"The dogs. They went crazy."
Duncan Garvey, of Perigord Truffles is on my right, talking about yesterday's truffle hunt in the Southern Highlands with Justin North and his kitchen team from Becasse.
On my left is Jill Dupleix. Then Terry Durack. Truffle farmers Bill and Pat make up our table of five. One by one we pass around a glass jar that barely manages to contain a hefty Black Perigord truffle and a handful of the aromatic soil from which it came. Just opening the lid releases an intense heady smell of truffle, a musky mushroomy smell that wafts enticingly.
And that's the moment I woke up up from my dream.
Except I'm not dreaming, and I am at Becasse, and I'm about to lunch on fresh truffles. Truffles that were dug up only yesterday from a new truffière in Mittagong.
Simon Marnie and Justin North
The Producers Forum is a regular event at Becasse, described on their website as a "lively lunch forum [that] brings together media, producers and industry figures to share their passion, give an insight into their unique experience and participate in an open forum to discuss the issues facing this fast evolving and dynamic industry."
Producers forum menu
Many of the producers involved in sourcing today's menu dot the tables around the dining room. Before we commence each course, host Simon Marnie puts a face to the product by speaking to the people whose food and drink we are about to enjoy.
Coffin Bay Pacific oyster;
tart of smoked betroot, goat's curd and horseradish; and
braised organic wagyu pithivier
A trio of canapes commences proceedings. The Coffin Bay Pacific oyster has the sweet briney freshness that can only come from a freshly shucked oyster. A disc of pastry in the middle is a delicate and flaky contrast to the round of earthy smoked beetroot and a quenelle of light-as-air goat's curd. A burst of horseradish on the palate is a welcome surprise.
Braised organic wagyu pithivier is like a cross between a really good meat pie and a buttery sausage roll. Justin explains that at Becasse they prefer to order in whole animals, using two to three whole carcasses of beef or mutton per month. The sirloin, rump and rib eye are left on the bone and dry-aged for six weeks. The wagyu for their famous wagyu burgers is made by mincing the meat from the leg (which is usually quite dry) with the fat from brisket and around the knuckle. Justin also says that many of his young chefs have never worked with whole animals before, and passing on this knowledge to a new generation is a way of preserving the craft of breaking down whole meat.
Wicked Elf witbier
Canapes are served with Wicked Elf Witbier, a Belgian (not German) style of wheat beer made by The Little Brewing Company in Port Macquarie. The beer has had additions of coriander and dried curacao, from the bitter laraha citrus fruit that is related to the orange.
The truffle brioche is pure decadence. Scattered liberally with truffle on the outside, and flecked generously within, the bun is soft, fluffy and buttery. It doesn't need the emulsified Mad Abbots butter, but I slather it on anyway.
Emulsified Mad Abbots butter
Truffle veloute has been frothed by the gods. The silky creamy soup has been aerated to a mouthful of sweet and salty truffle-flavoured air. Whisper-thin gratings of truffle glide out from the cup and hit the tongue with an explosion of flavour.
Seared scallops with prosciutto and black truffles,
young garlic pureee and black truffle butter
2006 Scarborough Chardonnay, Hunter Valley
Everyone remarks on the beautiful aesthetics of this dish. Draped on the plate with casual elegance, their colours create a picture of autumn. Producer Craig McCathie explains that we're being treated to Queen scallops, noted for their deeper purple coloured shells that often result in purple coloured roe as well. The scallops are hand-dived, meaning divers collect them in a bag one by one. This method is a more sustainable fishing method with less impact on the environment than dredging or trawling for scallops.
The secret to the unsurpassed flavour of Coffin Bay oysters, scallops, sand crab and King George Whiting, Craig explains, is the crystal clear waters in which they're grown. Surrounded primarily by national park, the estuary is hardly affected by industrial run-off, enabling the waters to remain crystal clear. The scallops are sweet and succulent.
Prosciutto is also a revelation. Made by brothers Robert and Tommy De Palma in Homebush, the prosciutto has a yielding softness, a smooth saltiness and a ribbon of luscious fat which melts in the mouth.
