Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fish Market, Victor Churchill's, Pony, Becasse

Fish Market, Butcher, and More


Adjusting to the new time has been a challenge, but our schedule is so busy you don’t have time to think of it. We were set to meet at 6:15am for our day at the Sydney Fish Market. Lattes and the smells accompanied by obscene amounts of fish is probably not the most complimentary of each other, but my excitement to see what Australia has swimming in their oceans trumped any other feelings I had. To think what a continent, a country, floating as an island would have as seafood possibilities.

We enter the back corridor of the fish mart standing atop a stadium seating of sort overlooking a wild chorus of Asian men yelling and barking numbers, pressing buttons as they take part in the Dutch auction. Their goal to buy all the freshest fish and shellfish that littered the hangar’s floor. The Dutch auction took a bit to understand, but in a sentence or two, a market price is set and the prices drop rather than rise and each auctioneer attempts to buy their fish at a low price, but not so low where they will lose out to their counterpart. And if you pay to high for the fish, you are definitely going to hear it as this group is not afraid to start a ruckus when they don’t approve.

Sydney’s fish market is home to the second most diverse selection of seafood. We saw purple crabs, bugs, flat head mullet, barramundi, mirror dory, manta ray wings, conch, cuttlefish, carp, bonito, ana cod, mud crabs, crayfish, kingfish, and many others. To top off the morning we would have a seafood breakfast. I thought of nothing better, but to have a dozen freshly shucked oysters creamy, briny and tasting of the ocean with a simple garnish of shaved Thai bird chili and a squeeze of fresh lemon.

Off to Victor Churchill’s which has to be the world’s most premium high end butcher shop. Located in the suburbs this butcher shop was no Marconda’s. It is more like a jewelry store and Tiffany’s of sorts, but in the display cases are aged beef, marble score 9 Wagyu beef, kurobuta pork prosciutto, duck confit, and pate de campagne. Marble floors, vintage hand cranked meat slicers and an illuminated Himalayan salt wall provide the decor, but the real show lies behind the plexiglass refrigerated rooms. Two butchers working behind wood cutting board cylinders while wearing impeccably clean white butcher coats surrounded a aging hind quarters of beef, pork, and lamb circling the room on a heavy track similar in fashion how your dry cleaner searches a network of hangers to find your pressed clothing.

I can not speak highly enough of the level craftsmanship, care, and detail taken at Victor Churchill’s. Every cut of meat sliced accurately, every pate emulsified and not oxidized in any way, every stock viscous in a harmonious balance of meat, fat, liquid, and gelatin, every truffle displayed in glory. Churchill’s opened my eyes to the importance of understanding my craft and the importance of what it means to be fundamentally sound as a chef. Not one display was neglected and every customer was attended to at a level of service that we can all take a lesson from. Victor Churchill’s has a high end niche market, but if your goal is do something at the absolute highest level, then Victor Churchill’s symbolizes what that success might look like for a butcher.

In the next four hours we are set to have two formal meals. An industry networking luncheon being held at the Pony at the Rocks, the oldest settlement of Australia, an Old Town of sorts. Here we would be catered to by celebrity chef Damien, a young chef, tall and lanky, confident and a deft hand when it comes to working with off cuts of meat. We sat at a 40 foot long communal wood table on their outdoor terrace, surrounded by Australian colleagues, chefs, restauranteurs, recruiters, sommeliers, and more industry folk. The restaurant was rustic in nature and anchored by a large open kitchen and an imported Argentinean style grill. We ate sirloin carpaccio in soy and chili sauce, beefy in flavor and balanced by aged soy and the slightest hint of burn from shaved thai bird chili; asparagus with ricotta salata and salsa verde, first of season asparagus, bright and green, accented with the salted sheep’s milk ricotta and rounded out with a blend of fresh herbs and the zest of lemon; smoked eggplant puree; twice cooked short ribs braised lovingly and then finished on the wood fire grill getting the best of both worlds - the succulence of fat dripping down the mahogany drapes of beef and all topped off with a gluttons true favorite, bone marrow and parsley salad, and finally, wood fired flank steak grilled over Iron Bark, both smokey and sweet. This food was approachable, executed well, but what I liked best was the vision it imprinted on me. Finally, the image I have always had in my head for the restaurant “look” I would want for myself materialized in front of me. Brick columns, chopped wood layered in triangular cubbies, and a black and white cowhide back drop centralizing the guest’s focus on the kitchen crew’s reality of serving 40 people at once.

