Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cooking Class with Attica's Ben Shewry

This is the only cooking class that Ben Shewry from Attica Restaurant in Ripponlea is giving in Australia this year. So I felt very privileged to be in a small class of 16 at Tony Tan's unlimited Cuisine Co last night.

Life has become very busy, firstly after being invited to Madridfusion at the beginning of the year; then after he was mobbed by overseas chefs during the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival; and, finally, it has gone completely mad since his restaurant was ranked 73 in the San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurants awards.

This is the third class that Ben has given at Tony's and his enthusiasm and attention to detail continue to inspire. Plenty has been written about Ben, a successful import from New Zealand, and he deserves all the accolades.

The first dish that Ben demonstrated was the Osmanthus & chrysanthemum broth with abalone, cuttlefish and fried chicken.

The making of the stock for the broth shows a great care for his product and attention to detail. It is made in a Chinese or Thai style, with the carcasses being blanched and rinsed before being slowly simmered with copious skimming of scum and fat. There is never a drop of fat left after cooking and there is definitely no need to clarify with an egg white raft.

The stock has aromatics such as pandanus, galangal and coriander and the final broth has coconut, palm sugar and soy added to produce a delicate flavour. The broth is served with osmanthus flowers, chrysanthemum petals, abalone, cuttlefish, shitake mushrooms, deep fried chicken wing meat and a few other bits.

Ben explained that he owed a lot to David Thompson for the thinking behind, and construction of this dish. It was a triumph and a great addition to his new menu.

The next new dish of Beef, Seagrass. White Cabbage again had a lot more stages than would be possible for anybody doing a Masterchef challenge. It shows what can be done with relatively inexpensive ingredients combined with a lot of thinking, heaps of time and careful handling of the product.

The beef chosen was bavette, which is a part of the flank. I vividly recall over 30 years ago during my university training, being shown by one of the Redlich family, how to butterfly and slice this cut of meat to make the most delectable breakfast steaks. So, part of my education was not wasted. The purpose of the demonstration was actually to show the importance of where vets stuck injections, but a handy hint all the same.

Ben took great care with the steak. Initially ensuring it was warmed before browning and then placed on racks to cook until the meat reached 56°C internal temperature. Every piece was tested and nothing under 55°C was removed. The meat was allowed to rest and then warmed/flash heated before slicing for service.

Other components to the dish included black potatoes that reminded us of a dish we had eaten at Mugaritz. The potatoes underwent four or so steps over a period of time, and not something knocked up just before service. The resulting texture was slightly rubbery, as Ben wanted, and not crisp, despite having been finished in the deep frier.

The other components to the dish included a smoked black sesame oil, a black pepper vinegar, the stalks from wombok, home-made prawn floss, miso dressing and seagrass.

The whole dish tasted delicious, but the tender beef and the smoked sesame oil were the stand out players.

Much of Ben's cooking has been inspired by memories from his times in New Zealand with family. But the final dish of the night had been inspired by his visit to relations on a farm in Canada. Ben shared part of the text from his upcoming book, being published by Murdoch Books, describing the flavours of agriculture, and how it resulted in this dish. He told of seeing the proper maple syrup production and eating toasted cheese smothered in divine maple syrup.

The dessert course was Canadian grilled cheese toasties with hay ice cream and Tasmanian black truffle. The milk had been infused with hay, and after much experimentation, a caramel and milk custard was constructed to be finished in the Pacojet.

The cheese toasties had maple syrup poured over them, and along with the ice cream it was smothered in shavings of Tasmanian bluck truffle for a little decadence.

This was yet another success and was a superb end to a fantastic evening with the very generous Ben Shewry.