Simon Marnie with Duncan Garvey of Perigord Truffles
Shavings of truffle are the icing on the cake. I love their texture on the tongue, and feeling them fold and crumble into smithereens. Truffle legend Duncan Garvey first thought about cultivating truffles in Australia fourteen years ago. On July 18, 1999, he harvested his first truffle. One year later, fresh truffles were launched at Claude's. Now he has 50 truffle farms across New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. Much of the harvest is exported to Japan, Northern Europe, Hong Kong and China. Home gourmets can also order truffles from Perigord which are packed by hand and delivered by Australia Post.
I'm fascinated to find out later that most of the truffle dogs are quarantine detector trainees who didn't make the cut. Australian Quarantine detector dogs must be able to identify 70-80 different smells. Those that fail the test often end up snuffling for truffles instead.
Slow-cooked breast and confit leg of Redgate quail with truffle veloute,
walnut puree, orasted parsnips and muscatel jus
2007 Scarborough Pinot Noir, Hunter Valley
Jurassic Quail? Charlie Scott is a quail breeder and owner of Redgate Farm which sells quails that now weigh about 310g, . Through a process of selective breeding and understanding of genetics, he hopes to soon be able to breed quails that will weigh between 400 grams and 500 grams. The super-sized quail has been dissected and roasted on the crown, the legs deboned and rolled into ballotines.
Justin explains he has cooked the quail breast sous vide at 62.5C. The flesh is cooked but looks on the rare side of pink. Velvety and smooth, the texture of the flesh barely requires chewing.
Walnut puree and potato stacks
A walnut puree is an exclamation mark made of silk. I take childish pleasure in the potato towers, columns of potato that are made up of microscopically thin slices, barely two millimetres thick. The stack is perfectly constructed and aligned, the top slice grilled to a golden crisp.
Wicked Elf and quince trifle
Justin explains that whenever Becasse undertake beer and wine matching, the staff will drink the beer and wine and explain what flavours they can detect. By using this method to design its accompanying dish, the staff aim to create a harmonious flavour-match between the dish and the alcohol, a common link that flows seamlessly between the two.
In the Wicked Elf Witbier, one staff member detected quinces, and a quince trifle is born. Presented in a wine glass, the quince jelly is more runny than set, a burgundy lake that holds chunks of strawberry and sponge cake cubes. The custard has the foam of the beer head folded through it, aerating it to a tongue-tingling fizz. I adore this dessert and savour it slowly - it's so light and zingy and texturally cool I take my time to eat it, not wanting its pleasures to end.
Wicked Elf and quince trifle served with Wicked Elf Pilsner,
Wicked Elf Pale Ale and 2008 Scarborough Semillon, Hunter Valley
Simon Marnie and Justin North
"So has anyone ever eaten a whole truffle?" Simon asks the room.
Justin says he used to occasionally cook whole truffles in pastry and then eat them, but not very often. "Go on, try one whole," he goads Simon.
Simon takes a truffle from the jar, brushes off the soil and eats it whole to a collective gasp from the crowd. We're instructed to do the same.
Truffles in soil
It doesn't take us long to realise we've been tricked and the real truffle from before has been replaced with a jar containing chocolate truffles on a chocolate soil. They'd even planted fake truffle roots into each jar. Cheeky!
Truffle and chocolate soil
A clever but tasty joke - one that only makes the smiles on our faces even bigger.
The Spring Producers Forum will be held on Wednesday September 30, 2009 and will feature Rob Bauer from Bauer's Organic Farm. The four-course lunch with matching wines costs $130 per person.
Grab Your Fork attended the Winter Producers Forum as a guest of Becasse.
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204 Clarence Street, Sydney
(between Market and Druitt)
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 3440
Lunch: Monday to Friday lunch 12.00pm – 2.30pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday 6.00pm – 10.30pm
Becassé has been included on Grab Your Fork's Top 10 Sydney Eats for Tourists. Read the entire list here.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Becassé, Sydney - Vin de Champagne Awards (Sep10)
Becassé, Sydney - Fresh Black Perigord Truffles Producers' Forum (Aug09)
Becassé, Sydney - Champagne Spring Dinner (Sep09)
Becassé, Sydney - Hats Off Dinner (Oct06)
Etch, Sydney - A la carte lunch
Etch, Sydney - Fishing for a Difference: Justin North, Matt Moran & Matt Preston
Plan B - Wagyu burger and wagyu steak sandwich
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 1: Truffles for breakfast, scones from morning tea
Canberra Truffle Festival Part 2: Truffle lunch at Senso Restaurant
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8/20/2009 02:23:00 am