Peter Gilmore, Executive Chef, Quay
The whole point of restaurants, says Peter Gilmore, is to eat things you wouldn't bother making at home. He gestures at his mise en place, components of which take several hours, and says he would never make the dishes he makes at Quay at home. "Not unless I had a full kitchen team!" he says with a laugh.
It's my first time dining at Quay, and as I stride toward the entrance, I can't help but smile at the sight of the Sydney Harbour Bridge - even as a born-and-bred Sydneysider, her regal presence never fails to impress.
Quay basks in a prime vantage point between two of Sydney's great icons, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. The dining room is swish without being too stuffy, and large glass windows let in plenty of natural light.
Peter Gilmore plating up pink turnips and baby radishes
I'd been invited to attend a Masterclass with Peter Gilmore, a newly appointed partner with Electrolux. We make our way upstairs to the private dining area - popular with weddings - and after a glass of champagne with canapes with take our seats around a specially built demonstration area.
Peter is calm, gentle and laid-back in demeanour, happy to laugh at his own mistakes and taking care to thank his assisting chef with every task. He's not a small man (but who trusts a skinny chef anyway), and his fingers are light and nimble when he plates each dish.
Native fresh water marron
The first dish he demonstrates uses fresh water marron. Live marron are frozen and then poached quickly before being sealed in a plastic bag with clarified butter. The package is then steamed for three minutes until just cooked.
The marron is nestled between two delicate trails of baby radishes, pink turnips, garlic flowers and red garnet leaves. Dabs of jamon de bellota cream are made by infusing half a litre of cream with twenty slices of jamon de bellota - made from pigs fed on acorns - and then thickened slightly with agar agar.
The next dish Peter demonstrates is his butter poached quail breast, which is rapidly becoming another one of his signature dishes. Peter uses Coturnix quail, also known as Japanese quail, that is slightly bigger in size and gamier in flavour. The quail is poached in salted quail stock, effectively brining the meat and tenderising it in the processs, before being finished off in butter so the flesh is still pink.
Peter prefers to serve his quail at medium as cooking it through can often make it dry. Initially, he says, diners often sent the quail back to the kitchen presuming it was still raw, but he says he is slowly making inroads.
Butter poached Coturnix quail breast
The quail is presented in a beautifully designed plate, a sexy undulation that leads to an off-centre depression. At the base of the dish is a mousse made from morels and ethical foie gras, obtained from geese that are allowed to eat as much as they please, and harvested just after the geese gorge themselves in preparation for winter.
The quail breast is glazed with a thick quail jus, resting on a tumble of puffed quinoa and chopped walnuts fried in clarified butter. On top is a spoonful of pumpernickel pudding made from sprouted rye that is garnished with flakes of milk skin.
To make the milk skin, Peter's team boils milk in a square pan, then uses a sheet of greaseproof paper to lift off the layer of milk skin on top. The milk skin is dried under heat lamps and then broken into shards. Peter admits that the presence of milk skin on the menu always freaks people out and prompts several questions by curious diners.
We proceed to the dining table for our five-course degustation with matching wines. At the head of the table we can make out the Opera House, surrounding by the twinkling lights of Sydney Harbour.
Our first course is the smoked eel and egg white pearl, an exquisitely plated dish that I'm reluctant to destroy. The golden orbs of white dashi jelly are the most fascinating wonders to behold, soft and wobbly with microscopic leaves suspended within.
Native fresh water marron, rose salt, organic pink turnips, jamon de bellota cream, oloroso caramel and society garlic flowers
paired with Natural Selection Theory Pear Cider, Coromandel Valley
We move onto the native fresh water marron: plump, sweet and deliciously buttery. The turnips and radishes add a contrasting crunch and the jamon de bellota cream is silky and rich.
Butter poached Coturnix quail breast, pumpernickel, morel and ethical foie gras pudding, walnuts, quinoa, truffle custard and milk skin
paired with 2008 Terravin Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Butter poached Coturnix quail breast is a little tricky to cut in the confines of the plate but its texture is soft and tender. I love the puffed quinoa the most, like the tiniest crunchiest rice bubbles you could imagine.
Peter Gilmore chatting with guests
Peter returns to the dining room briefly to explain the next dish, the Berkshire pork jowl. We're encouraged to pause and smell the dish first, and we obediently oblige, relishing its wafting aromas of pig fat and caramel.
The pork jowl is taken from the pigs cheek and is decadently fatty. Because there is too much fat to render the skin to crackling, Peter uses a crackling made from maltose instead, melting it over the pork with a blowtorch in a similar fashion to his famous snow egg.
There's a delicious-sounding crack as our knives pierce the "crackling" and the unctuous pairs well with the sticky poached prune and cauliflower cream.
We finish with the chocolate and wild cherry dessert, a dish I'd seen Peter demonstrate at the World Chef Showcase last year. It's a textural playground of rich chocolate sorbet, smooth coconut cream, and a yin-yang rubble of chocolate soil and shards of milk biscuit.
Peter's nature-based cooking is manipulated cleverly with technology yet still looks organic on the plate. A memorable evening with dishes that stand testament to its number 27 ranking in the World's Top 50 Restaurants.
Grab Your Fork attended the Peter Gilmore masterclass and dinner as a guest of Electrolux.
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Quay, Sydney (Nov 2011)
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4/04/2011 02:43:00 a.m.