This past Friday, the James Beard House was taken over by award-winning Australian chef Alla Wolf-Tasker and her talented crew of cooks, who were in New York City to spread the word about the fabulous food you’ll find Down Under. Chef Wolf-Tasker helms the kitchen at Lake House, a 6-acre lakeside retreat in Daylesford, Victoria (about 80 miles northwest of Melbourne), where she develops seasonal menus using locally sourced goods, including exotic, unsung proteins like Skipton eels and, you guessed it, kangaroo.
Joining Wolf-Tasker were representatives from prestigious Aussie wineries showcasing their wares, including the liquid tribute to go-getter women, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Riesling fromFowles Wines of Strathbogie Ranges, and an unexpected carbonated creation, Shingleback “Black Bubbles” Sparkling Shirazfrom the McLaren Vale region. These libations provided the perfect counterbalance to Wolf-Tasker’s whimsical plates, such as freshwater trout with buckwheat vinaigrette and fennel, smoked eel wrapped in pancetta with beet remoulade and horseradish, and butter-poached pheasant with foraged mushrooms and black truffles. As if the flavor profiles and textures weren’t pleasing enough, each of Wolf-Tasker’s masterpiece presentations caused each forkful to feel like the desecration of a da Vinci.
One of my favorite bites of the day was an hors d’oeuvre composed of kangaroo tartare atop an eye-popping fuchsia-colored crisp (dyed with beet extract) with a whole fresh basil leaf and a dash of Australian tomato chutney. The raw protein was a deep maroon and less gamey than I expected, and could have passed for high-quality beef if it wasn’t announced as was marsupial meat. The chutney was similar to steak sauce, so it had a vinegar/black pepper kick with a touch of sweetness, and minced onion added a savory element to go with the refreshing flavor of the herb.
And then there was the sweet finale: a luscious mélange of buttermilk custard, caramel, and honey studded with oatmeal and topped with nickel-thin slices of late-harvest apples (which had pink patches within their beige flesh). Also joining the parfait party were two spongy, doughy morsels that served as edible mini-mops once you got down to the bottom of the martini glass. Matched with Yalumba Tawny Port, an ambrosial, amber-hued dessert wine, the final course was as exquisite as you’d expect from the James Beard House.
This beautiful homage to the cuisine of Wolf-Tasker’s homeland is in preparation for the 2014 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, running Feb. 28 through March 16. The festival, which has existed since 1993, will take on the theme of "water" this year, featuring a floating barge bar anchored to Queensbridge Square and an open kitchen manned by a diverse local collective of chefs. The bar will have the Yarra River rolling and will feature bespoke cocktails highlighting the three phases of water and the bounty of fresh produce in Victoria; the kitchen will put out plates that demonstrate an array of water-centric techniques and represent how cuisines across the globe are formatted to fit into the Australian culinary landscape and identity.
Tickets for the festival and its special events go on sale Dec. 3, and The Daily Meal will be covering more related to it as it draws nearer. For now, you can see the full event program on its website.