World Chef Showcase 2011, day 2, program 6

Sunday morning. A full day of eating and drinking (went to a birthday party after the World Chef Showcase) left me physically bloated but mentally hungry for more.

I arrived a bit late for the morning session, Neil Perry from Rockpool and other restaurants in the country was already showing a video of the dry aging process of the beef he sells. There was a fire on stage that looked promising. Neil talked about sustainability, about knowing where your food comes from (hint: you can’t do that by buying mass-produced meat at a supermarket), and the importance of eating a balanced diet. He cooked rib-eye steaks on the bone on the grill. The smell was hypnotizing.

Neil Perry

Neil Perry

Dry aged beef is dense and intense, with a complexity of flavour that comes from fermentation. Its texture is chewy, tender and flavourful at the same time, and it cooks quicker because it has less moisture.

While the steaks cooked Neil started working on the tasting plate. He made hand-pounded pesto, for which he suggests never to toast the pine nuts to avoid their flavour to dominate the basil’s. He also said using a mortar and pestle as opposed as a food processor doesn’t burn the basil and lets it release its essential oils. The pesto was served with grilled baby octopus, salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and olives. I founded the dish a bit too salty but the pesto was brilliant.

Wood-fire grilled baby octopus with olives and hand-pounded pesto

Wood-fire grilled baby octopus with olives and hand-pounded pesto

Neil chopped the steaks on stage and passed them to the public. Even when it wasn’t a big enough piece to fully appreciate, it was indeed tasty.

Neil Perry: Rib-eye steak

Rib-eye steak

During morning tea we were offered the same morsels and drinks as the previous day. I made my way to the book signing area to get my copy of Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton signed. Matt Moran and Neil Perry were signing books too, too bad I’m not a big fan of cookbooks.

Matt Moran signing books

Matt Moran signing books

Neil Perry signing books

Neil Perry signing books

Next on stage was Francis Mallmann, for me a well-known Argentinian chef because of his TV show in elgourmet.com, which was not surprisingly my favourite cable channel back home. He’s all about cooking in nature, particularly in Patagonia, a cold Southern region in his country. Even when he looks like a mad scientist with his red-rimmed glasses, unstyled gray hair around his bald head and white chef’s coat, he is against “modern” cooking techniques (foams, etc). Mallmann hates marinades and thinks meat, salt and fire is everything you need for a perfect meal. I’ve heard him a million times but couldn’t help to agree, once again, with his thoughts about cooking: “cooking is a mix of tenderness and brutality”, “cooking is not an art, it’s a craft that you learn by doing hundreds and thousands of times”, “cooking is a silent language”.

Francis Mallmann

Francis Mallmann

Mallmann is all about rustic food. His first dish was potato dominoes, square potato slices arranged domino-style, bathed in butter and roasted in the oven. They went around for people to see, touch and taste. Then he cooked a whole roasted pumpkin (in the oven but he normally uses ashes) with goat’s cheese, mint and rocket. He wasn’t shy on using his hands to break and mix the ingredients. The pumpkin was passed around for a taste, too, what it lacked in presentation it had in flavour. He also prepared a dessert with orange slices stabbed with rosemary, heavily sprinkled with sugar and burnt (sugar side down), served with cream.

Oranges with rosemary

Oranges with rosemary, before burning them

His main dish was a boneless rib eye with chimichurri. He cooked one on stage but not to his liking (low temp & slow) because of time restrictions. The steaks we were served were perfectly cooked, tender, extremely flavourful, and simple. I’d have liked a bit more of chimichurri, but maybe it’s just me. Mallmann ranted a bit about how chimichurri was overdone without respecting its basic structure (hopefully that won’t happen in Sydney now that Argentinian food is becoming popular).

Rib eye with chimichurri

Rib eye with chimichurri

During the morning we also had author Diana Kennedy talking about food in Mexico, the country where she has lived most of her life.

We had just had two amazing tastings with the masters of cooking on fire, our bodies and clothes were smelling like BBQ, and it was lunch time. Lucky us! The buffet was similar to the one the day before, with slight changes. Salads were changed from Caesar and pumpkin to pasta and Waldorf. The main protein dish was not chorizo anymore, but lamb chops and Cajun-spiced salmon. The chops were the highlight of the day, the salmon could have used a bit more seasoning and a little less cooking.

Pasta salad

Pasta salad

Waldorf salad

Waldorf salad

Cheeses

Cheeses

Lamb chops

Lamb chops

Fruits

Fruits

I had lunch as fast as I could (without choking) and went to line up for Gastón Acurio‘s appearance. There were already a bunch of people queuing, including a party of VIPs who got one of the tables closest to the stage. I hadn’t seen so many Peruvians together in Sydney since the elections. Diego Muñoz (Bilson’s) and Diego Alcántara, the chef’s helpers for the day, entered the room first. As soon as Gastón arrived, people started getting photos taken with him. It may seem ridiculous but most Peruvians have a huge respect for him because of everything he’s done for our cuisine; he’s more a hero than a celebrity.

