Sunday, 13 July 2014

Good Food Month - Young Chef Dinner

If you're a foodie and/or you love eating out, then you'd be pretty excited about the Good Food Month, a time for celebrating the amazing restaurants and chefs we have in our beautiful riverside City.  For the last couple of years, the Fairfax Group have expanded their well known Good Food Guide from Sydney and Melbourne to include Brisbane.  This is not only recognition that Brisbane has arrived on the national scene, but has been there for a long time.

The month of July is filled with many different events, sponsored by Brisbane restaurants, which highlight just how fabulous the produce, incredible talent and dedicated the foodies are.  One of the first events in Good Food Month was the Young Chef Dinner, this year held at Brisbane's iconic chef Philip Johnson's E'cco bistro.  The dinner was a six course degustation prepared by the six finalists of the Good Food Guides Young Chef of the year.  

You'd imagine that a meal prepared by Brisbane's best and brightest up-coming and already here chefs would be pretty special, and you'd be right.  Festivities kicked off with welcome from E'cco's Philip Johnson and the Good Food Guide's Natascha Mirosch and a brief introduction to the young chefs, before the culmination of a day's (and lifetime's) hard work kicked off.

I've eaten at E'cco many times in the past and it was great to see the venue decked out with white linen and share tables, and every spare nook and cranny filled with diners, all with anticipation in their eyes.  I was really happy with our table, which was at the front near the kitchen and had the proud mothers of Ben Devlin of Esquire and Braden White of Ricky's on the Sunshine Coast.  Sharing the meal with the proud mothers was a fantastic experience and gave us a pretty unique view of the meal.

It's always interesting sitting at a table of strangers at the beginning of a meal and seeing how people bond over food and friendships are formed.  SC had been nervous on our way to the dinner, wanting to know if there would be anyone we knew attending and by the end of the meal had formed some pretty strong bonds.  As the wines started to flow and the courses began to arrive, the focus turned to the reason we were all there, which was to celebrate the achievements of six young chefs and their wonderful food.

First up was the irrepressible Ben Devlin from one of my favourite restaurants Esquire, who'd gone slightly off menu with his creative starter.  The beef tartar with pickled garlic seeds, puffed rye and dill ash was accompanied by cauliflower, scallop bottarga and a Murray cod steamed bun.  In typical Ben Devlin fashion, the typical expectations of a beef tartare were thrown out the window with a delicate piece of dried beef presented inside a packet (with Esquire logo) and ensconcing a smoky flavoured puree.  It was an interesting and challenging dish that divided our table, was it genius or was it a step too far?  I loved the smokey tartare but didn't enjoy the steamed bun, which SC found absolutely delicious.

Esquire on Urbanspoon

Our second course was from Matt Fury, head chef at Restaurant II, another of Brisbane's most iconic restaurants.  Matt had the pleasure of providing the vegetarian course, which is normally my least favourite in a degustation and with a title of carrots, rye, chestnuts and onion, I was intrigued to see what would come. What was presented was a beautiful and intricately presented dish of that did in fact match the description, but was 'oh-so-much-more'.  Different coloured carrots were presented criss-crossing and a charred onion that enhanced the bright colours of the spectacular looking dish.  Adding to the theatre of the occasion, a broth was poured over the plate.  Each carrot was cooked well and each had a different texture but my favourite was the pickled carrot, especially when combined with the sweetness from the caramelised onion.

Restaurant Two on Urbanspoon

Another of my favourite chefs was next with the fish course, and GOMA's executive chef Josue (Josh) Lopez didn't fail to impress.  One of the most surprising and beautiful meals I've had in recent times was at the GOMA restaurant (see post here) and I was intrigued to see what Josue would do here.  The paperbark wrapped flathead came with pipis, lemon myrtle and lilly pilly and looked like art on a plate.  The perfectly cooked fish came presented with a splash of colour and a touch of foam, with the slightly sweet pipis sitting atop.  Some around the table had not tried pipis before and if they had any apprehensions initially, they were soon dispelled.  The flathead was not overly strong in flavour but had a wonderful texture and the lemon myrtle and lilly pilly provided some wonderful flavours, while playing into Josue's penchant for indigenous flora.  It was delicious.

