Normally I don’t like to gloat, but sometimes it’s really the only sensible course of action. So dear readers here it is: LAST NIGHT THE GREAT ALAIN DUCASSE COOKED ME DINNER! (I’m also not a massive fan of upper case or the much overused exclamation marks but believe me on this occasion both are warranted.) That’s right M Ducasse the only chef with a total of 14 Michelin stars was manning the pans, well at least he was in the kitchen while his people were at work…
It all began about a month ago when I was on holidays in Darwin and happened to pick up a copy of my all time favourite food mag: Australian Gourmet Traveller. A stellar issue it was too – a celebration of the magazine’s 40th birthday which recapped the recipes they had featured over the last four decades. But this issue also had an amazing offer: a competition for three lucky readers to attend a dinner at Bennelong restaurant in the iconic Sydney Opera House, prepared by the great Alain Ducasse and his team.Â All that was required was to write in 50 words or less what you would choose to cook for Mr Ducasse. Easy.With a long road trip and plenty of time to think of the perfect meal ahead, I had a feeling I was in with a chance. It was immediately clear to me that the theme for my dinner had to be to keep it simple and showcase Australian produce. No sense in trying to impress such a master with complicated techniques. So after bouncing a few ideas off my travelling companions, I ended up submitting the following menu, emailed from the internet kiosk at the Ayers Rock campground at 10pm on the day entries closed:
an evening with jules clancy for alain ducasse
freshly shucked oysters with lemon juice & murray river sea salt
young clare valley riesling
roast barossa chook with sourcream stuffing, roast kipfler potatoes, & watercress salad
mature margaret river chardonnay
mini pavlovas with baked rhubarb & marscarpone
riverina botrytis semillon
fresh dates stuffed with blue cheese
You can imagine my surprise when my phone rang a day later while we were packing up the campsite -Â a strange enough occurrence when you had been out of mobile range for the past eight days…. On the end of the line was Anthea Loucas, the Gourmet Traveller editor, ringing to congratulate me on winning their competition… Who would I take as my guest? The lovely Missy Helgs of course – she was kind enough to lend me five bucks for the internet connection to submit my entry.
Fast forward a couple of weeks back in the big smoke: two tall girls, even taller in their highest heels excitedly make their way up the stairs of Bennelong restaurant. Greeted by the sponsors of the evening, the good people at Vittoria Coffee, they are directed upstairs to the bar. A glass of Veuve Cliquot in hand they pause to take in the spectacular Sydney harbour view, then turn their backs on the breathtaking scene to participate in the more impelling game of ‘spot the chef’.
They spy the funkily dressed Maurice Terzini from the glam icebergs at Bondi Beach, Phillip Johnson of Ecco in BrisVegas,Â the way-too-sexy Barry McDonald of Fratelli Fresh fame, Neil Perry from Rockpool, the permanently smiling Bill Granger, Marc Best of the amazing Marque, Damien Pignolet from the classic Bistro Moncur, and the demi-god of Sydney restaurants: Tetsuya.
After a couple of delicious morsels: one white-breaded crab sandwiches; the other smoked salmon wrapped around a creamy cheese filling with a sprig of chervil, the throng snakes downstairs to take their seats in the spectacular dining room.
The Veuve continues to flow much to the delight of our gals and the meal begins in spectacular style. Tiny morselsÂ of white fish that have been ‘cooked’ in a citrus marinade and topped with a generous dollup of caviar delight the tastebuds.
Next up is the first of two entrees: gorgeous yabbies resting on a jelly containing tiny diced ‘minestrone’ vegetables which seems to be tomato and zucchini topped with a creamy reduction. Visually stunning, served in a martini glass this dish is a reminder of the beauty of those native Australian dam dwellers.Â The wine partner, unfortunately, is less than stellar – the 2006 release of Grossett’ Polish Hill Riesling is a monster of a wine, oily and unctuous and lacking the acid backbone to keep to carry if off.
Entree number two is a contender for dish of the evening: a pool of green tinted puree topped with an earthy mushroomy truffle layer and three spears of new season asparagus. The resulting combination so divine that even the accompanying ball-breakingly oaky chardonnay from TarraWarra in the Yarra cannot dull the perfection of the flavours.
Wine of the evening easily goes to the 03 TarraWarra Pinot that teams perfectly with theÂ lamb fillet roasted to a gorgeous rosiness sitting atop a bed of tender spring vegetables with a simple jus completing the ensemble. A study in the importance of using the best quality produce and treating them as delicately as possible – the sign of a master at work.
Calisson, the almond shaped specialty from Aix-en-Provence form the basis for the first dessert. Teamed with icecream, raspberries and lime this dish is a certain entrant for dessert heaven.
A chocoholic’s delight is the finale. Bejewelled with decadent gold leaf this chocolate cake with crispy praline is apparently a fixture on the dessert menu at Ducasse’s Monaco Restaurant Louis XV. Unctious and raisiny, Rutherglen Tokay from Stanton and Killeen confirms once again that this is the ideal wine style to balance a heavy chocolate dessert.
The magical evening concludes and the tall girls float out into the night. There is a buzz between them that only an evening that begins with Champagne, ends with Rutherglen Tokay and is filled with food prepared by a genius chef can induce….all good things…
an evening with alain ducasse for jules clancy
bar marine a cru, caviar de France
nv veuve cliquot
ecrevisses yabbies, legumes d’un minestrone, nage reduits legerement cremee
06 grosset polish hill riesling – clare valley sa
asperges vertes d’ici en fine royale, jus perle
04 tarrawarra chardonnay, yarra valley, vic
canon d’agneau roti, legumes de printemps au sautoir, just d’un navarin
03 tarrawarra pinot noir, yarra valley, vic
calisson, glace aux framboises et citron vert
louis xv au croustillant de pralin
12yr stanton & killeen tokay – rutherglen, vic
le cafe cinque stelle de vittoria coffee
eau minerale, santa vittoria