Chef of the Year Dinner 24 May 2014
Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life
Thus it was a joyful over-capacity audience who left the Royal Exchange Club after a meal which would have pleased a 4-star diner and which set a new standard for care and quality in Society food.
It was all down to last year's winner (and current food Master) Nick Reynolds, who not only did most of the preparation and cooking, but embellished it with touches such as homemade butter, quince paste and even cheese crackers. Truly devotion above and beyond...
The food was, in the main, backed by some pretty classy wines chosen by Wine Master Paul Ferman. To start, canapés of anchovy (hand filleted) with smoked tomato sorbet on sourdough toasts were tangy, salty and disappeared rapidly, as did homemade tartlets filled with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and salmon roe; all accompanied by an average sparkling Vouvray and a terrific 2000 Lindemans Bin 9655 Hunter Semillon with youthful acid under developing toasty fruit.
An amuse bouche of a mushroom cappuccino had all the intense mushroom flavour, lifted by onion sweetness and topped with a creamy broth, one could ask for. The Lustau amontillado sherry served with it cut across beautifully with rich nutty aroma and flavour balanced with tangy flor notes. There followed one of the evening's highlights, bresaola (air-dried) Parma ham thinly sliced and served under a dusting of crunchy seared cauliflower pieces and grated truffle-infused pecorino cheese. The ham was moist and subtle, and the textures and flavours on top all enhanced the result, especially with a drizzle of olive oil added. The matching wines were a 2009 Marina Coppi barbera from Italy, soft and simple but probably better with the food than the 1999 Steingarten Riesling although this was a superior wine with golden maturity still held in check by zippy acid.
The main course was a repeat of Nick's signature zucchini-scaled salmon fillet with ratatouille-stuffed zucchini flowers and béarnaise sauce. The salmon was cooked sous vide at 70 degrees for 5 minutes and came to the table red and unctuous, with the laboriously hand-applied wafer-thin zucchini "scales" still crunchy. The sauce set the richness of the fish off well, whilst the flowers, a little mushy from the wet contents, had plenty of hearty tomato and eggplant flavours to balance the protein. The display on the plate was a joy to behold, and the whole was well matched with a 2006 Tyrrells Vat 6 pinot noir and a 2002 Vat 47 from the same maker. The red was a bit young and aggressive for the delicacy of the food, but the chardonnay, always reliable, shone with lovely sweet fruit supported with still developing acid complexity. Ah.....
An Ossau Iraty semi-hard cheese from Italy was in good condition with nice nut and lactic notes, and well accompanied by dried apricots (hand dried, of course), nuts and the aforementioned quince paste and crackers, light and crisp. The accompanying wines were again an international mix, with a 2002 Damiliano Barolo and a 2002 Grant Burge Shadrach Cabernet sauvignon. The Italian was predictably tannic but showing signs of the vaunted "tar and roses" character, whilst the local hero was a big, very well made Barossa cabernet with fruit, tannins and acid starting to come together.
Finishing off the food was a dessert of chocolate orange mousse, swimming in a lake of rich chocolate confiture with a homemade spiced fruit brioche and a cool and pleasant yoghurt sorbet.
The accompanying Ch la Rame Sauternes was adequate but lacking in intensity and botrytis richness.
A good, slightly citrus, Devon estate coffee from India concluded proceedings, interrupted earlier by the presentation by President Greg Chugg of the awards for 2013:
The Chris Alexiou Seafood Trophy, to James Hill;
The Chef of the Year Award, to John Rourke;
With knife presentations to the other finalists, Nigel Burton, Nick Reynolds and Bruce Thomas.
Nowhere else in Sydney could you get such a well thought out and executed meal, with such attractive wines; not to mention such a happy and gregarious group of members and guests. It was a really memorable evening.