The day dawned bright and sunny, and we caught a tram to The Point Albert Park, where we were to be based for the day. First on the agenda was breakfast, and we were spoiled with pastries, muffins and tropical fruit. We were among the first to arrive and had a lovely time chatting to people as they come in. Going to events like this, which throw you together with other people, is a great way of not being totally introverted on holiday - and better still, for this sort of thing you end up with lots of locals so you can gather insider tips for seeing the city. A very worthwhile silver lining!
Once we had all had our fill chef Scott Pickett joined us, and outlined the day's format. We also did a quick round-the-table introduction - in our group of 16 four were Kiwis (though one expat) so we were representing! After a bit of heckling from chef Scott for our takeover we all piled onto the "party bus." It was pretty flash - the wine glasses were plastic but it was a bus, after all - and no-one seemed to mind when the bubbly was poured!
The "shop" part of the day was a thorough exploration of Victoria market's food areas - we had already paid a couple of visits but Scott's insight was very interesting and showed us things we'd missed.
He introduced us to many of his favourite vendors - the cheeses on the above stall were incredible, so many different varieties and the ones we tried were exceptional.
Angelo at Deep Blue Seafoods gave us lots of great seafood tips - told us which fish are great for which dishes, how to check if the fish are fresh (apparently you want whole fish to be quite stiff - still in rigor mortis - as once they relax they are beginning to deterioate) and most of all to talk to your fishmonger (which is a rule which can be applied to all specialist vendors - they'll generally be happy to help).
|Angelo showing us a stiff fish - how they should be!|
The French Shop was a favourite for many of our group - and they had exceptional cheeses, as well as a huge range of pates and terrines. We talked about olive oil and several people bought some to take home - we would have but it's a bit trickier when you have to squeeze it into an already bulging suitcase (and I had to save room for my chocolate haul)!
The produce is amazing - of course, being Australia tropical fruits are more prolific. Fresh Generation is Scott's favourite but he recommends wherever you go that you build up a rapport with the seller. This particular stall had small bowls with samples of produce so you could taste a piece of nectarine or tomato if you weren't sure about a particular variety. We were amazed by all the different types of tomato - this stand had perhaps seven varieties. We bought a few of each type to make an heirloom tomato salad for our lunch.
The Point is in a pretty scenic spot in the middle of Melbourne - and on arriving back from the market we spent a while enjoying the stunning weather while nibbling on amazing cheeses and charcuterie - the amazing, very ripe brie from The French Shop blew away all my perceptions of boring soft cheese - so flavoursome! - and there was a pretty amazing blue, too.
Once our bellies were full of good things we were all given aprons and headed into the kitchen. It was a bit of a squeeze - if you've ever been in a restaurant kitchen you'll probably know they're not really designed to accommodate tour groups!
We split into three teams and of course I chose the dessert group - pastry chef Shaz taught us a few little tricks. She is very creative, in the not-quite-deciding-what-we'll-be-making-till-the-last-minute kind of way. I quite like that - I think it's more likely to mean you get a serving of culinary genius, as opposed to deciding on the final product regardless of how other things work out. It did mean we were all in the dark about how our dessert would end up - but we got to see several of the components being made.
We started with puff pastry - the only thing she doesn't make from scratch - and cut very thin strips. They were carefully laid on a tray and were then baked to perfection. We got a sneaky pre-meal taste and it was like eating a piece of palmier (which I love - ah, butter!) - and you can very easily do this at home. Maximum impact, minimum effort - you all know I love that!
She also showed us how to make chocolate dust - using white chocolate and maltodextrin, and a thermomix - she made it look very simple (if, and this is a big if, you have a thermomix and maltodextrin!) and an interesting textural addition to many dishes.
We were close to where the fish was being prepared - the fishmonger had gutted them for us, so they were stuffed with fennel, lemon, and possibly one or two other flavour-giving things, then wrapped in foil and baked. Again, simple perfection! And an impressive way to serve as well, I think.
|Mr Cake tending the asparagus|
Our amazing lunch - calamari salad, charred asparagus, and fig, proscuitto and goats cheese salad...
... and heirloom tomato salad, grass-fed and grain-fed beef, and our lovely fennel-stuffed snapper.
The fig salad was far and away the star for me - we had a go at making a similar version the other night for dinner, as it's so simple, but the figs we got from City Market were sadly lacking in flavour (and colour - they were quite pale) - not sure if it's an NZ thing and ours just aren't as good, or if we were just unlucky. It was still very tasty, though - a winning combination!
It was also really interesting trying grass-fed and grain-fed beef side by side - the grass-fed was generally agreed to be better - I vastly preferred it - though both were delicious. The difference is subtle enough that to my unhoned tastebuds it might not be apparent if I was eating only one or the other, and of course you wouldn't normally get to have both at the same time.
Everything was delicious and the wine was flowing freely, and everyone was very merry. It was a great group of people - we had a lot of fun as well as learning lots and eating as much as our bellies could take. "Lunch" wasn't actually served until perhaps 4pm so it was quite the appetite-spoiler for dinner - between the provided breakfast, the cheese and so on in the middle of the day and our meal our whole day's worth of food was provided (okay, so I confess to having a snack meal at about 9pm, but close enough).
And the dessert, you ask? Well, it was quite delicious:
I guess this could be likened to a glammed-up banana split, but it was much, much better than that. The ice-cream was made by Shaz, since obviously time limitations precluded us from making that ourselves. The middle of the plate has banana, roasted peanuts and chocolate ganache (which we helped with), as well as baby lemonbalm to lend a bit of a freshness. The pastry was lovely, and the white chocolate dust made it extra special (it tastes just like white chocolate and melts in your mouth - it's just the initial texture that is altered).
So was the day worth it? Definitely! We both loved it, Mr Cake professed it by far the best event we went to (though I couldn't differentiate - Sweet Architextural did, after all, please my sweet tooth immensely and it was a completely different type of event, hard to compare!) - so I didn't have to worry that he could have better spent his holiday money. ;-) Considering how much we squeezed into the day (and how much we ate!) it seemed excellent value - and I understand it's a standing festival event so if you make it there next year look out for it - highly recommended!
The Point Albert Park is located on Aquatic Drive, Albert Park, Melbourne, ph 03 9682 5566, http://www.thepointalbertpark.com.au/