My much anticipated followup to the previous post is here. In my last post I introduced The Paddock to Plate project that I and 7 other foodbloggers were participating in, a project designed to increase the appreciation of the process and energy required to get a beef product from paddock to plate. I had been given the a beautiful piece of chuck and after consultation with Chef Warren Turnbull of Restaurant Assiette, created a recipe for pulled beef and pine mushroom cannelloni. Meanwhile, 7 other bloggers had engaged in a similar experience and it was high time we met the faces behind the project – from the producer in the paddock to the chef at the plate, the other bloggers involved and of course, discover and experience how Warren has turned our humble recipes in ones worthy of his 2-hatted restaurant.
I had mixed emotions on the night. On one hand I had suitably high expectations for the degustation and the 10 courses prepared by Warren and the staff at Assiette and more selfishly, curious about the transformation of my dish in Warren’s hands. But on the other, I was filled with self doubt, questioning what I was doing amongst confident cooks cum bloggers, some of whom masquerade as professional chefs in their spare time, and desperately doused the flames of my expectations and quietly embarked on a campaign to lower the expectations in my fellow diners.
But I needn’t have worried – far from finding any fault with any of the 10 courses from start to finish, I was led on a wonderful journey of surprise, anticipation and discovery from course to course. The routine was the same for each course: Warren would present the blogger responsible for the recipe inspiring the course, describe the correspondence between chef and blogger from creating the recipe, his reaction to it and the process by which he transformed that recipe into the dish that was placed before us. The sommelier, would then introduce the matching wine and tasting notes and leave us to marvel at the dish before us whilst being peppered by comments from the contributing blogger about how much transformation actually happened between their hands and the chef’s and whether it lived up to their expectations.
So, ready to discover what these bloggers created?
To launch the degustation we had this offering from Sarah, food editor from Taste.com.au – a lucious and rich malty stew of beef and vegetables hid beneath the light crispy pastry top, paired appropriately with an ale. The perfect way to whet the palate for the 9 courses to come.
The second course was courtesy of Anna of Morsels and Musings, a most intriguing Mexican inspired recipe. The beef knuckle was cured with tequila and achiote, a shrub from the Americas which produces annatto seeds, a common Mexican flavouring and colouring. When I think of knuckle I certainly don’t picture thin marinated slivers of cured meat so this was an eye opener on the versatility of the knuckle cut. The beef was paired with a red pozole, which Warren deconstructed and topped the solid ingredients on the beef and converted the pozole soup into a jelly with addition of agar agar.
Next was the sirloin dish from Cathy of Aficionado and it was a truly beautiful one. Drawing on the Japanese ingredients in the dish for inspiration, this dish looked like a take on ikebana. Warren created a dashi jelly wrapped in daikon to complement the Japanese flavours and perhaps to mimic marrow bone. It served an powerful umami kinghit and was just gorgeous.
Then came Warren’s own dish created from his designated cut, the flatmeats. Crisp Thai salad ingredients, crunchy peanuts, fresh herbs and flavours with a touch a chilli zing. Thai salads are normally packed with pungent Thai flavours but in this version, these were pared down to allow the seared piece of beef to sing.
Onto Ellie of Almost Bourdain‘s dish – the beef satay. The beef was so very tender; the peanut sauce rich and creamy; but the rice cake, rolled in toasted coconut had me most intrigued with its compacted chewy texture. I could have eaten dozens of those little morsels.
Halfway through and the courses were so varied in flavours and executions that the dreaded beef coma was held at bay. Just as well as the sixth course was the scotch fillet with moghrabiyeh from Fouad of The Food Blog. Fouad explains that it was intended as a hearty, rustic home style dish where diners help themselves. I think the version presented by Warren still stays true to those elements with those deliberately carelessly scattered chewy moghrabiyeh and draped pickled vegetables.
Then, my little dish was up and I headed to the kitchen to watch the transformation in play. I watched the choreographed dance in the kitchen with fascination – quick hands darting in to pile pine mushrooms on the plate; another pair flittering in to sprinkle on herbs like fairy dust; yet another to squirt velvety pools of rich mushroom cream dotted strategically around the plate. Soberingly, it made me realise how my own excruciatingly slow and inefficient plating of this same dish at home would have been enough to have me fired many times over in this kitchen…
Whilst I was mesmerised, the cannelloni had been plated and ushered out to the waiting diners.
