We had been eating our way around the truffle festival and lost track of time. We weren’t quite sure where the Masterclass was being held, so we headed back to the gate to check. A friendly chap handed us a copy of the Loose Box truffle menu and we (foolishly) assumed he might know where the venue that his boss was performing in might be. He told us to ‘follow those men’ and pointed over his shoulder to Alain Fabregues, Guillaume Brahimi and Emanuel Mollois. This seemed like a sound, if creepy strategy. We strategically loitered around their general vicinity while they chatted (and kissed! lots of kissing, if you’re into that) with festival visitors. As the clocked ticked closer to the appointed time we became increasingly nervous, until they disappeared out a secret exit. Disaster! We ran back to the entrance and found someone who looked official enough not to troll us. She looked skeptically at her watch as she gave us directions and we jogged into the hall in the nick of time.
TBP (a linguist) hadn’t entirely realised that all three chefs still had strong French accents and her face lit up when she realised we were about to be treated to what essentially boiled down to a piece of dinner theatre. The challenges in demonstrating three dishes of varying complexity and cooking time while also balancing three egos on one bench became immediately apparent, but our entertainment luckily skirted around the potential train smash and came across as a lighthearted, if scatterbrained show. Alain Fabregues and Emanuel Mollois have recently opened up Bistro des Artistes in Subiaco together, and if their interactions at the Masterclass were anything to go by, working in that shared kitchen must be quite an experience. They had an excellent rapport, Fabregues gentling teasing Mollois about being a Patissier rather than Chef (the difference, in case you are wondering, if that Chefs must learn patissiere but Patissiers are not required to learn to cook). You did occasionally get the impression that Fabregues and Brahimi were ganging up on Mollois somewhat but this kind of added to his underdog charm as the youngest of the three.
Our entree was a ‘quick’ scallop dish prepared by Alain Fabregues. It was definitely the quickest of the lot, despite having a 24-hour lead time to allow the scallops to cure and intensify their flavours. Each seared scallop was topped with a huge piece of shaved truffle, placed on a bed of sauteed leeks and truffle reduction, and garnished with a round of puff pastry. This was my favourite course of the Masterclass, it’s really hard to serve perfectly cooked scallops for a hundred people simultaneously and it was done with such apparent ease. The wine match didn’t have me quite so excited, I would have preferred the rich creamy flavours with the sparkling Chardonnay we were given on arrival rather than the crisp, fruity Sauvignon Blanc Semillon it was paired with. It’s easy to imagine how that panned out, Chef said ‘scallops’, sponsor said ‘white’, no one mentioned cream and then the sparkling was already a Chardonnay and here we are. Of course, it’s also entirely possible it all went over my head.
Guillaume Brahimi demonstrated our main of braised wagyu beef cheeks with celeriac puree, and, of course, truffles. The preparation for this dish was much more involved (although still not outside the range of a home cook) consisting of the beef cheek, sauce, puree, carrots, croutons and truffle garnish. The beef cheek is slow cooked for five hours in a veal stock which is prepared the day ahead from veal osso bucco, with the cooking liquor from the cheek reduced into the jus which finishes the dish. The celeriac is simmered with milk until tender then blended, and the carrots are simmered (with butter) then finished in a pan (of butter) with a touch of garlic and the croutons. After you’ve seen Brahimi cook, you’re not quite as shocked as you should be to learn they go through 400kg of butter a week at Bennelong. The portion sizes were hefty, too, or it could have been our morning of grazing catching up with us. The texture of the beef check wasn’t what I was expecting, although I should have known better. It was very soft, with almost no resistance. Usually you’d use ‘falling off the bone’ and so on as things to strive for, but… maybe there’s something to be said for a bit more texture. The celeriac puree was subtle and silky smooth and the carrots nicely done, but the only element which offered a textural contrast was the scattering of croutons. Flavour wise, the dish worked very well, the strongly flavoured jus tying in the more understated puree and the croutons providing a garlicky highlight. It was definitely good, but the scallops were the standout for me. The Shiraz matched with the dish was a Shiraz – something I’d normally save for a food that could kick back at it, but it did help to cut through the gelatinous feel, and I am demonstrably not the world’s biggest fan of a powerful red.
Desserts, Mollois told us, are not a truffle’s best friend. Truffle does not like sweet, sugary flavours, and its properties are destroyed above a certain heat. Although he felt he’d ended up over his head the first time he agreed to create a truffle dessert, he learned that truffle goes well with fruits like apple and pear, and can be infused into cream. The dish we had at the Masterclass tied these elements together, with a sable breton base, a dome of caramelised apples, a truffle infused creme anglaise and a walnut craquelin decoration. I love fruit and caramel desserts, so it was a hit with us. The viognier it was paired with was sweet but not overly so, a little thick, but not cloying. I thought it was a good match, maybe the best of the day.
The service was stellar – it was a tough job to get three beautifully plated courses and four glasses of wine on and off the table in the cramped conditions of the hall and the staff did it without distracting us from the show on stage or landing anything in a lap. The staff out the back were also on the ball with the courses coming quite quickly once they started. A longer wait between each course would have allowed us more time to digest and drink our wine, not that our surroundings were really comfortable enough to encourage that. Knowing I’m on a time limit makes it hard to savour and then I end up leaving half the wine rather than rushing it. This is always the way with me and matched wines though, unless I have the trusty L around to help me polish them off.
All in all, we had a very enjoyable dinner-theatre-and-matched-food experience and would definitely recommend the event to anyone heading up to the Festival in the future.