October’s here! For me it’s one of the best months of the year; my birthday used to be my sole reason until I arrived to Sydney and discovered the Crave Festival, a month-long celebration of food. Last year I missed the World Chef Showcase but this year I bought tickets as soon as I saw Gastón Acurio‘s face in the ad. With the cooking demos and talks grouped in 6 programs for the two days it was hard to choose which one to attend. For Saturday I went with program 3, featuring Alex Atala from DOM, the Brazilian restaurant ranked 7 in S Pellegrino’s list, and David Lebovitz, one of my favourite food bloggers.
The event took place in the Hilton Hotel. Three ballrooms were set up with big round tables where the audience sat to watch the action on stage and enjoy the tastings. Morning and afternoon tea were also included, as well as lunch on both days if you bought the full weekend package. We also received a festival’s canvas bag with the Crave program, the World Chef Showcase program, a few magazines, brochures, notepad and pen, and a bottle of beer.
Saturday started with a very nervous Martin Benn from Sepia, Sydney. In a way it was good to see a weakness in a great chef from an outstanding restaurant, it just makes you realise that he’s as human as everybody else. Martin showed us a video about a night in Sepia. Because of the complexity of his dishes, he relied on videos to explain the process of making the dishes he presented. The first one was umami times X, featuring a dashi (broth) with kombu, katsuobushi (which he shaved on the spot in a special shaver that went through the audience so that we could appreciate its aroma), and jamón. What went in the dashi was a square sheet of cuttlefish silk, cuttlefish being one of his favourite ingredients. They basically make a mousseline with cuttlefish and egg white in the Thermomix, pass it through a drum sieve, put it in a square bag and roll it flat. Some sheets are painted black with cuttlefish ink. The dish was sent to the tables for tasting, and it was amazing. The broth was absolutely delicious and the cuttlefish silk was perfect, with the texture of a wonton noodle cooked al dente in fatty broth. The dish was rounded off by fish roe for a bit of crunchiness.
Another video showed us the process for making Japanese stones, a dessert that isn’t in the menu yet because it’s very time-consuming. It was born when they accidentally dropped chocolate mousse in liquid nitrogen. They use three fillings: chocolate mousse, cherry sorbet and coconut custard, which are frozen in liquid nitrogen and covered in melted cacao butter mixed with ashes that soon solidifies and acquires a glossy finish that looks like, guess what, stones. A few more elements are added to the plate to resemble water and sand.
We had a break for morning tea thanks to the event’s sponsors. There were alpaca and silverbeet empanadas, which I didn’t try but judging from the speed they disappeared were very good. Brown Brothers had wine tastings, Nespresso provided much-needed coffee, S Pellegrino had a number of fizzy drinks and Chambord had two barmen preparing a couple of cocktails. Lan was giving away chocotejas if you entered a game (I didn’t), and finally there was the Dymocks stand and the book signing area. Plenty to go through during the short break.
Alpaca & silverbeet empanadas
Chocotejas from Lan
There was a slight change in the program after the break. Tony Bilson and Benedict Beauge took the stage to talk about the status of French and Australian cuisine. Bilson’s said that Australian cuisine is changing according to the evolution of the wine market, which is going from mass-produced to expensive and exclusive. Beauge defined French cuisine as an attitude towards food as opposed to certain ingredients or techniques. Bilson talked about food flavour profile changing to match the growing consumption of wine.
Tony Bilson and Benedict Beauge
Next on stage was Alex Atala from DOM, Brasil. He struggled a bit with the language but managed to paint a very touching and inspiring picture of what the Amazonas region is, and how his restaurant is contributing to its growth from a cultural and social perspective. He stressed the use of local ingredients and the respect to the environment, from which the human being is an important piece that shouldn’t be forgotten. “Luxury is not in fancy ingredients, but in our hands”, he said, and proved it with his simply-built dishes. He demonstrated a dish made with manioc (cassava) flour resembling cous cous and a dessert that kids would hate (with dark chocolate, curry powder, salt, rocket, Brazil nut cake, chilli oil, and Jack Daniels ice cream).
Finally he cooked the dish we got to taste: brioche-crumbed oysters with marinated tapioca hot oysters. He said his inspiration for this dish was a challenge to make hot oysters taste as good as fresh, cold ones, and I reckon he nailed it. He finished his presentation with a video of Amazonas.
Brioche-crumbed oysters with marinated tapioca
Lunch was served in one of the hotel’s restaurants, buffet style. There were salads, dressings, sandwiches, chorizo, mini burgers, roasted vegetables, cheeses, breads, fruits, etc., and more Brown Brothers wine at every table. Lots of options that made it easy to eat reasonably clean.
David Lebovitz was having lunch with a food blogger and I took a photo of him holding his empty plate with a stuffed look in his face. Kinda summarises these few days of eating he’s had in Sydney.
David Lebovitz after lunch
The afternoon session started with Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco from Mirazur, France. He struggled with his English, too, so spoke half of the time in French. Not to worry, everybody got his message. His restaurant’s highlight is the use of fresh produced they grow, for example 43 varieties of tomatoes. He used a few different types in his demo. The first preparation, which we got to sample, was a tomato martini, made with tomato water (puréed tomatoes, sifted overnight), and gelatine, and topped with flowers and herbs. The flavour was intense but I didn’t like it, I’m not saying it wasn’t good, but I usually don’t like things involving cold puréed tomatoes.
Mauro also made a beautiful tomato and avocado salad (again, using different kinds of tomatoes) and a dessert.
Afternoon tea featured macarons by Baroque Patisserie. Now, I’ve said it before: I don’t find macarons that special and I avoid eating sugar but that was my chance of trying their famous macarons for free. I think they were well made but nothing I’d want to eat again.
Macarons from Baroque
Another local chef hit the stage, this time Mark Best from Marque, Sydney. I absolutely loved the first dish he presented, even when we didn’t get to try it. He used a Japanese slicing machine to make celeriac pappardelle. Genious. The creamy sauce was made with chicken stock, a fine purée from the celeriac trimmings, Dijon mustard, mustard seeds, French butter and chopped chives. He added a heavily reduced veal stock, cooked black truffle, mustard flowers, shaved black truffle and a Parmesan tuile.
Then he cooked a pigeon Peking duck-style, steaming it, painting it with gastrique and deep-frying it until golden. The weird part came in the rest of the dish, with the use of pickled green strawberries, green raspberries, green blueberries, pepperberries and mulberries. I wonder how that tasted. For dessert he introduced the “tomberries”, tomatoes in a strawberry syrup made by cooking the berries with sugar in a bag at low temperature for 40-50 minutes. The dessert also featured vanilla grown in Penrith and crème fraiche made as a by-product of the butter they make at the restaurant, and it was delicious.
Tomberry with chocolate jelly and vanilla
Finally former Chez Panisse’s pastry chef and food blogger David Lebovitz hit the stage. I’ve been following his blog for a few years and I must say he’s even funnier when he talks.
He made his chocolate idiot cake, named “orbit” cake in his book, with candied peanuts and salted butter caramel sauce. Coming from David I knew I had to forget about the sugar, dairy and legumes (at least it was grain-free) and at least taste it. I almost licked the plate clean. The cake was paired with a Brown Brothers dessert wine, a fantastic end of day one’s program.
Chocolate orbit cake with candied peanuts and salted butter caramel sauce