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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Johnny Iuzzini at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014

Johnny Iuzzini with his afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014

If you've ever watched Top Chef: Just Desserts, you'll know all about Johnny Iuzzini, head judge and self-proclaimed "pastry bad ass". Winner of the James Beard award for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006 and regularly included in lists naming America's Top 10 pastry chefs, Iuzzini has a legion of fans that include fellow pastry chefs and swooning sugarholics.

Iuzzini is young. He's charming. He loves racing motorbikes. He's worked with Pierre Herme and Daniel Boulud. Three years into his ten year stint there, Restaurant Jean Georges finally earned three Michelin stars - one of only four restaurants in New York City that year to do so. In 2007, Forbes magazine named him as one of the 10 Most Influential Pastry Chefs in America.

When Tourism Victoria invited me to attend the 2014 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, I jumped at the chance. And I made a special request to attend the two events featuring Johnny Iuzzini. Fan girl revealed.

Staircase, fountains and chandeliers at The Langham Hotel Melbourne
The Langham, Melbourne

Iuzzini is one of the first cabs off the rank in the weekend schedule of Langham Melbourne MasterClasses. Within seconds of the doors opening, the room is filled with the excited hubbub of eager attendees.

Johnny Iuzzini at the Langham Melbourne MasterClass for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Johnny Iuzzini during his Langham MasterClass

It's not the first time Iuzzini has visited Australia but he confesses that the last time he was here it was as a 22-year-old backpacker on a limited budget.

Iuzzini makes it clear from the outset that although he has a sweet tooth, he doesn't enjoy desserts with cloying sweetness. "Sugar is not a flavour", he declares with steadfast seriousness. "It shouldn't hit you in the palate".

Watermelon with blue cheese and strawberry granita by Johnny Iuzzini at the Langham MasterClass for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Watermelon with blue cheese and strawberry granita

The first dish he demonstrates reflects his preference to combine sweet with savoury. It's a simple affair of red and yellow watermelons, sliced and plated in a chequerboard pattern with dabs of blue cheese on top. "If you don't like blue cheese," he says, "you can just eat it anyway". A spoonful of strawberry granita offers cleansing refreshment.

Iuzzini explains that he often adds salt to accentuate flavour profiles. He prefers desserts that are unusual. "I like things to challenge my palate as I'm eating them". It's the reason he chose pastry over savoury work. "People are more likely to take risks when they order dessert... I wanted more creative freedom".

Johnny Iuzzini at the Langham Melbourne MasterClass for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Johnny Iuzzini on stage

Of his time as a head judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts, Iuzzini is quick to remind audience members of the gruelling amount of filming involved for each episode. Each 44 minute episode, he points out, was culled from 46 hours of footage.

Bitter chocolate custard with pistachio chocolate crunch by Johnny Iuzzini at the Langham MasterClass for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Bitter chocolate custard with pistachio chocolate crunch and espresso bubbles

His second dish is much more complex. It involves silicone moulds lined with devil's food cake (his secret ingredient is mayonnaise for moistness), a layer of pistachio chocolate crunch (chocolate and praline mixed with feuilletine) and bitter chocolate custard piped on top and refrigerated until set.

Lecithin granules help maintain the bubbles in the aerated espresso, but it's the pistachio tuiles that are the most impressive, made from pulverised praline that's baked in thin layers until it forms a wafer-thin crisp.

Iuzzini's big tip when rehydrating gelatine sheets is to use ice cold water, not room temperature water. This prevents any of it dissolving, and diminishing the intended strength of the gelatine sheet.

Johnny Iuzzini signing autographs at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Johnny Iuzzini signing autographs

Iuzzini is one of the most approachable and down-to-earth chefs I've ever met. He's happy to chat with apprentice chefs, take photographs, and spends at least two minutes filling the front cover of his cookbook with customised doodles and his signature.

Johnny Iuzzini afternoon tea at The Langham Hotel Melbourne at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Afternoon tea with Johnny Iuzzini at The Langham, Melbourne $65
Sandwiches, scones, desserts and your choice of leaf tea, coffee or hot chocolate

At his afternoon tea event at The Langham, I was impressed that he personally went around the room and visited individual tables to chat with guests. I'd cynically expected a glib ten-minute speech on stage and a few minutes for photographs, not a chef who'd genuinely ask if people were enjoying their afternoon tea and spending five minutes with each table.

Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini at The Langham Hotel Melbourne afternoon tea for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Corn panncotta with madeleine, chocolate peanut cake, chestnut tart and chilli chocolate cake

The Langham Melbourne offers a regular afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones, jam and quenelles of clotted cream. Today Iuzzini's creations appear on the top tier, developed after a trip to the markets on the morning he arrived. He was stunned to find corn, apricots and plums at the markets - ingredients he says appear in completely staggered seasons back home.

Desserts by Johnny Iuzzini at The Langham Hotel Melbourne afternoon tea for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
[Clockwise from bottom left]: Chilli chocolate cake, corn pannacotta with madeleine, chocolate peanut cake, pumpkin and pine nut tart and chestnut tart

Iuzzini says the desserts are a little sweeter than what he'd usually prefer, but they're still relatively restrained to my palate. There's much to explore, from the chilli chocolate cake tingling with heat, to the soft and slightly salty layers of chocolate peanut cake.

The pine nut tart and the chestnut tart waver between sweet and savoury at times, but it's the corn pannacotta that I'm most endeared by, halfway between Asian sweet corn ice cream and American spiced pumpkin pie, presented on a finger of caramelised madeleine cake.

Johnny Iuzzini chatting to fans at The Langham Hotel Melbourne afternoon tea for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014
Johnny Iuzzini chatting with fans during the afternoon tea

When Iuzzini sits down with me, he confesses that he often prefers eating fruit to desserts. "There isn't a fruit I don't eat", he declares. What about durian? I ask. "I f*cking hate durian", he says, without skipping a beat. "The first time I ate it, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. It stinks of eggs and sulphur."

He accepts it's a fruit enjoyed by many cultures but it's one he still can't get used to. Other than durian, then, he'll eat every fruit. He'll even eat papaya even though he has a mild allergy to it.

Dessert Fourplay by Johnny Iuzzini
Johnny Iuzzini's cookbook Dessert Fourplay

All the desserts featured in the afternoon tea have been sourced from his first cookbook Dessert Fourplay.

He confesses: "Every chef's first cookbook is about their ego." It's about where a chef has been, where they are, and how they want to portray themselves to their world. By the time you publish your second cookbook, he says, all your priorities change.

"Your second one is built to sell. You realise you could sell 5,000 copies to chefs or you could sell 50,000 to the public."

Iuzzini is serious. His second cookbook, Sugar Rush, has been stripped of all recipes that require any special equipment not easily accessed by the average home cook. It will be 400 pages with an expected US publishing of September 30, 2014.

Chocolate bar afternoon tea at The Langham Melbourne
Chocolate Bar Afternoon Tea at The Langham, Melbourne

On a weekend visit to The Langham, I happened to stumble upon the set-up of the Chocolate Bar Afternoon Tea, held on weekends ($75pp).

Chocolate cups at the chocolate bar afternoon tea at The Langham Melbourne
Chocolate cups

It's a bountiful and jaw-dropping set-up of elaborate desserts. The Eiffel Tower tiered stand takes centre stage on the buffet table. To the side, there's a chocolate fountain.

Eiffel Tower dessert tier stand at the chocolate bar afternoon tea at The Langham Melbourne
Eiffel Tower tiered stand with desserts

Berry desserts at the chocolate bar afternoon tea at The Langham Melbourne
Berry desserts 

Chocolate desserts with berry injectors at the chocolate bar afternoon tea at The Langham Melbourne
Chocolate desserts with berry injectors

Next time I'm in Melbourne on a weekend, I'm heading straight here. Cavities be damned.

Johnny Iuzzini chatting to fans at The Langham Hotel Melbourne high tea for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2014

Aria Bar & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Aria Bar and Lounge
The Langham Melbourne
1 Southgate Avenue, Melbourne
Tel: +61 1800 641 107

The Chocolate Bar Afternoon Tea is available Saturdays and Sundays 12pm-2pm or 2.30pm-4.30pm for $75 per person from November 2013 to March 2014.

