A very special dinner

Every so often we get to do something that is so special we can’t believe it’s really happening.  I had that feeling this weekend when I had the privilege of attending a dinner cooked by two of the world’s greatest chefs – Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller.  They had got together at a beautiful spot on the east coast of New Zealand at a stunning lodge, Cape Kidnappers, owned by New Yorker, Julian Robertson.  I believe Neil Perry from Rockpool, Sydney had enticed them to this part of the world with the promise of some great golf – unfortunately for them I don’t think they had time for as much as they’d have liked.  Neil was unable to come at the last moment, but Dale Gartland, the resident chef at the lodge stood in – no doubt an incredible experience for him to work with these chefs and the fantastic team they brought with them.

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I could fill this blogpost with many superlatives but I’m sure you can imagine just how good it would be to not only meet these two but experience their food.  Jane and I had celebrated a special birthday at Per Se in New York, which is right up there in the best meals ever list  (probably right at the top), and although I lived in Bray for several years it was way before Heston turned it into a culinary hotspot of Berkshire.  The two local pubs, which he now owns as well as the Fat Duck, were more scampi and chips in the basket.  When he bought the Crown last year, he says he had to promise the locals that he wouldn’t change the menu too much – I believe it’s just ‘better’.  Looking forward to checking the Crown out on my next trip back to the UK in a couple of weeks.  That’s me looking pretty happy!

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To the meal – each chef was responsible for two of the six courses.  The wines were all from a NZ vineyard Dry River, that has won many international awards over the years.  It must have been a challenge for the chefs to use quite different ingredients as they were all locally sourced. Heston normally forages (well not he himself) for seaweed off the coast of Cornwall – I don’t think Hawkes Bay seaweed has ever looked quite so appetizing – maybe it will be a more regular feature on NZ menus.

Words just won’t do justice to the food – so these are pictures I took (sort of discreetly) of each course illustrating more clearly than I could hope to do with words. And I can’t think of 6 different ways of saying superb, fantastic and yummy.

First off was a beautifully presented dish from Dale with beetroot and goat’s curd.

Then Thomas’s presentation of New Zealand abalone (which we call paua and it’s never looked like this before), with the most incredibly delicate little dots of green from cucumber, avocado and basil.

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Then a fun course from Heston called ‘Sounds of the Sea’, part of the presentation is an ipod in a conch shell.  As instructed we put on the earphones and were met with the sound of waves crashing, seagulls squawking and other seaside sounds.  Apparently when the auditory senses are used, our taste sense is more heightened – I’m not sure what the beautifully presented shore dish complete with sand, seaweed, rocks and oysters would have tasted like without this extra sensory experience, but with it it was incredible.  It must have been an amusing site for the waiting staff to see a roomful of diners completely silent!

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Thomas then served us a beautiful layered terrine of duck breast, and Swiss chard (maybe NZ silverbeet) and pickled blueberries – divine, I could have eaten it twice over.

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A melt in the mouth piece of Angus beef with a leek tortellini and mushrooms from Dale was perfectly matched with a Lovat Syrah.

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To finish a Taffety Tart, that Heston is serving in his new London restaurant Dinner, which had the most intense flavors, the apple in particular.  The original dish goes back 350 years – though I doubt the Stuarts had it so good!

I was fortunate to not only experience this food but to talk to these two gorgeous men – they were so generous with their time. Heston is in person as funny and nice as he comes across on his TV series Heston’s Feasts, that has just shown here in NZ.

As for Thomas, who we met last year at the James Beard Awards, I reminded him that he’d signed up for EYB and now he just needs to add his books!  He was getting back to New York for the 29th as he’s recently been named Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor and to receive the award from Paul Bocuse.  He’s only the 3rd American to receive it, and the only male – couldn’t have happened to a nicer man.

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