Following lunch Nicole and I took a long stroll across the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was a great way to walk off our big lunch as well as get another stunning view of that Opera House, yet this time from over the water. It is like from every angle, that structure takes on a whole new look and a whole new amazement that someone was able to think about the idea and someone was able to make it happen, proving that anything is possible.

It is only day 2, but dinner at Becasse would prove to be mind numbing. The attention to detail, the level of execution, and the thoughtfulness behind why ingredients were used rose this dinner into the upper echelon of dining. The dining room was simple, spacious and a bit elegant allowing the true star to shine, the food.

The accuracy of the first course got the inspiring juices bubbling. A pillowy cauliflower puree topped with tender scallops kissed with a hint of smoke, miso confit of blue eye, supple cuttlefish, and garnished with toasted buckwheat for crunch and a splash of olive oil. This indeed would be a preview of the greatness that would follow.

I would like to call our next course my favorite, but it would be impossible because of the pre dessert course we would  be having. However, a salad of heirloom vegetables with Riverina lamb would be a close second. Seems like Becasse understands the nuances of making puree balancing the flavor of vegetable with the blending medium and incorporating enough air to consistently produce these pillowy textures. This time it was a puree of beets and carrots juxtaposed by their synonymous roots. The vegetables were not the celebrity of the dish, but could’ve been. The real star, the lamb fillet, cooked sous vide and finished on the grill with a rosy pink throughout the flesh and tenderly soft capped with a sugar snap mousse, olive tapenade and a crispy cigarette of braised, breaded and fried lamb’s neck.

Wagyu had to be on the menu and chef Justin North is an expert in this area. He is known around town as the fine dining chef that popularized the Wagyu burger. He sat at the table with us and explained the muscular structure of the animal and gave specific detail into how he makes his burger utilizing the whole carcass spread across his three restaurant and using every last bit of the animal. He even passed on a few chef secrets as to why he believes his burger is great that I am going to reserve for myself having traveled 15 hours to get trade secrets just like that!

Wagyu cookery takes a deft hand. The chef has to balance the meats own inherent richness with the other items on the plate. Chef Justin hit a home-run here. He takes a forgotten cut on fine dining menus in the States, the sirloin or rump, and applies refined technique to its preparation. Being 100% Wagyu, this cut is filled with internal marbling and, just like it’s Angus cousin, it is naturally filled with amazing beef flavor. He cooks it sous vide to ensure tenderness and finishes it in the skillet with brown butter, garlic, and herbs. Chef was not done. He wanted to show us how great the “secondary” cuts or “Masterpieces” can be. How about a brisket, cooked sous vide for 36 hours hours. Tender, juicy, and dripping beef, a balance of meet and fat that gives you enough to chew without much effort. Eating beef with a spoon at this moment I could appreciate. The crispy bacon and smoked potato puree were additional gifts offered by the Chef.

Onto the famed dessert, or pre-dessert I should say. A milky cardamom laced panna cotta topped with a beet root mousse, beet root ganache and a blood orange granita. What a play on texture from smooth and supple to crunchy and cool and the way the beet and blood orange played off of each other from earthy to sweet to sour and savory. It was a bit of a symphony for a me and heavenly to say the least. Odd for me to enjoy something so delicate and almost feminine, but it was truly eye opening.

Lastly, having saved just enough room we were given the signature 70% Bolivian chocolate and caramel “cadeau”. A simple presentation of a sphere encased in shimmering chocolate paired with an equally simple quenelle of buttermilk sorbet. Upon first look, it appeared that we would have to crack through the chocolate shell, but it was tempered so well that the chocolate was a mere cloak for the rich caramel ball that lied within it. The dish was extremely rich, but if eaten with the perfectly paired milk sorbet the dessert could be enjoyed without a sip of coffee or water...just my style because I didn’t have to stop eating.

1 comment:

Uncle George said...

I'm so jealous! Even with everything you've seen, eaten, and accomplished, I still think the real trophy is not the Croc that Nicole is pictured in, but Nicole herself.

Have fun,
Uncle George

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