Hey, French nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s, I'll see your escalope de saumon à l'oseille and raise you "New Australian" cuisine's Berkshire pig jowl with maltose crackling. The dish was the ace in a winning hand of seven others served at last Friday night's special dinner, "A Taste of Sydney at Per Se." The dish was so good, you could see how it could become just as signature and storied a dish for New Australian cuisine as the Troisgros salmon.
The event, organized by Tourism New South Wales, invited two of Sydney's best chefs — Peter Gilmore of Quay and Mark Best of Marque — into one of New York City's most esteemed kitchens. The goal? Give the stateside food media a taste of what has helped make the Australian city a global dining hot spot (that, and to promote the Sydney International Food Festival).
Asked how Sydney's dining scene compares to New York's, and both quickly noted Sydney's multicultural edge, emphasizing its impressive variety and consistent authenticity. Remarked Chef Best, "the quality of ingredients and attention to detail is consistent, and consistently good at any level of dining in Sydney." Safe to say that Friday night's meal was a representation of this at the highest level. What Quay owner, John Fink, (in an oh-so-quotable moment) referred to as "New Australian" cuisine.
Call it what you want, this food commanded attention. Assertive, bold flavors packaged in thoughtful, clever, and unexpected ways — like the 'bad boy' heartthrob who suddenly reveals a sensitive side. How else to categorize the daring but delicate beetroot macaroons with foie gras mousse? Or silky, butter-poached partridge with foie gras pudding and truffle custard (swoon) — and wait — is that quinoa, dried and crispy like Rice Krispies?
There was an unabashed love affair with innovative technique too — innovative natural technique that is. "Dried leaves" in a dish with venison from Chef Best that succeeded in naturally intensifying the ingredients' flavors and textures. This passion for technique goes hand-in-hand with dedication to local, seasonal products. Chef Gilmore (who it turns out is a rare plants nerd) also shares Best's excitement for "more organic presentation," and "not overworking the ingredients."
Interestingly, in a first course with lobster knuckles, langoustine Anglaise, and caviar, it was the clean, straightforward flavor of raw champignon that left an impression. And while both chefs later noted that in terms of ingredients, Sydney has New York beat on the seafood, that night there was no trumping Gilmore's pork jowl. It had a thin, sugary crust that cracked like a crème brûlée's, except this revealed savory, fatty pork jowl. Words fail.
While that could have satisfied as dessert, it didn't have to. Gilmore's preserved wild cherries, coconut cream, and Chuao chocolate crumble with chocolate sorbet led the room into a final round of "mmms" and bowl-scraping spoon clinks.