>> Read the next Melbourne 2014 post: Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

The Afternoon Tea with Johnny Iuzzini guest appearance was held on March 6, 2014 and cost $65.

The Langham Melbourne MasterClass series was held on March 8-9, 2014 and cost $320 for a day ticket or $595 for the weekend.

Grab Your Fork attended both events as guest of Tourism Victoria for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014. Flights and accommodation were included.
20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/16/2014 12:01:00 am


  • At 3/16/2014 12:34 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    all those desserts look incredible but im super intrigued with the corn pannacotta

  • At 3/16/2014 1:48 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Cavities be damned, calories be famed & I might have baulked a little at the the thought of mayonnaise in chocolate cake, (but then) I ate a salted caramel rolled in pine needles this weekend.

    Wish I were in your handbag for this one! Yes to Eiffel Towers covered in chocolate!

  • At 3/16/2014 10:46 am, Anonymous Chris @ MAB vs Food said…

    Definitely jealous that you got to meet Johnny Iuzzini! The afternoon tea looks amazing. Corn pannacotta and chilli chocolate cake sound great

  • At 3/16/2014 12:59 pm, Anonymous Cindy (a foodie's joy) said…

    The displays look amazing!

  • At 3/16/2014 7:16 pm, Blogger lookingforangie said…

    Omg if I had known you were going to see him I would have given you my book for him to sign!!! *swoon*
    And the high tea at the Langham def looks like a must do on my next trip to Melbourne!

  • At 3/16/2014 9:53 pm, Blogger Mr C @ The Food Diary said…

    Not normally a sweets kind of guy but I'm getting hungry looking at your photos :P

  • At 3/17/2014 8:33 am, Anonymous Bianca said…

    Wow, they all look incredible. Enjoy reading your blog Helen :)

  • At 3/17/2014 9:21 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great recap- totally wish I was there.

  • At 3/17/2014 11:40 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    That watermelon granita looks awesome and interesting combo with blue cheese too.

  • At 3/17/2014 11:46 am, Anonymous billy @ a table for two said…

    The only question I would like to ask him is how much time he spends every morning to do his quiff! :)

  • At 3/17/2014 1:36 pm, Blogger Pearls of Style said…

    How exciting, this would have been so great to attend. The food looks amazing!

    Krissie x - http://pearlsofstyle.blogspot.com.au

  • At 3/17/2014 9:09 pm, Anonymous Cara @ Gourmet Chick said…

    Wow great that you went to the master classes - have always wanted to go to one, they sound amazing.

  • At 3/18/2014 10:19 am, Anonymous twohappybellies said…

    I'm salivating as I read the blog! I've always wanted to have a high tea at the Langham hotel, I will definitely pay them a call on my next visit to Melbourne.

  • At 3/18/2014 7:01 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    I hope i was there... Melbourne food and wine festival is an exciting event.. But there is always next time..

  • At 3/18/2014 7:35 pm, Blogger CQUEK said…

    I love to try all those desserts and enjoy the high tea . Thanks for sharing.

  • At 3/19/2014 12:59 pm, Blogger Felicia @ Next Stop: Food said…

    omg that pretty Eiffel tower tier, and of course all the pretty desserts sitting on top of it!! :D :D :D

    - Cassie

  • At 3/19/2014 10:10 pm, Blogger Annie said…

    the desserts looked incredible! wish i booked my trip to melb a few weeks earlier so i get to check out the melb food and wine festival. hopefully next year :)

  • At 3/20/2014 4:34 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have no idea how you have managed to become so popular. You only offer a pedestrian recitation of the menu, which I can find for most places online. Your writing has no flare to entertain, reading something like a sterile report. You offer no commentary on the quality of a dish or whether is was any good (see first sentence).
    Was it because you appeared early on the blogging scene, where one of the first (or perhaps only one) to pay an SEO?
    I don't understand the appeal of this vapid blog.

  • At 3/24/2014 10:59 am, Blogger Jacq said…

    aw so nice to hear that Johnny Iuzzini is so down to earth and that he just tells it like it is. Really want to try that corn pannacotta!

  • At 3/30/2014 11:39 am, Anonymous sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    Oh you lucky woman! Swoon!!


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