An evening with Massimo Bottura and friends
The first of our satellite events for Gourmet Escape was the Siemens Collaboration Dinner at Vasse Felix winery.
Vasse Felix is the founding wine estate of Margaret River having been established in 1967 by Dr Thomas Cullity. The winery is situated in the Wilyabrup sub-region of Margaret River, which is a perfect wine-growing region due to the Mediterranean climate, maritime influence and soils perfect for viticulture. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes thrive under these perfect conditions. Unlike other wine growing regions in Australia, Margaret River hardly ever has a bad wine-growing year.
The winery is pretty breathtaking and as the sun is setting over the undulating rows of vines, heavy with plump juicy grapes I feel extremely grateful to be able to take part in this event. The homestead of Vasse Felix sits majestically on the rolling green lawn and as we meander up the path I take a few moments to soak it all in.
To begin with we are treated to champagne, wine or local WA beer along with a selection of canapés, including shavings from an aged wheel of parmigiano reggiano, which Massimo drizzles with 50 year old balsamic vinegar that his grandmother bottled the day he was born! Could we get any luckier! The balsamic vinegar is thick, black and sweet. We are in the company of the who’s who of the food industry and feel a little awestruck to also be dining with Kirk Pengilly, Layne Beachley and Adam Garcia, who are completely delightful and happy to chat.
Once we move into the restaurant and take our seats, entrée is served. Peter Gilmore presents the first dish and oh my…it is exquisite. A current entrée from the Quay menu we enjoy “Raw smoked Blackmore Wagyu, horseradish sour cream, fermented rye crisps and raw fungi.” The Wagyu is creamy and simply melts in your mouth and the zing from the creamy horseradish with the raw fungi and fermented rye crisps adds texture. This dish clearly cements Peter Gilmore as one of our most brilliant chefs. This dish was matched with a 2012 Fraser Gallop Parterre Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and the Vasse Felix Blanc II.
During the Q&A later in the evening, Peter Gilmore talked about how much he values good produce and how he strives to work closely with his producers to honor the produce. As an example, he tell us how grew pink turnips for one year in his home garden and tasted them before asking his supplier to produce 2,000 turnips per week for the seven weeks the dish was on the menu! Talk about dedication! Peter sees the role of the chef as one of an activist. He believes it is up to them to demand the freshest produce and support the farmers and growers. Buying local and paying for quality ingredients is the only way. For him it seems incongruous to pay $100 for a haircut and still buy caged eggs. He has the utmost respect for our farmers and believes that it is up to us to educate the younger generation.
The next dish was simplicity at its best. ‘Risotto cacio e pepe’ from Massimo Bottura. Just three ingredients that worked together to celebrate the produce on the plate. Perfect al dente rice that was flavoured with Parmigiano water that had been added to the rice one ladle at a time. The Parmigiano broth was prepared using Massimo’s grandmother’s recipe and 50-month old crusts of Reggiano. Added to this was freshly grated 50-month old cheese, which was left for 2 days. Once filtered it became pure and dense Parmigiano water. The flavour through the rice was incredible! As each dish was served the waiters sprayed a clear distillation of six different peppers over the rice, so as to not mar the perfect white sphere before us. Seriously aspirational cooking! This dish was accompanied by a 2012 Xanadu Stevens Road Chardonnay and the 2013 Vasse Felix Heytesbury Chardonnay.
During Massimo’s Q&A he shared the story behind the dish we had eaten and the techniques he had used to create it. He believes strongly in the slow food movement and works to educate young students and poorer people in celebrating culture and using produce wisely. Over 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year, so Massimo works to show people what to do with leftover food. His road to success was not easy. It took him over 20 years to win over the local community, as although his recipes use time-honored Italian traditions they are contemporary in practice. He is also heavily involved in preserving the agricultural schools in Modena.
The final dish was presented by Aaron Carr, the head chef of Vasse Felix. The idea was good but it perhaps was not executed to its full potential. The dish of ‘lamb, ratatouille textures and black barley’ was a lamb shank that had been boned out and cooked for 18 hours, that was served with textures of tomato and an ash flavoured cream. I felt that the flavours together didn’t quite hit the mark.
However, Aaron did raise some interesting points around focusing on the produce and it will reward you rather than overthinking and torturing the ingredients. He explained that he draws his inspiration from the environment around him and was initially drawn to Margaret River for his love of surfing. He is increasingly using more native ingredients and is inspired by Rene Redezipi of Noma. For him the key is using produce in season. Aaron’s dish was matched with a 2012 Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2011 Vasse Felix Heytesbury.
Sadly, for a sweet tooth like me, there was no dessert. I was holding out hope for another dish from the likes of Peter Gilmore. Instead the cheese, fruit and nuts and petit fours were, for me, a bit of a misstep in an otherwise inspirational evening.
Overall the dinner was an amazing experience and one I will remember for a long time to come. Especially thanks to the small vial of 50-year old balsamic vinegar (serious liquid gold that will be eked out for as long as I can) and the “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef” cookbook that was gifted to me by Massimo Bottura.