At the birth of culinary truth

There are many ways of writing menus. Chefs including myself don’t always make it very guest-friendly by using short descriptions loaded with culinary terms. We assume every diner is food literate, this may not always be the case. For many diners the more descriptive a menu is the more they value the overall experience.

Today’s menu writing means to me a listing of ingredients in order of flavour intensity (which at times is elevated by the quantity of an ingredient versus the other components/tastes). A diner should always be able to appreciate each of the flavours promised to them. If not we failed (expect for a few occasions where people don’t taste well enough and perhaps should try another toothpaste or study more of this fine website).

We like the flavours to be clean, original, pristine and identifiable. But to surprise and provoke palates, many ingredients are used to add dimension and depth of flavour to our dishes. Lemon is superb to elevate the flavour of an ingredient. Salt is essential to minimise loss of flavours in cooking processes, we have some 20 different salts on hand. Spices we love, but cook by no means  spicy food. Ultimately, creating a dish and menu is a matter of balance. Balance within a component of a dish, balance amongst the components and their quantities and balance in the way a wine is matched.

I am in search of a new way to write menus that brings the diner’s mind into the kitchen and thereby enhances their overall experience. Now, for those interested in the more intricate aspects of dishes, below is a detailed explanation of one of my degustation menus:

Scallop ceviche and Yarra Valley caviar, crystal tomato juice
2006 Forester ‘Georgette’ Malbec, Margaret River 

50% lime juice and equal amount of verjus (not a fruity one) to pickle QLD bay scallops for 10 minutes only, thus they aren’t fully cooked. The caviar adds atmospheric flavour and is sublimely textural. Oven-dried (fatless) cherry tomatoes add depth and another dimension of tomato flavour. The vibrant freshness and brilliance of free-run tomato juice (like a fine Riesling) makes the dish complete. This is the amuse bouche that stimulates the diners palate, prepares for the upcoming courses.
It is beautiful and not filling.

Coffin bay oysters, winter melon and basil
2005 Brindabella Hills Riesling, Canberra District

Winter melon cooked in dry white wine, plump oysters that we shock for a few seconds in seawater and kombu stock, sour pickled honey dew for texture and micro basil, that’s all. It’s very simple, our food is very simple, and we can’t really do anything more to oysters. Keep them pristine, respect nature and the great work of the oyster farmer.

Green tea sabayon, just seared Yellow-fin tuna
2007 Domaine Ostertag Pinot Blanc, Alsace

If you find a perfect piece of Yellow-fin Tuna buy it, because it is hard to get by. Trimmed into a log-like shape, an herb and spice mix is applied and the fillet seared in a pre-heated skillet with the addition of a drizzle of oil (50% each EVOO and grape seed). Sear all sides for 10 seconds each. A hollandaise reduction with the addition of yolks is beaten, sour cream, butter, white miso and mild mustard added. Plus green tea powder dissolved in lemon juice and water. Just-pickled daikon and an herb salad garnish the plate and add vibrancy and colour.

Quail with lemon and juniper, porcini jus
2004 Tomboy Hill Pinot Noir ‘Rebellion’, Ballarat

Quail deboned, breast marinated in milk, yoghurt, matignon, juniper and more, leg confit, juniper crushed, topped with oil (re tuna) and infusing for a day, filtered. Bones transformed into stock. Reduction plus soaked porcini plus stock creates porcini jus. Organic lemon rind julienne,
blanched, kept in lemon juice and vermouth.

Pan-seared quail plus shitake and oyster. Wilted rucola and spinach. Compressed confit, the lemon and the oil. All this is landed on a plate in artistic disorder. There is still a lot of preparation, yet it is simple cooking, natural. There is depth, so the flavours are subtle. You never (well, hardly ever) see us touching ingredients that are cooked or ready to be eaten by hand. We always use chopsticks. Probably the finest invention since the introduction of fire. Sometimes I see images in food publications or on TV cooking shows where food is plated by hand.  But, in reality, this would make diners cringe, its unprofessional, as simple as that. There are no tongs in our kitchen either, these are murderous instruments.

Rack of Pyrenees lamb, cherry gazpacho
2000 Mildara Cabernet Sauvignon, Coonawarra

The rack marinates in olive oil, fennel and mustard seeds, little mirin and sake for a few days. It sits on a rack in the fridge for a day, uncovered, to dry. Roasted on the bone, fat cover and all at 110C. The cherry farmers lost most of their crop, we got imperfect (cuts) sour cherries, but great in taste. It’s hot, so the boneless, trimmed and sliced lamb sits next to a gazpacho of cherry. That I think is rather cool, literally. Hans Haas of Restaurant Tantris in Munich did this 20 years ago with foie gras, but different. We add turnip, made even bitterer by lemon bitter. Altogether with a hue of the spices, acidity, bitterness and fruit and umami, there is a lot happening on this plate.

Plum juice and beets, lime pepper parfait
NV Haan 'Ratafia' Fortified Viognier

Parfait is enriched by lime and different sort of peppercorns. It receives ivory chocolate, sea-salt and EVO Oil. The plums are wild, the tree in a nature strip near home. They are really acidic while ripe. That makes the dish possible. We cook cut plum in sparkling Shiraz and with all trimmings. No spices, a bit of sugar. Just natural. The nicely cut cheeks are then covered with the strained, hot juice. Set aside to cool, then covered until service. Baby beets are cooked as usual, peeled, wedged and covered with plum juice. I think this is a weird dessert, it needs balance, some subtlety, yet the flavours are bold and assertive. The parfait receives a layer of plum leather and some very soft marshmallow that we make. A scoop of dairy based red beet ice-cream. Lime confit and pepper-tuille for texture. I am writing this on Australia day. The beets entitle this to become National dish. Going to the Market I see plums everywhere. People must like them. Pavlova, watch out!



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