Disclaimer: I was invited to dine complimentary at the 'Whet your Appetite' dinner
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a little Victorian showcase dinner of some of the 'Appetite for Excellence' competition finalists, a national competition that has been running since 2005, sponsored by Electrolux, that seeks the best of the young talent in the hospitality industry.
At the dinner we attended, we were wined and dined by the Young Chef and Young Waiter finalists for this year. It was an absolutely wonderful night, as we had the opportunity to talk to the finalists as well and find out personal thoughts about the competition and of course, feel the love and dedication for their craft. All of them are under 30 and when you think about it, to get to where they are, it's quite an accomplishment. Kind of makes me wonder what the heck I'm doing with my life honestly! This is especially when you think about the old French way with years and years of apprenticeships, with not many chefs reaching their prime until they are at least in their late thirties or even forties.
Our night started with peasant sourdough, made by Michael Demagistris, from the Sorrento Golf Club, served with cultured butter…and pork fat. Oh yeah baby.
I really have to say, this is really one of the tastiest breads I think I may have ever tasted. It was served warm, and had this beautiful, toasty and crunchy texture, filled to the brim with seeds, it really was beautifully hearty. Topped with that pork fat? It was absolute heaven. Screw diets, more pork fat I say!
Our first course was created by Jake Nicolson, from Circa, The Prince, who was actually the young chef National winner in 2008. He really started us off with a bang, presenting us with a generously sized rice paper mud crab and prawn roll with a peanut satay sauce. Bam! That satay sauce really woke you up and got the palate ticking, with a great spicy kick. However it didn't overwhelm the sweetness of the crab and prawn within the roll. Really an awesome (and quite pretty) start.
Damien Byrne and Pierre-Etienne Geoffrey
The courses were paired with wines by Damien Byrne from Lot 7, the Young Waiter finalist with a sommelier background. I think it's wonderful that not just the chefs, but waiters are also recognised for their skill and dedication to their craft. It's certainly easy to be in awe and drop praise onto chefs for their tangible goodies, but waiting is definitely something that I think can be taken for granted. Along with Damien, we were also served by Pierre-Etienne Geoffrey, from Jacques Reymond and Simon Spicer, from Pei Modern, who actually served me the last time I was there!
To go with our rice paper roll, we had a delicate and delightful glass of 2005 Kreglinger Vintage Brut from Tasmania.
As I mentioned earlier, it was really lovely to be able to have the chefs and waiters to sit with us, tuck into a little of their own food and have a chit chat. Talking with Jake, it was fascinating to hear about what the competition involved, and the opportunities they received, the produce tour that they get to go on sounds wonderful! And apparently the world final includes cooking on a yacht…!
For our main course, two of this year's finalists got to flex their culinary muscles. First, a sumptuous classic Chinese emperors pork by Kah-Wai Lo from Hare and Grace. This dish was clearly close to Kah-Wai's heart, with lots of family influences to be found. His father actually provided the family master stock to make the pork, and he used his mother's recipe to make the chilli on the side (which was totally delicious). I loved his enthusiasim, telling us about how his father called him into the kitchen one day, when he was 12 or so, to flip an omelette and after that he knew he was going to be a chef. So wonderful to know what you want to do so early on in your life!
We all ooh and aah-ed as his pork hit the table. I was in awe of how big the pork crackling on the top was! Served with mushrooms and some ever so fluffy steamed mantou on the side, there was plenty to like here!
With this course we drank the 2006 Yalumba Lyndoch Shiraz, from the Barossa in South Australia. Lovely and full bodied, but still quite fruity!
Our other main by Michael Demagistris (he told us he was hoping to make one more dish, but didn't want to upstage the others!), was a confit duck with celeriac mash with cracked wheat, baby beetroots and deep fried cavalo nero. Whilst Kah-Wai's pork was a hearty family style dish, Michael went the other way and made a beautiful and rather artistic looking dish.
With little (but rich) sauce shots (not actually designed to be shot down though, although we were all wondering if we should initially...) on the side, it was again, a beautifully crafted dish. The duck was just so moist and lovely. It's really quite an amazing experience to have a meal put together by so many exceptional chefs, each dish really has it's own personality! We drank the 2009 Vincent Giradin Bourgogne, from Burgundy.
To end on a sweet note, Michael Fox, from Henry and the Fox, treated us to a dessert of gingerbread cake, caramelised banana, coffee ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce.
Sigh. I really do hate to play favourites…but I do love dessert. Intensely aromatic, the gingerbread cake was gorgeously moist and dense. I personally think cake components tend to get a bit upstaged in desserts like these, with so many elements, but here, the cake really as the hero and everything else accompanied it just so beautifully. Whilst everyone else was just taking small nibbles…I quite happily dug into as much as I could…without looking too much like a pig! With dessert, we sipped on the De Bortoli Black Nobel from New South Wales, yum!
Michael Fox has actually gone on to be the national runner up of Appetite for Excellence…so congrats, go Victoria!
All in, an absolutely wonderful evening, and why wouldn't it be, when we got fed so well! I actually discovered that the dessert Michael put up is actually on the menu at Henry and the Fox…mmhmm…!
To find out more about the competition, be sure to check out the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence website, and support our young chefs and waiters by popping by their work places and saying hi...except for Michael Demagistris, the Sorrento Golf Club is private or something...anyone feel like gate crashing with me for crumbled pork fat on peasant sourdough...?
Victorian Young Chef 2012 Finalists
- Kah-Wai Lo - Hare and Grace -
- Michael Demagistris - Sorrento Golf Club -
- Michael Fox - Henry and the Fox -
Victorian Young Waiter 2012 Finalists
- Damien Byrne - Lot 7 -
- Pierre-Etienne Geoffrey - Jacques Reymond -
- Simon Spicer - Pei Modern -