Warren had followed the majority of my recipe – he’d kept the eggplant in the stew for body, and speck for smokiness. The pine mushrooms were not used in the stew as I had, but instead quickly flash sauteed with plenty of garlic and oregano and parsley and became an accompanying side – which quite frankly, worked better. But to boost mushroom flavours, dried mushrooms were added to the stew and a mushroom cream for extra oomph. Importantly, the key technique of wet roasting the beef was retained and Warren excitedly showed me the photos he’d captured of the wet roasting process on his iPhone and the alternating crusting and tenderness he achieved with the technique. And the result? I am truly not being humble when I assert that this was no less than 100 orders of magnitude better than mine. And that’d be enough to convince me that both Warren and I have chosen the right professions – or at least, my destiny does not lie within a high calibre kitchen.It was so tasty, the beef so tender and juicy and even the pine mushrooms tasted better than my memory recalls. But, perhaps when removed from the stress of cooking and criticising my own efforts, everything tastes so much better.
And there’s more! Next was the dish created from the blade cut by Becca from Inside Cuisine. Warren explained that he experienced difficulties creating this dish – but through no fault of the recipe – but because he actually doesn’t like coffee! Additionally cumquats were out of season, but Becca saved the day there and provided the cumquats herself. The result was a rich and tender braised beef perfumed with the slight bitterness of coffee which Warren wrapped in a casing made of brique pastry for a delicious crunch.
And last of the beef courses was a slow braised brisket created by Bridget of The Internet Chef. I would have thought it would be a risky move to schedule a heavy, slow braised dish right towards the end, but the sweetness of the Pedro Ximenez soaked raisins (the muscatels called for in the recipe weren’t available) heralded the dessert dish to come and was saved from being too cloying by the acidity of the pickled cauliflower.
And then there was one, last course – dessert and no, thankfully there was no beef in it, although perhaps gelatin could have been custom created and used? It was sweet, but with the richness of the meal not overwhelmingly heady as the tartness of the citrus, poached rhubarb and yoghurt sorbet acted like a refreshing digestive for my swollen belly. But, no matter how full I find it difficult to turn away a cheeky glass of dessert wine and it was a fitting sweet end to a very interesting and unique experience to have partaken in.
The event also created a great platform to discuss some topical issues on beef. One topic that raised much discussion, and to be honest, wasn’t resolved satisfactorily during the night, was the topic of grain vs grass fed beef produce. This topic was sparked when I asked how grass fed beef can achieve the extreme levels of marbling that are sometimes seen as I thought those levels of marbling were reserved for grain fed cattle. The answer from producer Alison McIntosh was that it was partly based on the genetics of the animal and genetic selection to breed and foster those animals that are naturally capable of more marbling in their muscles. But this led to further comments including one that feeding cattle on a diet of grain is more expensive than grass feeding and from the reaction of the diners, quite an unexpected claim. Objectively, much of my understanding on the subject of sustainability issues with cattle is actually American based, gleaned from vocal authors and food activists like Michael Pollan and popular documentaries like Food Inc, so perhaps I’ve been mistaken in likening the situation of the US beef industry for our own Australian industry. The MLA staff were quite adamant that studies in Australia showed grain feeding was more expensive than grass and that the grade of grain fed to the cattle were classed as that unfit for human consumption anyway. The claim so differed to my current held beliefs that I wasn’t quite swayed over dinner table conversation but there’ll have to be a separate session of reading and research for another post.
The other issue I was concerned about thankfully was resolved to my satisfaction. From reading books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I learned that (American) cattle were being fattened for on grain-fed diets but simultaneously sickened as they are ruminants that need grasses and can’t digest grain. To combat the cattle getting sick, they are fed antibiotics and to bulk them up, they’re fed proteins. And the cheapest source of protein was, morbidly, ground up cattle offcuts – read about it here in Michael Pollan’s article. This infamously was the suspected action that led to a rise in Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease and through diseased animals led to cases of Creutzfeldlt-Jacob Disease (CJD) in humans. When this was outlawed, apparently cattle producers found a loophole in the system and now still feed their cattle tallow as it isn’t officially classified as a protein. The problem is, it is essentially beef fat and thus presumably still contributes to the issues in BSE and CJD seen in America. I was mortified when I read this but quickly reassured myself that we in Australia are protected from such atrocities in cattle farming, and drew on the superiority and desirability of our BSE-free beef in international export markets as my rationale. But I never had any evidence to support that. This platform formed the perfect opportunity to ask this of MLA staff directly and thankfully, they have provided me with evidence that Australian cattle farmers don’t feed beef or protein products of any sort, including tallow, to their cattle. In fact Australia has an inclusive ban on the feeding to all ruminants of meat and bone meal, derived from all vertebrates, including fish and birds. The current ban was established by statutory laws in each of Australia’s jurisdictions in 1997 and is enforced by official inspections and audits. You can read more on this topic via the Animal Health Australia link here.
It confirmed what I’d suspected, but it is good to get it from the cow’s mouth as it were. And you can read and hear a little more about the event on my interview with Simon Marnie on his Weekends 702AM ABC radio segment. Click the link here for the 702AM ABC post and audio links.
The Gourmet Forager dined as a guest of MLA and Restaurant Assiette.