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Australian Restaurant Challenge

15 October 2014, by Joyce O’Hagan

Last month we undertook our greatest culinary challenge ever; to work with a very different, high-profile Australian chef each night for a week. This was the brainchild of the UK Australian Tourist Board and we worked with the events team to establish a “pop-up” Restaurant Australia at the home of the Australian High Commission in London, Australia House.

This was a steep learning curve; our job was to cook and serve the food of these multi-award winning chefs to almost 200 people each night. Our chefs travelled to Australia in advance to discuss menus and learn how to cook and present their food. But the tuition wasn’t all one way; most of these chefs had never cooked in an environment with limited kitchen facilities so we were able to guide them on what might work – or not work – for a large-scale event.

Every night was different…

Monday was Maggie Beer, a chef with a huge reputation in Australia for well-sourced, home-style food. Her event was televised live on Australian TV and she was as warm and wonderful in real life as she appears on the TV. Her kangaroo carpaccio with persimmon saltbush and dessert lime was a triumph.

Maggie Beer

For Tuesday Skye Gyngell brought her unique brand of authentic cooking to the table. It will be interesting if braised rabbit with verjuice makes it onto the menu at her new restaurant Spring at Somerset House.

On Wednesday it was the turn of the adorable Luke Rayment, a hugely talented young chef with an incredible future ahead of him. We enjoyed recreating his edible sand, prawns and steamed clams “on the beach" and he seemed impressed by our attention to detail. We’ll certainly be booking a table at his new restaurant opening in London at The Mondrian soon.

Luke Rayment

Thursday was the turn of famous forager, Matt Stone. He’s a laid back kind of guy and was a real pleasure to work with. His menu included some challenging ingredients and we particularly savoured his sea mullet with nasturtium leaf sauce.

By Friday we were in two-Michelin star territory with the extraordinary Shannon Bennett. His restaurant Vue de Monde in Melbourne is world-renowned and one of our highly skilled chefs spent two weeks on this project to acquire the techniques needed to deliver his menu. His smoked eel and Blackmore Wagyu beef with Gascony butter was an inspiration.

Saturday was Rachel O’Sullivan, a Brit-based Australian who is currently executive chef at Lardo and Coppa. Her menu included barramundi served with borage, cucumber and native samphire. This fish was wonderful to cook and we are working on ways to include it in our own menus.

By the end of the week we were exhausted but also exhilarated. What an amazing Australian Adventure!