Our visit to Antarctica saw us back in Melbourne on 31 March 2017 so we didn’t get to many MF&WF events. But we managed one day at the Master Classes where we saw, in this order, Ashley Palmer-Watts, Grant Achatz and Gaston Acurio. We were really there to see Gaston because we had seen this wonderful film about him some time ago. This trailer doesn’t do it justice, but you can watch the whole thing on youtube. I recommend it.
He is the son of a Peruvian politician and was sent away to France to study to become a lawyer but became a chef instead. Back in Peru he established a highly regarded restaurant but then he went further to really understand and campaign for indigenous Peruvian food. He has revolutionised his county’s attitude to their own food. Many want him to become a politician. He’s a natural. For me, he was as inspirational in person as he was in the film. Talking very fast and passionately about his food and his culture. He is not to be dictated to by marketing or foodie norms. For example he refused to give us a recipe for his ceviche, a national Peruvian raw fish dish, because it all depends on how much juice is in the limes you use, and what sort of fish you have chosen. A Peruvian in the audience asked him how to make a traditional Peruvian dish without access to the traditional yellow potatoes they get in Peru. He said the choice is simple, either don’t make it or use a potato that you can get hold of here.
The dishes that we tasted were delicious, although I don’t know that I will be able to make them. His first was Conchas Bachiche and here it is, pretty to look at and as I said delicious.
And here is the recipe.
His second dish didn’t look as pretty but was absolutely delicious. More like home cooked comfort food which indeed it is based on. Duck with Rice.
The recipe looks complicated but is not really, just lots of different things to put together.
I’m really pleased we got to see Gaston in person. And since we were there, down at The Edge at Federation Square, I had booked us in for the two preceding chefs. I had never heard of Ashley Palmer-Watts, but he is Heston Blumenthal’s right hand man apparently. He was interesting and engaging. He cooked for us something called Frumenty, which is the sauce in this dish of rast scallops, clams, pickled dulse and sea beat. It was delicious.
He also took us through the making of a famous ingredient in many of Blumenthal’s dishes, called simply Green Sauce. It also looks pretty complicated and requires something called a ‘paco jet’. So I’m not sure I’ll try it. But it was good.
The other Master Class we saw, this time sitting in the bleachers and unable to participate in the tastings (a very unattractive feature of the master classes being held at Federation Square), was with Grant Achatz, an American chef with an award wining restaurant in Chicago. He was interesting but only from a spectator’s perspective as I don’t think he would expect any home cook to replicate his techniques. These largely consisted of him blowing things up. In the first case, mozzarella cheese. It took him numerous attempts to successfully do so. Looks pretty – a thin globe of cheese – but I’m not sure its worth the effort. Then he was basically blowing up sugar to waft through to the seated diners like balloons, tied with apple thread. Fun to watch as people didn’t know how to eat it and in fact could not do so elegantly. It was also lovely to hear his story which he told while tying up the balloons. It includes him having cancer and losing his sense of taste. Declining radical surgical intervention he subsequently regained it. During the process experiencing the same explosions of taste that babies do when they are first experiencing different foods. You can see him describe this, and his food, on the Netflix television show The Chef’s Table if you’re interested.
All in all a very satisfying and stimulating day at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.