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Water Masterclass? Am I losing it? No, dear friends, I spent a day at a Water Masterclass near Melbourne, Victoria last year, and it was one of the best days of last year. And I had a lot of very good travel days.

Every year at Melbourne Food & Wine Festival there is a masterclass based around the theme of the festival. The 2014 theme was water, ergo, water masterclass and 50 excited people gathered by the river at 8.30am, sparkling wine in hand, and boarded a bus to regional Victoria. We were to spend the day in the company of the UK’s Nathan Outlaw, Peter Gilmore of Quay in Sydney, and local chef Aaron Turner, now based in Nashville, who had returned home for the event. Expectations were high.

We drove to meet Lance Wiffen at Portarlington pier, and boarded his mussel and oyster boat. Lance looked familiar, and it was only after a while that I realised that I had actually seen his face before painted on a mussel shell at Attica in Melbourne! He supplies the mussels for Attica, to a very specific size requested by Ben Shewry. We sailed out to look at the mussel farm where the mussels are grown on ropes, thousands on each, with some of the ropes over a tonne in weight when the mussels have matured. Lance gathered some that would be used shortly after for our first bite, cooked by Nathan Outlaw. A cooking station was setup on the pier, but the weather was against us, and so we relocated to somewhere with shelter. Once we did, the sun came out in force and I as worried I might burn and slathered myself in SPF50. The weather gods were keen to show us their own Water Masterclass throughout the day, but we weren’t to know that yet. Nathan cooked us oyster and mussel soup with smoked oil via a demo. And we all tucked in with gusto.

Our next stop was Lake Connewarre, a beautiful stately home on the lake, Campbell Point House, where Aaron Turner and Jason Jones demonstrated fish smoking on the shore. King George whiting was laid on a make shift grill over some coals in a hole dug in the sand. Aaron soaked an old coffee hessian sack in the lake water, then covered the hole with it to smoke the fish. The results were divine, beautiful delicate fresh white fish with a gentle layer of smoke flavouring.

Two demos down, and two tastings, but there was one more to come. Peter Gilmore of Quay cooked his sea scallops with native coastal greens and smoked oyster crackling. Now lets just go back there – smoked oyster crackling – a stroke of culinary genius. He cold smoked the oysters, brushed them with miso (starbursts of umami), dehydrated them in a low oven and deep fried them until puffed and crisp.

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We each had a plate and then relocated to the terrace where a long table was set up for our 5 course meal with matched wines. The weather gods delivered some hail and rain, but we didn’t care. The meal was a delight, with each chef presenting their dish and talking us through it. So sociable too. Everyone was in great form after a wonderful invigorating day and there was much chatter.

We started with snacks from Aaron Turner. Salt and vinegar saltbush (think delicious twist on crisps), smoked butter and a seawater cheese. The next course was also Aaron’s, a lovely confit chicken with kohlrabi, dried and raw scallop with shiitake, carrying on the land and sea theme. Both courses matched with Port Phillip Estate Quartier Arneis 2013. I visited this winery on a previous, and not only is it impressive in terms of design and location. I really enjoyed this dry crisp and mineral wine, it was terrific with the food.

Nathan Outlaw served mackerel with cucumber and oyster next. Nathan’s food is deceptive in its simplicity. The seafood was perfect. Firm and fresh, the mackerel was served sashimi style and served with Levin Sauvignon Blanc 2010 from the Loire. Nathan also served the next course, a meatier snapper dish with mussels and tarragon, matched with another Levin wine from the Loire, Madame L Gamay 2011.

The final course was served by Peter Gilmore, jersey cream with salted caramel, prune, milk and sugar crystals. This was both rich and light, its amber tones were perfect with the Seppeltsfield Para Ground Tawny from the Barossa Valley.

We headed back to Melbourne after. Happy and a little sad that it was all over. There is no doubt it is a very expensive day (tickets were $825), but these are experiences that money usually can’t buy, learning from and eating with great chefs. Wine and food were plentiful and of the highest standard, the locations were very special, and I loved every minute of what surely is a once in a lifetime experience. 

My trip to Melbourne Food & Wine Festival was supported by Tourism Australia and Tourism Victoria. The festival returns this year on February 27th and runs until March 15th. Tickets are on sale now.

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Niamh

Cooking and travelling, and sharing it all with you.
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