As you may or may not have heard, Iain was asked to prepare a dish for The Devil Island Project’s Devil of a Dinner held this year at the Hobart Function and Conference Centre.
The idea behind the dinner was to raise as much money as possible to purchase land that can be used as safe and disease-free habitat for Tasmanian Devils. The aim is to rescue this Tasmanian icon from extinction from the facial tumor disease.
Local philanthropist Jan Cameron from Chickenfeed had agreed to match every dollar raised, so the pressure was on to make it a great night. Fiona Hoskin, formerly of Fee & Me, had agreed to be the chief organiser and had recruited a group of Tasmanian chefs plus the illustrious Tetsuya Wakuda to produce a multi-coursed dinner. Dr Andrew Pirie had also been hard at work selecting and organising sponsorship for wines matching each dish.
Preparation for Piccalilly started nearly a week before the dinner, on the Wednesday, when sponsored ingredients from the good people at Chung Sing & Co. were delivered.
Vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables!
Vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables!
We had decided to produce the feta and vegetable salad that has been a staple on our menu at Piccalilly for the last couple of years. For those who haven’t had the salad, it comprises as many seasonal and tasty vegetables as we can get our hands on, served with toasted hazel nuts and Meredith’s marinated goat’s feta. Typically it has around 12-15 different veggies. The dinner was for 200 people so the vegetable prep was going to be a big job! We began peeling; cleaning and tidying baby carrots, baby beetroot, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, fennel and cucumber. Then, over the next couple of days, we hit the Salamanca and Melville street markets for potatoes, broad beans, radishes and shallots. We also managed to forage nasturtium flowers and tat soi leaves.
We had also arranged for Hans and Ester at Tongola Goat Products to sponsor a few kilograms of their new season’s spring goat’s curd (preferring to showcase Tasmanian products over the Meredith’s), which we marinated in Ashbolt extra virgin olive oil.
John Zito at Nuthatch had agreed to sponsor a couple of kilograms of his hazel nuts grown in the Huon Valley. We toasted these at 140°C for 40 minutes on the Monday morning before the function itself. It was then just a matter of skinning and crushing them by hand.
Marcus, our apprentice had also agreed to give up his Monday off to help out - with the bonus of working in the same kitchen as Tetsuya - so we headed down to the Convention Centre, with all our little vegetables safely in cryovac bags, at around midday to make a start.
Our Mise en Place
I had been down to the Convention Centre kitchen a couple of months before to meet Exec Chef Will Godwin and have a look through the kitchen to give me a better idea of what was possible to produce out of there. At the time I thought the kitchen was a vast construction, with loads of bench space and a bank of ovens and stoves. This time, walking in to the kitchen that was already housing four of Tetsuya’s gun chefs from Sydney and all their ingredients and special equipment, it looked a lot smaller.
Since about half the components to the dish are either cold or raw, we had the opportunity to pre-plate a few things on plate stackers to make sure service was as speedy as possible (thank you to the Henry Jones Art Hotel for lending us a stacker). We got fennel, tomatoes, cucumber, goat’s curd, radish, hazelnuts and tat soi on to the plates and gingerly wrapped the precarious looking stacks in cling film before wheeling them into the refrigerator.
Marcus plating the cold component of our dish
Half a plate stacker full
One of three stackers all wrapped in plastic ready to go
By this stage the other Tasmanian chefs and their various assistants had begun to arrive and unpack their things too. Space was looking hard to come by, particularly in the cool rooms.
By the time the all the guests had arrived and canapés were being served, we were already running an hour late, so we needed to be quick about it.
Will Godwin’s venison pies, confit duck spring rolls, scallops with béarnaise and truffle polenta with pimento and brie went out to the hungry guests under the watchful eye of Tetsuya’s Service Manager Michael Dore. Wines to go with this course were 2005 Jansz Tasmanian Premium Vintage Cuvee, 2006 Meadowbank Mardi Sparkling and 2010 Holm Oak Pinot Gris.