GOMA Restaurant on Urbanspoon

With Braden's mum at our table, we were excited when the fourth course came out.  Braden White is the executive chef of Ricky's River Bar and Restaurant at Noosa and had the first of the meat courses.  The roasted duck breast with duck rillette, duck liver parfait, fresh garden peas, parsnip, candied cumquat and tendril was the prettiest dish of the night and another of my favourites.  I'm a huge fan of duck and have recently experienced duck breast and duck liver parfait on the same plate.  I'd loved it the first time and equally my second.  The candied cumquat provided a nice foil to the rich parfait and gamey duck breast and the fresh peas some colour and freshness.  Again, this was a dish that divided the table but for me, it was a standout and I would have it again any day of the week.

Rickys River Bar + Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Fifth course was from the first of the Stokehouse chefs who was finalists as best young chef.  As Chef de Partie in the sauce section of the Stokehouse, Ollie Hansford  is arguably the least experienced of the group for the night, but never-the-less produced a dish that was quite spectacular.  The Rangers Valley rump cap with smoked bone marrow custard, ale braised onion shell, potato crisp with mushroom salt, trompette mushroom and tarragon oil was again pushing as one of my favourites.  The rump cap had been slow cooked over four hours and looked beautifully rare on the plate and as a consequence was extremely tender.  The cooking process had allowed the fat to render perfectly and seriously enhanced the flavour of the beef, almost as much as the smoked bone marrow custard (which was the most requested recipe at the end of the night).  It was delightful to eat and I was seriously eyeing off SC's to see if she would leave any for me.

Stokehouse on Urbanspoon

It's super important to finish a degustation meal with a bang, it's often the most remembered part of the meal and Stokehouse's Kristy Mundt (formerly of E'cco) produced a stunning finish.  The kalingo valrhona namelaka with orange and coffee cream, puffed rice and microwave orange sponge cake was both beautiful and tasty. Namelaka is Japanese for creamy texture and there were many creamy textures on the plate that delighted visually and the taste buds.  Kristy had commented that the dessert didn't come out exactly as she'd wanted, but it tasted pretty damn good to me, with the rich chocolate not overpowering the orange essence of the dish.  I could tell by the 'scraped-empty-plates' around my table that I wasn't the only one who'd enjoyed the dish.

Stokehouse on Urbanspoon

What a meal!  Definitely one that you would expect from some of the hottest chefs in Queensland and in my opinion, the country.  Each dish really demonstrated the style and flair of its owner, while still flowing nicely as a whole and complete degustation.  While I didn't drink the matched wines, I was reliably informed by my table companions that each was paired wonderfully with its counterpart.  I did cop a bit of grief from SC and a couple of other companions for not receiving my allocated wines and then sharing them around, but with six courses and six wines, I think I made the right choice.

It was fabulous to hear from each of the chefs about their creations at the end of the meal and each was greeted by a warm and rousing applause.  With Ben and Braden's mothers at the table, there was a little bit extra emphasis when it was their time to share.  One thing was clear and that was how much the dinner meant to them and how passionate they were about their chosen career (vocation more like it).

With a whole month of Good Food Month activities still to play out, the Young Chef Dinner was a wonderful and memorable meal, hosted by the stalwarts of Brisbane cuisine.  Thanks to everyone involved and I can't wait for my next Good Food Month meal at GOMA.

For the record, Ben Devlin was the 2014 Young Chef of the Year - congratulations to Ben and each of the worthy competitors.


** I was a guest of Philip Johnson for this meal

Young Chef of the Year Ben Devlin from Esquire - hard at work
The Young Chef team plating up - some great teamwork in evidence 
The best young chefs in Queensland being introduced to the crowd by stalwart Philip Johnson 
All part of Good Food Month
Our table enjoying the meal
Oh what fun it was at the Young Chef Dinner

E'cco Bistro on Urbanspoon Ecco Bistro

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