Gastón started with a video with images of my country’s culture, from music to food, from street vendors to fine dining restaurants, while he talked about the pillars of current Peruvian cuisine: biodiversity, cultural diversity, social commitment, and sustainability. He explained how food became the thing that allowed social classes to come together, and how now we’re the country with more cooking students in South America.

Gaston Acurio

Gastón Acurio

Gaston Acurio

Gastón Acurio

Then the magic started. Gastón’s first dish was a cebiche del amor (love cebiche), with fish, oysters, sea urchin, prawns, squid, and scallops. For the leche de tigre (tiger’s milk, traditionally the “juice” that is left from previous cebiches) he used lime juice, Peruvian chillies (rocoto and ají limo), celery stalk, garlic, coriander, ginger, fish trimmings and salt. Leche de tigre is believed to be an aphrodisiac, especially when powered by such a variety of seafood, hence the name of the dish. The cebiche was great. A bit sweeter and far less spicy than typical Peruvian cebiches but exquisite. I could hear the spoons banging against the plates all over the room. And not only Peruvians were delighted, an Aussie couple at my table who hadn’t eaten cebiche before loved it.

Cebiche del Amor

Cebiche del amor

The next dish was a hot cebiche. It was inspired in an ancient way of cooking marinated seafood on hot stones, only that he did it on a stovetop grill. The meat of choice was crayfish, which was marinated with leche de tigre (sans ginger and plus ají amarillo) and cooked on a corn husk. We didn’t get to try this one but was passed around the tables for a quick look.

Crayfish "a la piedra"

Crayfish “a la piedra”

The third cebiche married Peruvian and Australian ingredients, as as way to celebrate the similarities between the two countries in spite of being so far apart. The local ingredients included green mussels, mulloway, green papaya, strawberries, grapes and asparagus. The Peruvian touch was leche de tigre with rocoto, ají amarillo, ají limon, coriander and red onion.

Unfortunately, none of Gastón’s cookbooks were on sale at the event. However, he was signing programs. I found it a bit lame but got mine signed nonetheless, and had my photo taken with him.

Gaston and I

Gaston and I

Afternoon tea nibbles included cookies, which I think were from Baroque. Didn’t touch them.

Afternoon tea cookies

Afternoon tea cookies

Next on stage were Ricardo Zárate from Mo-chica and Picca restaurants in Los Angeles and Alex Atala from DOM in Sao Paulo. Their mission was to talk about the impact of food in Latin America’s social, cultural and environmental development. Although I realise it must have been hard for native English speakers to understand everything they said, I think the message was clear: things are changing and chefs are responsible for leading this movement.

Alex Atala and Ricardo Zarate

Alex Atala and Ricardo Zárate

And once again we had a sweet end of the program. Willie Harcourt-Cooze (I confess I had no idea who he was, because I don’t watch TV anymore), owner of a cacao farm in Venezuela, made a really passionate celebration of chocolate.

Willie Harcoute-Cooze

Willie Harcoute-Cooze

While cooking on stage he explained us the characteristics of the different varieties that given to each table in a sampling plate. First we tried cacao nibs, which hit the tongue with a burnt flavour that ended with a hint of chocolate taste.

Chocolate tasting plate

Chocolate tasting plate

Then we tried a very intense 100% chocolate, recommended for savoury dishes. Willy used it to make cacao and olive bread, which was sent to the tables. The olive flavour (from whole green olives and oil) dominated the taste of the bread. The chocolate actually didn’t make it taste it like dessert, but gave it a nutty flavour. A few fennel seeds on top gave it a nice contrast.

Cacao and olive bread

Cacao and olive bread

Willie made a classic chocolate mousse, for which he had already prepared the crust: tempered bitter chocolate painted on a piece of baking paper lined on a cake tin. For the filling he used the Indonesian 69 present in our sampling plates, a delicious chocolate with acidity notes and citrusy flavour. For the crust he used the Madagascan 71, which had a little bit of acidity but was much fruitier and sweeter than the Indonesian. I missed the explanation on the last chocolate from the sampling plate (if there was any), and I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous ones. It had a fungusy, earthy flavour. Willie topped a finished chocolate mousse with berries and we were handed mini versions of it, along with a glass of Brown Brothers Cienna wine, defined by the winery representative as “summer berries in a glass”. The mousse was good, although not the best I’ve had in my life. I couldn’t stay for the Q&A session but really enjoyed both programs.

Chocolate mousse

Chocolate mousse

World Chef Showcase 2011, day 1, program 3

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.

Magazines & other freebies

Beer, water

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.

Cuttlefish silk

Cuttlefish silk

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.

Martin Benn

Martin Benn

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

Alpaca & silverbeet empanadas

Chambord stand

Chambord stand

Tejas from Lan

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

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).

Alex Atala

Alex Atala

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

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.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Chorizo

Chorizo

Mini burgers

Mini burgers

Fruits

Fruits

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

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 Colagreco

Mauro Colagreco

Tomato martini

Tomato martini

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

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.

Mark Best

Mark Best

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

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.

David Lebovitz

David Lebovitz

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

Chocolate orbit cake with candied peanuts and salted butter caramel sauce