Published on December 30th, 2013 | by Charu Suri
2 An Australian Culinary Evening: Evenings AFAR
It is always a humble experience to be invited to a master such as James Beard?s home, and equally humbling when you are in the presence of a superb chef imported from Australia.
AFAR?s almost Gatsby-like intimate dinners called Evenings AFAR proved to be one of those affairs to remember. Evenings AFAR, for those who are not acquainted with the even feature multiple courses hosted by world-class chefs around the world. But instead of you flying over to say, Australia, AFAR brings the chef to you.
The result? A well-heeled, beautifully-done place setting (roses, wine glasses, fine china, the whole nine yards), a four-course meal and more than generous wine pairings. Education by the mouthful can be a beautiful thing.
The varied, unexpected and fine menu created by Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker from Lake House in Victoria, Australia, surprised me for many reasons, the chief reason being that I sincerely did not think of Australia and fine dining as going hand in hand. But after seeing dishes like the Chestnut-Armagnac Veloute (a thick, creamy soup) and the Endive with Fresh Curds and Grain-Seed Praline, I had to give the country a second look, and that too on the culinary front.
A dish I did not try: the Kangaroo Tartare with Pepper Berries and Bush Tomatoes
The ?Gatsby-like? place setting
Wolf-Tasker has made quite a name for herself in Victoria, Australia, at the Lake House in Daylesford, where she is Executive Chef. The hotel and restaurant is an elegance meets rustic charm destination that has been praised to the skies (the ?little extras,? thoughtful turndown service, romantic atmosphere and its brilliant regional cuisine). She works tirelessly with small-scale suppliers in the immediate region, and the term ?locavore? doesn?t get truer than that (most of the produce is so fresh that it is picked and delivered each morning). So it is little wonder that AFAR plucked Wolf-Tasker and her culinary sleight of hand for its very first Evenings AFAR dinners, which costs $130 for James Beard House members, and $170 for non-members.
While most people had the standard dinner menu (see below), I had a vegetarian version, which was hearty but not exactly the same experience. The foraged mushroom with black truffles were paired with a delicious Grenache 2009 from the D?Arenberg The Derelict Vineyard which boasted a black cherry, candied and oakey. Many tasters at my table agreed that the Grenache was the wine of the evening. Every wine pairing that was suggested by Chef Alla and her team brought out the local flavors of the varied dishes. The tawny dessert wine, a Yalumba Museum Release, paired like Siskel & Ebert to the late harvest apples with caramel, buttermilk, honey and oatmeal desert which was texture heaven.
The dessert was by far the most accomplished: as many food textures as there are in dresses at Fashion Week
The circular tables also allow for fluid conversation; despite the James Beard House being somewhat small (large by New York City standards), there is no elbow-rubbing because you can always get that at Time Square.
I started the evening by mingling with the guests, and when it was time for dinner, there were a few introductions, and the meal with a flourish of wine and hors d?oeuvres. It was almost operatic. While cocktail attire is suggested, the vibe was casual.
In short, you can get a gourmet four-course meal at a top restaurant in New York City, or you can travel far without leaving your home city, at least on a culinary level. I don?t know about you, but I think that?s pretty priceless.
The next Evenings AFAR will take you to someplace quite different. Check back here for updates.
Evenings AFAR: Australia
Kangaroo Tartare with Pepper Berries and Bush Tomatoes
Endive with Fresh Curds and Grain-Seed Praline
Freshwater Trout with Buckwheat Vinaigrette and Fennel
Smoked Eel with Pancetta, Beet Remoulade and Horseradish
Pork Croustillant with Choucroute Garnie
Butter-Poached Pheasant with Foraged Mushrooms and Black Truffles
Brioche French Toast with Goat Cheese and Local Pears
Late Harvest Apples with Caramel, Buttermilk, Honey, and Oatmeal