On a beautiful summer’s day at the stunning Kelliher Estate on Puketutu Island in Auckland, a group of chefs were buttoning up their jackets, sharpening their knives and plating up some of the most exquisite beef and lamb dishes I have ever had the pleasure of eating. Not just any chefs mind you, these were the much anticipated 2015 Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chefs who I had the pleasure of meeting at the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Excellence Awards long lunch - long because guests had the satisfaction of partaking in five courses of beef and lamb all perfectly matched to equally stunning Church Road wines.
The first course could actually be claimed by our 2015 Excellence Award holders. The names of the 163 restaurants nationwide who achieved the award were proudly presented on a specially designed gold plate to all foodwriters and media in attendance. It was great to see all guests eagerly scanning the plates for the names of their favourite restaurants. This grand reveal set the tone for the afternoon and so began a long languishing afternoon of fine food and wine, delightful foodie conversations and intermittent gazes out to the beautiful subtropical grounds of Kelliher Estate.
The first degustation dish was by Reon Hobson of Pescatore Restaurant at The George Hotel in Christchurch - parsnip milk poached lamb loin, root vegetables, fermented oats and mushroom sawdust. This was a delicate dish of pastel hues featuring a perfectly poached loin with a soft tender texture, complemented by the creamy oats and subtle sweetness of the parsnip. The root vegetables added a crunch and saltiness to the palate which offset the softness of this dish in the most delicious way. This was an innovative way to serve the lamb and flavour wise, lamb and parsnip certainly are a culinary match made in heaven.
Second time Ambassador Chef, Ryan Tattersall from Cobar Restaurant in Wellington served his course next and treated us to his signature style of slow cooked secondary cuts. His dish was a slow cooked blade of beef, braised shin of beef and marrow, cauliflower mousse, tomato caramel, truffled pea and burnt onion. This carefully composed dish was done so by cutting the blade down, removing the sinew and cooking for 48 hours; it was cleverly reformed to resemble a prime cut - flavoursome and tender. Accompanying the blade, the shin and marrow was surrounded by the silky smooth cauliflower mousse to give the illusion of an actual bone sitting on the plate. All components were pulled together nicely by the tomato caramel, truffled peas and burnt onions.
Third in line was Ireland born, Ken O'Connell who is chef and owner of Bracken Restaurant in Dunedin. He used a cut not commonly seen in everyday cooking and it’s probably fair to say this was the dish I was most looking forward to trying - organic rose veal, roast mushroom duxelle, parsnip purée, Parmesan crisp, confit tomato, asparagus and red currant jus. This was a colourful dish with an interesting variety of textures. The veal was soft and succulent and the parsnip purée added a delicate sweetness and smooth texture, complementing the veal perfectly. The duxelle was full of mushroom flavour and could be claimed as the perfect accompaniment to beef. Visually this dish had vibrancy with a crisp green asparagus and bright red confit tomato, all tied together with the red currant jus.
Now before you wonder as to the capacity for one person to consume such a feast, may I remind you this was a degustation of small proportions; just enough to awaken our taste buds, yet to be indulged with the versatility of beef and lamb and the creativity of our chosen chefs.
It was then back to lamb for the fourth course by Marc Soper from Wharekauhau Country Estate in the Wairarapa which is a fully operating farm. Marc likes to utilise all cuts of the animal to create interesting dishes while still showcasing lamb. Marc's dish was lamb rump and shank ballotine, honey glazed kumara, buttered baby vegetables, olive grape, toasted hazelnuts, wild mint and vanilla jus. The ballotine is traditionally a poultry leg, which has been boned and stuffed, but Marc braised the shank of lamb, removed the bone and put a series of other herbs and aromatics into the meat before reforming it and wrapping it in chard leaves. A stunning result, full of flavour and complementing the perfectly tender lamb rump, beautifully sliced and presented with a rainbow of colourful components.
And finally as the shade of the afternoon set in, we were presented a stunning beef dish by Brad King from Bistro at the Falls Retreat in Waihi - eye fillet of beef, potato, Parmesan and pancetta terrine, carrot, thyme and ginger emulsion, poppy seed and chilli sable, salsa verde. This was a classic dish featuring a stunning organic eye fillet with a bold meaty flavour, which was just meltingly tender. The partnership to the fillet was deliciously thin layers of salty terrine with a tangy salsa verde on top and a crispy sable, providing a wonderful juxtaposition of flavours and textures. Marrying all the flavours together was the smooth and flavoursome thyme and ginger emulsion.
As the heat of the afternoon subsided, guests made their way home sufficiently content with having indulged in New Zealand's top beef and lamb cuisine from five of our most creative and innovative chefs. Well done to all our 2015 Beef and Lamb Excellence Award holders and our new Ambassador Chefs. If you would like to sample some of their cuisine, you're in luck as we roll out another series of the Beef + Lamb Ambassador dinners for 2015.... watch this space.