Fresh produce was the focus of the Hunt and Gather Dinner held recently at the Terrace Cafe in Canberra as part of the Appetite for Excellence program. Finalists were treated to an inspiring five-day adventure that gave them the opportunity to experience first-hand the passion of producers in regional New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
The tour included visits to Regal Mushrooms on the outskirts of Sydney; Melandra Park Organic Pork; Country Valley Farm at Picton; Bermagui Fisherman's Co-op; Tweenhills Chestnut Farm at Hoskinstown; McAsh Oysters at Bateman's Bay; Gilmore Brae Heritage Beef at Batlow; Small Cow Farm at Robertson; the Wagga Wagga Abattoir; as well as Clonakilla, Ravensworth and Majura wineries; and the Capital Region Farmer's Market in Canberra.
'All that we've have seen and done over the last few days has really made me appreciate fresh produce even more,' one young chef explained to me with gusto.
Guests at the Hunt and Gather Dinner enjoyed a superb menu that included canapés of smoked tongue and deep-fried tripe (Tommy liked those!); freshly shucked oysters with passionfruit gel and geranium flowers. This was followed by beef carpaccio with radish, baby beetroot and aioli; tender potato gnocchi with seared local mushrooms and mushroom cream; poached rockling with surf clams, salted cucumber, baby turnip and tatsoi greens. (Note: I'm positive I saw those same baby beets at the Capital Region Farmer's Markets earlier that morning and I know the mushrooms and fresh walnuts came from the markets too!).
Perhaps my favourite, and a dish that made many pairs of eyes light up, was a platter of succulent, slow roasted pork belly with chestnut and apple stuffing. This was followed by the surprise of the evening... a dish titled 'cheese on toast', that we all expected to be cream filled profiteroles with chocolate sauce; which delightfully turned out to be profiteroles filled with blue cheese and a deliciously salty Vegemite sauce.
Moreish candied walnuts were served with Tumba hills honey and thyme baked camembert from Small Cow Farm; and the meal was finished with a platter of sweet milk panna cotta, yoghurt sorbet, chocolate cookies and milk tuile. Wines from Clonakilla, Ravensworth, Mount Majura, Barton Estate and Rutherglen accompanied (perfectly) each course.
What more can I tell you, the evening was excellent from beginning to end. Please enjoy these postcards and morsels from the event.
Founded in 2005 by Luke Mangan and Lucy Allon, Appetite for Excellence is a national restaurant awards program designed to inspire, educate and nurture the emerging talent who are the future of the hospitality industry. Mangon and Allan recognised that the hospitality industry needed to support the next generation. The program has evolved over the years to an event that rewards all aspects of the industry: Young Chef, Young Waiter and Young Restaurateur.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.