Monday, 10 September 2012

Wellington On A Plate MasterClass weekend

I’m still on a high after a fabulous foodie weekend in wonderful Wellington (even though this all happened a month ago now). Officially, I was working, as I was one of the guest presenting chefs at the Fisher & Paykel Masterclass series, held in the Michael Fowler Centre. But, I consider myself very lucky because, in an unofficial capacity, I was able to sit in on some of the Masterclasses, listen to the other presenting chefs, and taste their dishes. And wow, what a line-up of amazing talent was on show. I am certainly very proud to have been invited to demonstrate and be part of this world-class event.
MasterClass theatre at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
There was a great mix of different styles of food and philosophies shown, and having the chefs live on stage meant everyone could tap into their knowledge more readily. Everyone attending was given their own recipe book containing all the chefs recipes, with space to record their own notes and thoughts as a fantastic memento of the Masterclass series. 
First up was Graham Brown cooking up succulent NZ farmed venison dishes. I enjoy venison, because it’s a lean and highly flavourful meat. I know Graham is the authority on cooking venison so I was very sad to miss his class because I was in transit, but I heard some rave reviews from guests when I arrived.
Next I sat in on Ben Shewry’s session. Ben cooks at Attica restaurant in Melbourne; I’ve eaten at Attica and can report that Ben’s food is exquisite. I was lucky enough to meet Ben about 5 years ago and the man, what he had to say, and his amazing food left a deep impression on me. So, I was really excited to get to see him again. Ben gave a very interesting and heartfelt talk and home-movie presentation about his thoughts on sustainability, foraging, and cooking. He links much of his food philosophy back to his blessed upbringing in Taranaki, New Zealand.  And his food will often reference this, for example he has a dessert of Pukeko’s eggs (speckled white chocolate eggs filled with salted caramel) on the menu at Attica.
Ben Shewry's chocolate Pukeko egg (I was lucky enough to be given one - thanks Ben!)
Shaun Clouston, head chef of Wellington’s Logan Brown Restaurant gave a great class on curing. Entitled “just the cure”, Shaun showed the crowd how to hand-make sausages and sauerkraut, and how to cure your own pancetta and cure and smoke trevally.
Shaun Clouston of Logan Brown Restaurant demonstrates
Last up on day one Wellington’s Queen of Tarts, Ruth Pretty, whipped up a variety of delicious sweet tarts. Ruth boosted everyone’s pastry making confidence by sharing her hard-won catering kitchen tips. This was a sweet way to end the day.
One of Ruth Pretty's tarts
Just before a cocktail party to kick off the celebrations in style, Nadia Lim whipped up a few healthy and tasty examples of finger food, demonstrating the versatility of salmon. After the cocktail party my friend, moderator of my session, and owner of Zest Food Tours in Wellington, Cath Cordwell, and I went for a wander to check out the Oyster Saloon.
The Oyster Saloon, Wellington
A mobile caravan set up in an inner city car-park, The Oyster Saloon is the brilliant initiative of Rachel Taulelei , of Yellow Brick Road fame (  Rachel is a real dynamo and she, plus what seemed to be all the best chefs in Wellington, were crammed into the caravan and busy non-stop shucking fresh oysters.  A big crowd had gathered in this unlikely location and everyone was happily chowing down on these delicacies of the sea.
Day two of the MasterClass weekend saw more great chefs take the stage. Rex Morgan of Boulcott Street Bistro fame made a couple of excellent dishes, plating them up in two ways – one simple and one very snazzy version to show different presentation styles. 
Michael Meredith demonstrates
Michael Meredith (of Meredith's in Auckland) demonstrated a few special dishes from his restaurant menu.  One of the most fastcinating is his version of "risotto", which uses risotto rice, but not in the usual way. So, the finished dish tastes like risotto but has quite a different texture. We got to have a taste and I can tell you it's a wonderful dish full of amaizng textures and flavours.
Michael Meredith's amazing 'risotto'
Next, from Christchurch, Jonny Schwass’ demo was all about his Love of Lard. He says, "I believe fats are essential nutrients to health – they are the foundation for cell membranes and critical to cell development but have been demonised by the medical and food industries.  My Class, therefore, is inspired by my love and respect for whole animal cooking and my undying belief that fat is flavour." 

Last up for the weekend, I gave my own presentation (kindly sponsored by Kirkcaldie and Stains Ltd). Entitled “As Delicious As French Kisses” I demonstrated some fabulous French baking recipes that I simply adore: Pear and Ginger Tarte Tatin (including how to make your own pastry); and I shared the many secrets to making authentic Macarons. I made Chocolate Macaron shells and filled them with Vanilla Buttercream – I also like to add a hidden surprise dollop of homemade fig jam in the centre of my filling, which seemed to surprise and delight the audience.
My Chocolate Macarons filled with Vanilla Buttercream and fig jam centres
I had an absolute blast over this MasterClass weekend in Wellington, and I believe everyone there felt the same. If you get the chance to attend in 2013 then I think you should jump at it, as it’s a fantastic and inspiring event that I’m very proud to have been a part of.