As much as I loved being pushed to my culinary limits throughout MasterChef, there’s nothing better than creating food for people in a relaxed environment, relieved of pressure and that giant clock. I thought I would share my first real solo-cook with you since leaving the MC kitchen. Free from cameras, microphones and Heston, there I was, free to cook whatever I wanted for 14 lovely people in one of their homes. Challenge accepted.
Creating a meld of dishes that were cost effective, easy to prep and plate up was all part of the challenge, and I loved it. I wanted each dish to reflect food that I had been cooking over the past 12 months. I also wanted to use local produce that was delicious, bright and colourful, which let’s face it, isn’t too hard in November for Queensland. Starting with the concept of doing a simple main and dessert, I somehow ended up with a 5 course menu. Whoops! Degustation here we come!
So then when it came to the logistics of crockery, I was in a pickle. I wanted it to look schmick and for the event to have a real pop-up restaurant feel - so paper plates were out of the question. New to the industry, I had no idea where to start. I’d considered doing an eclectic table arrangement with random pieces from everyone I knew. It’s not such a bad idea, but when most people have similar plates, each course was going to look 50 shades of boring. I wanted there to be colour and contrast, and to give people food that looked and tasted like what I'd prepared on MC (I think it’s fair to say we have all dreamt of smell-a-vision).
My minor debacle soon flew out the window when an email entered my inbox at the perfect time. Allison and her husband Anthony owned a Queensland-based company called Hospitality Products and they stock EVERYTHING you can think of when it comes to, well... hospitality products. The Santo Alessi range was used in just about every episode of MC and I was lucky enough to score 5 stunning pieces from the range for my dinner. A few emails back and fourth and BINGO my dinner was moving closer towards culinary flair and further away from RSL bistro. The night was a huge success, the plates helped my food shine and thanks to my gorgeous sister Belinda, who was my waitress and right hand man for service, we nailed it.
First course: Brown sugar cured Tasmanian salmon with dill aioli, cider pickled cucumber, apple. Garnished with fresh dill sprigs. Served on Santo Alessi Organics Sushi/Tapas Plate.
Inspired by the dish I created in the MasterChef semi-final, this dish is a big flirt! Inviting people into the next course with pickles, zesty aioli and salty cured salmon. The term drool-worthy is definitely appropriate, and that’s exactly what you want from the first course - everyone salivating and anticipating the next dish.
I love a good bisque - I think I made 3 of them throughout my time on MasterChef. The smallest mouthful packs so much flavour. Never throw away the heads or shells of seafood - freeze them and use them another time. Also never throw out your fennel tops! They taste delicious and build great height when garnishing.
People love a little theatre or interaction with their meal and these cute little jugs did exactly that. Watching everyone pour the bisque into their bowls with a smile on their faces as the colour spilt over the fennel, it definitely made me feel the warm and fuzzies!
Third course: Slow braised beef brisket, speck and white bean puree, sauteed shiitake mushroom and crispy kale served with beef and mushroom jus. Garnished with micro red garnet. Served on Santa Alessi Organics Risotto Plate.
This one is a plate-licker, and easily defines the flavour, 'umami.' Billie and I did something similar to this for our popup event last year. It's rich, delicious and perfect for entertaining as everything can be prepared in advance. You also don’t need to plate a huge serving for it to be satisfying. (I can safely admit that after service, my sister and I drank the jus from the squeezey bottle like a baby on a bottle. There is photographic evidence of this, but I’ll savour my dignity for now).
Fourth course: Yoghurt and vanilla bean parfait with mango curd and pineapple, mango and mint salsa. Garnished with peppery nasturtium petals. Served on Santo Alessi Organics Entree Plate.
Another MasterChef semi-final inspired dish - this one takes me back to my roots and my love of Queensland produce. I absolutely adore using yoghurt in desserts for it's tartness and creaminess and this parfait ticks all the boxes for me! The presentation is a little more clumsy that what I had hoped for, but it works because each spoonful needs to have a little bit of everything. The peppery flavour of the nasturtium petals lends itself to every element as well. When I collected the plates, it looked a finger-painting exercise had gone down. I think they liked it!
Fifth course: Blue cheese cream, roasted grapes, salted honey sable. Served with ruby port an garnished with indigo dianthus petals. Served on Santo Alessi Organics Sushi/Tapas Plate.
The fifth and final course. This dish is a newbie and something I really wanted to test out on everyone. I am a big fan of soft cheeses and fruit after a meal, so I wanted to create something that was going to pair perfectly with a little nightcap of ruby port. It had to be better than the real thing though, so the pressure was on. I whipped the cheese with a little cream to make it perfectly silky, the roasted grapes were tossed through a little reduced balsamic once they were out of the oven, the sable was sweetened only with honey and to finish I sprinkled the dish with salt flakes and fresh grapes. Sweet, salty, savoury goodness!
As I was cleaning down, sipping on my ruby port and taking haphazard mouthfuls of the leftovers, I felt pretty chuffed with how it all went down. There were 14 people sitting back in their chairs, big smiles on show, all patting their stomachs with approval and it didn't take me until 3am to get there. Timing wise, it could not have been better and I definitely had moments of thinking... "Matt? George? Gary? Look how good I'm doing!!!" With a lot of love and excitement I had created, planned and successfully cooked every single element for each course on my own, from scratch and it was a triumph!Every new adventure makes me more and more excited for the next, and it really makes me realise how much I truly and unconditionally love to share my love of cooking with people.
Until next time friends!