A Taste of Foodie Heaven
This past weekend Taste of Melbourne returned for another year to Albert Park. The Taste Festivals have grown from a single show in London ten years ago to a total of eighteen festivals around the world by 2014. This was the second year that Melbourne has embraced the outdoor arena and Albert Park provides a picturesque backdrop for one of the biggest events on the foodie calendar. Of course with an outdoor event comes the risk of inclement weather; given that Melbourne quite often experiences four seasons in one day, preparation is key. In the lead up to Taste, Melbourne turned on unseasonably cold weather and Albert Park was left a little soggy. Thankfully the organisers managed to work around it and it was possible to enjoy Taste without wading through mud. And by Sunday, Melbourne turned on the most glorious weather which made the last session a much more festive experience.
The biggest tip I can share is to be prepared. With so much on offer and each session lasting between 4-5 hours you need a plan to get the most out of your Taste experience. Arrive on an empty stomach too as with so many delicious morsels to sample the last thing you want to do is waste crucial stomach capacity before the event. This year Taste made it even easier to arrive prepared with regular social media and newsletter updates, as well as the early release of the menu card in both PDF and mobile version. Menu planning was a cinch! Another tip would be to book more than one session if you are a food nut like me as this gives you the best chance to sample as many dishes as you can. With sessions starting at just $25 per person and a number of early bird specials released prior to the event it is an affordable and fun day/night out. Dishes average between six and sixteen crowns for the most part, with the most expensive icon dish costing thirty-six crowns. For newbies, crowns are the currency of Taste and one crown is equivalent to one dollar.
This year's event featured the Taste Kitchen by Canon, which was a chance to see your favourite chefs up close and personal cooking up a storm. I was lucky enough to see the charismatic Benjamin Cooper from Chin Chin and the sardonic Adam D'Sylva from Tonka and Coda fame. Benjamin showed us how to butterfly a roast chicken, which reduces its cooking time from 45 plus minutes to just 15-25 minutes and is perfect for the BBQ. His other tip was marinating with the key being the longer you leave it the better the flavour. Overnight is best, a few hours is ok too if you are pressed for time. During the session Benjamin was put under the pump about their no reservations policy and notoriously long wait times. His advice was to come in the afternoon when the lines are nowhere near as long. Benjamin believes that Chin Chin provides a balance between restaurants with three month waiting lists. Yes you may have to wait 2.5 hours to eat, but at least you can eat on the night you choose. He strongly believes that 'good food should be for everyone' and see's Chin Chin as the 'people's restaurant', pricing dishes accordingly (between $8-$34 each). Such is the popularity of Chin Chin, expect to find ten chefs working the kitchen on any given shift. Benjamin confessed to being a chilli nut and when quizzed on his favourite dishes he said both the Jungle and Mackarel curries were up there and both are super hot! Want to cook some Chin Chin dishes yourself, buy the book here. I will soon be the owner of this book come Christmas! So excited!
Adam D'Sylva showed us how to make Pani Puri and Butter Chicken from Tonka. The session surprisingly turned into a bit of a jousting session between Adam and Benjamin's (Chin Chin) son, which provided endless laughs and entertainment for the audience. His tips for the best butter chicken were to use chicken thighs, add cashew paste (which is simply ground cashews and water) and use whole chopped tomatoes as opposed to the pre-prepared diced tomatoes which have a higher water content.
Also new this year was the Lurpak Cookery School where MasterChef 2012 alumni Julia Taylor took participants through a thirty minute interactive cooking session that celebrated the joys of butter! During our session we learnt how to make a delicious pea ravioli with salmon in nut-brown butter and also the current dessert craze, salted butter. A well run, enjoyable and simply delicious half hour!
The Dilmah Chef's Skillery, Plumm Wine Theatre and Sensology Cocktail Making Classes were back again this year, but I had more pressing matters to attend to- namely eating!
With seventeen restaurants participating over the four days, some on a rotating basis, the ability to be selective is key. Over the two sessions I managed to try:
- The Botanical's Duck Prune and Armagnac Terrine with onion jam and condiments on toasted bread
- The Smith's Sticky Beef Buns with black vinegar and cucumber
- Hapuka Betel Leaf with coconut, chilli and pomegranate and the Seven Hills Goat Banh Mi from newcomer Uncle
- Butter Chicken from Tonka
- Pork and Peanut Curry and Chin Chin Chicken Wings with chilli salt and lemon from Chin Chin
- The Taste 'Melba' icon dish from Albert St Food & Wine
- Nitro Summer Fizz and Royal Choc Salted Caramel Tart from Burch & Purchese
- Street style corn with queso, chipotle mayo and lime from Mamasita
- Rice Noodles and Tumeric Chicken from Longrain
All the dishes were excellent but I think the stand out dishes for me were the Pork and Peanut Curry and Chicken Wings from Chin Chin (the signature chilli kick in these two dishes made my mouth go snap crackle and pop!) and a tie for dessert between the 'Melba' from Albert St Food and Wine (poached peaches, lemon tart ice cream, meringue and raspberries never tasted so good) and the Nitro Summer Fizz from Burch & Purchese (the theatrics of liquid nitrogen made this dish a winner.)
I was also extremely impressed with the offerings from Cobb Lane in Yarraville, the soon to open patisserie from Matt Forbes. Quite possibly the tastiest donuts I have ever had and is it any wonder with fillings like peanut butter and raspberry jam or salted caramel. Yum! I also had a delicious dessert which combined passionfruit curd, hazelnut spread, sponge cake and earl grey tea in a modern twist on a trifle. The most unusual and tasty combination! I will definitely be making a trip out to Yarraville to sample more of Matt Forbes' creative offerings when Cobb Lane opens.
With a full belly, a few extra kilos and a bag full of samples I left Taste of Melbourne on Sunday feeling very satisfied and looking forward to next year. Taste will return to Melbourne between the 13-16 November 2014.