Tetsuya’s marinated Tasmanian crayfish with avocado and avruga caviar was the first plated dish. All 14 chefs began laying out small bowl plates and then filling them with a ladle of creamy chilled avocado soup, a stack of salad made from croutons and finely-diced peppers of different colours before being topped with a large spoonful of chopped raw dressed crayfish and oily avruga caviar vinaigrette. A beautiful dish that was carried out promptly amidst the constant barking of instructions from the ever watchful and impossibly well-poised Mr Rowe. Matched to 2009 Spring Vale Reserve Chardonnay and 2005 Frogmore Reserve Chardonnay.
Bowls laid out for the crayfish dish
Next was our dish. Marcus and I wheeled the stacks of plates out into the warm kitchen to take the chill off them and began heating sugar snap peas, potatoes, carrots, baby beetroot and broad beans. When plates started to leave the kitchen they went out fast, perhaps too many chefs means many hands make light work with everyone having only one item to add to each plate before being topped by a nasturtium petal and a brilliant blue rosemary flower given to us by the Monty’s team. The dish looked great with its vibrant colours and essence of spring. Matched to 2008 Bream Creek Riesling and 2008 Pooley Riesling.
Plating our salad. Paul, Tess (Monty's), Cam (Marque IV), Brandon (Peppermint Bay), Luke, Stu, Kevin, Sam (all from Tetsuya's), Matt, Fiona, Will, Marcus and me all hard at work
Our finished dish
Next came Matt from Monty’s on Montpellier. A stylish-looking dish of quail Kiev with pinot noir honey roquette oil and Ferron risotto. The quail breast had been filled with fragrant parsley butter and crumbed in the Monty’s kitchen before being fried golden-brown and perched on top of a tall cylinder of risotto wrapped in pancetta and a perfect line of thick red wine syrup. Along side 2007 Tamar Ridge Kayena Reserve Pinot Noir and 2007 Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir.
Tetsuya followed with his second dish. Braised Cape Grim short rib with ox tail and sea cucumber. His chefs now working like a military SWAT team produced risotto studded with brilliant green asparagus slices, soft ox tail meat, slippery sea cucumber, beef jus and fresh parsley. The meat had been cooked sous vide so it was still pink but very tender. It looked and tasted great. Guests were served 2008 Holm Oak Cabernet and 2008 Velo Reserve Shiraz to go with this dish.
Paul Foreman was next with the first of the sweet courses. A line of chocolate was applied to the plate with a tiny paint roller. It was then topped with pecan crumble, salted caramel sauce, a candied cumquat and a pillowy soft poppy seed, cumquat and white chocolate double baked soufflé. We all thought it was very brave to attempt something so temperamental but it worked out flawlessly. Lastly for the wine matching was the 2007 Tamar Ridge Botrytis Riesling.
At this stage, (now two hours late) it was time for us all to head out into the dining room to take a bow. It was revealed that the dinner had raised $180,000 dollars! And we were presented with limited edition prints of devils for our efforts. It was then that the last course arrived from Aaron Gillespie from Big Bikkies in Launceston: Petite fours that he had titled “Devil’s Pleasure”.
Everyone on stage
Aaron putting the final touches on his dish
Aaron had been slaving away by himself in another small room within the complex for the last 10 or so hours to get everything finished. The plates themselves were white chocolate with a devil sketched (using dark chocolate) in the center of each. There were various macarons, chocolate tortellini, chocolate and chilli teardrops, apple teacake, white chocolate lotus flowers, and a little edible rice paper pinwheel. A wonderful display of skill and creativity.
We headed back into the kitchen to have a celebratory glass of wine while Marcus and I returned the things we had borrowed to the Henry Jones and headed back to work to clean and pack away all our tools with just enough time for it to be worth heading home before we needed to be back at work to start our normal week.
A huge congratulations to all those involved. It was a great night and an awesome result for the Devils. See you all again next year!