He Came from a Land Down Under

It’s always great to meet new chefs from around the world. They’re brimming with ideas and creating nouveau dishes with their inherited recipes but then how does a Chef from down under do that? Considering Australia and New Zealand don’t have a specific ethnic cuisine or centuries old foods? These are new nations; new in terms of how cuisine developed all over the world but the admirable part is that they didn’t go the way the West did (resort to fast food as a national staple), they went ‘all out’. Australia specifically, took all the history and know-how of the expats in their country and created a cuisine so exceptional that today they are No.1 when it comes to travel and food. Apart from ‘bush tucker’ which very few people know of or have partaken of, Aussie food is all new! They’re leaders in food production, with the best produce coming out of Sydney and Melbourne, the most famous foods include Anzac cookies, Lamingtons, John Dory (fish) and Vegemite (which I still haven’t been able to develop a taste for!), but that was before, today, with the help of shows like Masterchef Australia and Chef’s like Kylie Kwong, Maggie Beer, Matt Moran and Matthew McCool, Australian cuisine has arrived and how!

We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Matthew McCool at Shangri La’s 19 Oriental Avenue and enjoy an afternoon of Aussie wines accompanied by his signature dishes. Chef McCool is Chef de Cuisine at Altitude restaurant, Shangri La, Sydney and has trained with none other than Chef Gordon Ramsay. I went with very high hopes given the entire scope of the afternoon. Chef Darren Conole of Shangri La, Delhi is another Chef whose food I enjoy tremendously, so obviously everyone’s expectations were exceptionally high. I’m happy to report the afternoon was indeed very rewarding. The food had fresh ideas, used fabulous produce and was repeatedly touched by genius.

We started with Carrots over Walnut Snow, Olive Sand, Fennel and Wheat. The carrot half was cooked perfectly and the olive sand was genius. It comprised dehydrated, dried olives that packed all the punch of olives but none of the moisture, lovely! For Indians, the taste of fennel is always akin to aniseed (saunf) and associated with a sweet dish; I loved the blend with savoury flavors in this dish and I’m sure the vegetarians on the table loved it too. This was followed by Salmon with Horseradish, Watercress and Pancetta Soil. The watercress was just a hint, a garnish of watercress tenders but the pancetta soil had a plenty of flavourful force, like a drier, crisp version of bacon, I enjoyed the combination because for once the saltiness came from the pancetta and not from the sea. This is how I like salmon to be treated – gently, with mild flavours, since it is so loaded with it’s own unique taste. There was a smattering of Salmon roe, which I loved, I’m a big fan of roe. On a separate note, try it on buttered bagels, yum! The Gnocchi which followed was made with ricotta and a lot of us cooks on the table certainly took note of that; flavoured with whole almonds, olive oil, eggplant and a distinct flavour of lemon, this was a dish that was very close to home at least for those of us who have enjoyed paneer koftas. Chef McCool used crumbled, fresh paneer over the fried Gnocchi making the dish very Indian in a way. What most of us enjoyed was the familiarity; it’s endearing to taste the familiar whenever a new cuisine is sampled.

The next course was the one I enjoyed the most, the Lamb Cutlet with Persian Feta, blackberry, almonds and quinoa. For once the quinoa was fried crunchy and not a goopy mess. The lamb was perfectly done – fabulous produce at it’s best. Whatever they feed lamb down under, works very well for the meat. The dessert platter which followed was simple yet satisfying, deconstructed cheesecake, which I loved.

A completely enjoyable gourmet experience.

The Festival “DOWN UNDER SERVED ON A PLATE” is on from 24 August to 31 August 2013 at 19, Oriental Avenue, Shangri La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi.

Parul Pratap Shirazi

Parul is a trained Chef, professional food stylist, cook, food blogger and social media strategist. She loves grapes in her salad.