Like most foodies I have a bucket list of food-related experiences. While there are some items ticked off the list, it includes such experiences as tasting Beluga caviar, eating food in Istanbul’s laneways, seafood in Maine, visiting Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo and dining at Noma restaurant, Copenhagen – one of the most influential restaurants of this century, placed at the top of The S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the past five years.
But with seats at Noma’s brief popup in Sydney sold out within ten minutes at a pre-paid price of $485 each, our chance of a Noma experience looked dim.
Meanwhile, one of our Gold Coast chefs, Parashuram Pathak, Executive Chef of the Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, had been fulfilling one of his own lifelong dreams: to spend time in the kitchen at Noma as chef.
Inspired by his time at Noma, Para held a dinner at The Fireplace Restaurant upon his return, applying techniques learned while cooking with René Redzepi to local ingredients.
“My life is food,” Para told diners attending the dinner. “I had this potential opportunity to go and do an internship at NOMA, a life-changing experience. It’s the dream of many chefs – to work 17 – 18 hours a day creating recipes with such an incredible chef.”
The resort’s General Manager, Monique Harmer, spoke of how energised and excited Para had been on his return, applying new skills and techniques to The Fireplace’s menu, released in December 2015.
We were to enjoy a meal which had taken two chefs a week to prepare. (In contrast, NOMA serves 45 covers only with approximately 45 chefs to prepare the meal!)
It’s the complexity of technique which sets our meal apart: ten small courses, each one varying in intricacy; balanced, yet some dishes quite confronting.
Strawberries “two ways” – A duo of ripe and unripe strawberries compressed with fermented plum, presented on an ice-filled preserving jar. With a taste close to citrusy star apple, even the unripe strawberry is a very approachable introduction to fermentation, a major player in the night’s menu.
Butternut pumpkin with koji butter & caviar – A half disc of butternut serves to show off the rich koji butter, made from fermented barley, served with Yarra trout caviar.
Fermented garlic, herb paste & lemon thyme – One of the most intriguing dishes of the evening, the ‘leaf’ of black garlic results from a ninety-day fermentation at 60 degree heat caramelising the garlic, extracting deeper and deeper flavour and a liquorice-like consistency. With herb butter, dehydrated cloves, freshly extracted rose and lemon thyme oil part of the process, there are overtones of known textures and flavours in this dish within the completely unexpected end product. In one seemingly simple black leaf of food served on a raw piece of cloth lies a masterpiece of complexity. Brilliant!
Philosophy of food as art and science and technique – fermentation, extraction, marination, dehydration – it’s all part of what Para learned during his internship.
“At Noma, we rotated through sections: foraging, flowers, grains and seasonal ingredients, learning principles and techniques in every section,” Para tells us. “We worked with different ingredients to here, because they use the ingredients they find around them, but I’ve used the same techniques.”
Yabbies with lobster butter – We’re lulled back into more familiar territory here: WA shrimps with prawn powder and lobster butter. Not live, as this seafood may have been at Noma; reassuringly still. What’s not to like!
Sweet squid, broccoli & parsley – Marinated in parsley oil and coriander salt, the unfamiliar texture of raw squid is slightly challenging. Not unpleasant; rather a palate cleanser for the dish to come. So far, so good…
Sea urchin on kelp tart – This is a dish for the initiated. While the kelp tart carries reminders of air-dried raw vegan creations, the sea urchin, served with saltbush vinegar and herb paste, is an acquired taste which may take me a lifetime to enjoy.
“The most technical challenge is the format of cooking: six month long processes creating different misos and our own aged vinegars. I took a little of that to make the koji. It’s very healthy, so when I came back I started my own miso and peaso (miso made from barley and split peas).”
Some of these processes and textures can be seen in The Fireplace’s new menu – fermented cherry on the duck confit, cultured cream and saltbush vinaigrette with the summer vegetable composition, textures of heirloom beets, and fermented peas with fire roasted fish – dishes inspired by one of the best chefs in the world.
Australian rock lobster ‘its broth’, sorrel – This dish features as an entrée on the new summer menu: WA rock lobster with peaso and compressed sorrel in a sea urchin and carrot juice broth, served with wood ear mushrooms and samphire.
Wild rabbit & summer fruit – Loin of wild rabbit and a delicious rabbit terrine served with celery, seared parsley and wild rice with a jus of stone fruit.
Ice-cream with bee larvae – Liquid nitrogen collected ice cream, made and served with collected bee larvae – simple but amazingly pure in flavour.
Rhubarb & goat’s cheese mousse – Letting us down gently from the journey, soft aerated goats’ curd is served with rhubarb.
I have read elsewhere that Noma is both ‘a pilgrimage for gastronomes’ and ‘an experience rather than a meal’.
It’s a summary that I’d concur with following this meal. Creative and interesting in flavour combinations, colour and texture, the word which most readily comes to mind is ‘challenging’. Even as a seasoned foodie, there were processes which I did not understand, flavours and textures which raised questions and provoked reaction, even though they engendered admiration.
With respect, this was not a meal at Noma, nor was that assertion ever made. There was no dried moss, no ants (Redzepi’s Nordic substitute for lemongrass), pickled quail egg, caramelised milk or grasshopper glaze. For many of us, the sea urchin was challenge enough! In fact, the meal Chef Para prepared was probably far more recognisable as food than a Noma menu would have been.
What it did show was how confined our perceptions are with respect to food, how narrow our knowledge of philosophy and process. Drawing on foods from history, culture and the surrounding landscape, for us this was not so much food to lust after, but a meal full of intriguing elements; one to be remembered for its challenge and innovation. Cheers, Para!
Intercontinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, Manor Circle, Sanctuary Cove, Hope Island
Open: Mon – Sun 6pm – 10pm Ph: 07 5530 1234
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