Saturday, October 8, 2011

La Chaîne des Rotisseurs All Chefs Dinner in Fremantle, Western Australia

On Monday 26 September 2011, I had the privilege of being able to attend a very special dinner put together by that most august of international institutions for the appreciation of haute cuisine, La Chaîne Des Rotisseurs. On this particular Monday, La Chaîne brought together an unprecedented 8 Chefs for its legendary All Chefs Dinner at the Challenger Institute in Fremantle (perhaps better known by its original moniker Challenger TAFE).  These chefs and their staff most generously spent their entire Monday (which is the hospitality industry's equivalent to Sunday) without pay for this endeavour; not to mention the requisite preparatory work in the lead-up to the day itself.

In order of appearance were Marco Bijl (Burswood), Phil Westwood (Challenger Institute), Graeme Shapiro (Wild Poppy), Doug Kerr (Bouchard; and Sebastian Bouchard himself also put in an appearance in the kitchen), Luke Wakefield (Sentinel), Soren Koberstein (George Street Bistro), Matthew Ladkin (Friends) and David Mopin (Challenger Institute), who gave up their precious day-off and worked seamlessly together to collectively create this once-in-a-lifetime culinary experience.

Fresh off the line!!
Each Chef created one spectacular course and also chose a matching wine (or French beer, in one case!). Students of the Fremantle Challenger Institute had the unique opportunity to work with all of these masters of cuisine and experience being part of a fast-paced commercial kitchen.  Although guests started arriving at 6.30pm, the action commenced well before then – the capacious commercial training kitchen was a hive of buzzing activity throughout the day, with the Chefs their crew and Challenger Institute cooking students working feverishly.  And of course, before you and I woke up that morning, freshly caught fish, destined for this kitchen, were already being taken off the line.
La Chaîne members and their guests who made the pilgrimage to this special evening were individually greeted at the door and shown their seats before being ushered back to the foyer for canapés and champagne; and came from all walks of life, from chefs and restaurateurs, to lawyers, accountants and business owners. Among those present was Herb Faust, the only challenger to win in last year’s Iron Chef Australia television series.

Now, the good thing about La Chaîne is that it's not merely about eating and drinking.  No, that would be Mr Creosote-like (and no, there were no wafer thin mints served at dinner).  One of the things I like about La Chaîne is that even though we don't shy away from enjoying the good things in life, it's enjoyment with a conscience. Part proceeds from the dinner (and indeed most, if not all, other La Chaîne functions) will go to the Association Caritative de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (ACCR), La Chaîne's charitable foundation. The ACCR's aim is to provide nourishment and improving the living conditions of those in need, especially children.

The proceeds from this particular evening were boosted by the generosity of Challenger Institute and Burswood Resort, which bore the cost of ingredients for their courses.

The evening began with a delectable selection of tasty treats by Marco Bijl of Burswood Resort’s award winning Atrium Restaurant, incorporating duck, prawn, salmon and beef, washed down by refreshing Pol Roger champagne.  I don't think Pitt thought about this when he spoke about washing down the tasty burger with the refreshing beverage, but just imagine the sheer enjoyment that you saw on his face and heard in his tone ... ay that's right, that's what I'm talking 'bout!

Guests then sat down in the beautifully appointed dining room which transported them to an oasis of degustatory bliss for the night, upon which they were treated to the spectacle of (Challenger Institute) Phil Westwood’s quail being cooked in a burst of flame by each chef at their table. The meat was delightfully tender and juicy, and extravagantly complemented by a gold leaf-wrapped quail egg and the tart, rich flavour of the d’Arenberg sparkling red.

When the chefs returned to the kitchen, diners were able to remain part of the action, courtesy of live video feeds direct from the Kitchen to the Dining Room, one static and another roving.

Wild Poppy’s Graeme Shapiro channeled his trademark Asian-influenced style into his luxuriously indulgent soft-skinned pork belly served on a banana leaf, highlighted with a sweet and sour pork and crab relish, with textural contrast from the crispy fried crab, and highlighted the caramelised sugar and pork and crab relish.  The accompanying French Trois Mont Beer, with its fizz and soft mouthfeel, added yet another textural and flavour counterpoint.

Bouchard’s Douglas Kerr delivered that most elusive of restaurant dishes, a perfectly cooked cut of red emperor freshly line caught in the morning, with the flesh firm yet sweet, juicy and tender; served on a bed of Kerr’s take on petit pois a la francaise, green peas and lettuce gently cooked in a creamy buttery sauce and surrounded by clams in a deliciously light, yet smooth and creamy, veloute.  The tight mineral and fresh acid combination of the equally delicious Picardy Sauvignon Blanc held its own against the richness of the sauce.

2010 Australian Jeune Commis winner and Sentinel rising star Luke Wakefield’s chicken galantine was so perfectly shaped into a drumstick with the skin meticulously re-applied, that some guests expressed astonishment when they discovered it was not an actual chicken drumstick!  The textural contrast was provided by the crunchy sweet corn croquette, which released a flow of warm sauce from within when cut.  Joy.

Soren Koberstein of George Street Bistro showcased his slow cooking approach with a richly flavoured serve of beef cheeks which was so tender the knife glided through it like soft butter, accompanied by a healthy serve of ... wait for it ... brussel sprouts and apple crisps.  I have to say that these sprouts were so good they inspired me to get some from the supermarket later that week (although I somehow failed to replicate the flavours in my kitchen).  The big fruit driven and vanilla flavours of the Kalleske Pirathon shiraz provided a strong counterpoint.

Young Matthew Ladkin from Friends (the restaurant, not the television series - he would have been a kid back then ... hmmm I'm getting old) showed off his dessert prowess, delivering art on a plate and a palate of contrasting flavours, from the richly sweet raspberry square counterbalanced by the tartness of the raspberry puree and the acid crispness of the pineapple, to the subtle flavours of the coconut panacotta, and topped off with delightfully crunchy and light coconut wafers.
French chef and resident Challenger Institute lecturer David Mopin finished off the evening with a delightful assortment of handmade confections, including mushroom-shaped meringues and chocolate truffles.  Guests also received a special souvenir: an assortment of these morsels to take home in a little box bearing the La Chaîne logo and tied up with a ribbon in the trois couleurs of the French flag.

Challenger Institute hospitality students and their lecturers also delivered a polished, excellent front-of-house service in their white gloves and smart uniforms, which ensured that the evening was an all-round success.

Western Australian Bailli Regional Wayne Teo aptly remarked that "when front and back of house both work well, you can be anywhere and still enjoy a superb dining experience."  This sentiment was certainly echoed by La Chaîne members and their guests who were vocal in their praise of this superb evening of fine dining and warm, comfortable camaraderie.

Note: The Frenchman writes articles for La Chaîne from time to time, but always pays his own way.

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