much a virtuous circle as a virtuous snowball. Tonight marks the beginning of kids’ week, with the first challenge being to create a dish from ingredients found in a playground lunch box. Bread crusts, anyone?

MAJOR CRIMES Monday, 9.30pm, Channel Nine★★★

This is an old-fashioned kind of cop show, from the serif type on the credits to the preponderance of middle-aged guys in the cast. About the only things that separate it from the classic procedurals of the 1970s are the fashions, the technology and a mature woman heading the homicide squad. Exposition is handled by people asking each other pointed questions or muttering gravely to themselves (“This looks bad”; “I’m worried about what’s in that landfill up north”). Everyone’s awfully polite to each other, courtly even. Even the camerawork is stately, sedately moving from action to reaction shot and back again. On the upside, the plotting is tidy and there’s something rather peaceful about this orderly universe, in which well-mannered, unambiguously good guys reliably uphold the law.

ARTSCAPE: THE A-Z OF CONTEMPORARY ART Tuesday, 10pm, ABC1★★★☆

Artscape’s done it again with this terrific two-part special (this is the second half) – it’s managed to make me appreciate something I formerly had no time for. As the title suggests, visual arts commentator Andrew Frost talks us through some of the gnarlier issues surrounding contemporary art (not modernism – that’s something different, as he explains when we get to M). His approach is both informed and irreverent, and I imagine that, while people who are already across the subject matter might not find a great deal to hold them, for a novice like me, it was fabulous. I took three important things away from this instalment: 1) thinking about why you don’t like something can be as rewarding as actually liking something; 2) every thinking person hates those dire art catalogue essays, and; 3) if a piece of art needs an essay to explain it, it’s probably not very good to start with.The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.