Feasting on Melbourne, Australia in Napa Valley: The Grand Gelinaz Chef Shuffle
Dining out at a favorite restaurant sets up certain expectations. What are the specials? Any new beverages?
But what if you arrive and don’t know who the chef is? The Grand Gelinaz Chef Shuffle dinner experience in November did just that. At one of the 40 participating restaurants, you signed up for dinner, and the star chef, traveling in from another continent, was revealed only when you were seated.
The 40 chefs from 70 countries in five continents swapped kitchens on the evening of November 10, 2016. A few days before the event, the star chefs landed in their Gelinaz restaurants with a sous-chef in tow and perhaps a few ingredients. The Grand Gelinaz Shuffle was started in Brussels as a collaborative of chefs who see value in the sharing of ideas, culture and food across the world in a non-competitive setting.
In 2015, the first year of the Gelinaz, Chef Ben Shewry of Attica near Melbourne, Australia, traveled to In De Wulf in Belgium. Attica is #32 in The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants. In the recent Gelinaz, Shewry took over Chef Christopher Kostow’s kitchen at the three-Michelin starred The Restaurant at the Meadowood Resort and Spa in Napa Valley.
I also traveled a few hours to Napa Valley to experience Chef Shewry’s Gelinaz dinner. The extraordinary experience brought me the best of Melbourne and the Victoria region of Australia—and the best of The Restaurant.
A New Zealand native, Shewry moved to Melbourne in 2005 and added his talent to the burgeoning culinary scene at Attica in the province of Victoria. To quantify the gastronomy activity in Victoria, the region hosts 800 wineries from the Yarra Valley to the Mornington Peninsula. Home to 2,000 cafes and 3,000 restaurants, Melbourne presents a culinary panoply of cuisine.
Chef Shewry forages regularly for his 23-small course menu at Attica. Especially fond of indigenous ingredients, Shewry is known for his famous whipped emu egg dish and salt-cured kangaroo with bunya bunya nuts, the largest pine nuts in the world. Shewry took out his phone to show us his Instagram photo of the egg dish.
Soon after arriving in Napa Valley, Shewry was outside sourcing ingredients in the Meadowood garden and woods. He dined on one of Kostow’s tasting menus, and the experience informed his cooking in the Meadowood kitchen. Kostow had already departed for Modena, Italy to take over the kitchen at Osteria Francescana, the restaurant recently named #2 of The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants.
Shewry brought ingredients with him such as lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepper berry for its intense flavor to season the beef dish. He also brought his homemade, miso-based vegemite-style spread, a take on the classic, potently flavored Australian product normally made from brewer’s yeast extract, which he mixed into butter for the bread service.
Shewry named the amuse bouche “Riches of Napa Valley.” A round, vegetable “cracker” made from dried beets and wine (after all, Napa is the wine capital of the U.S.) topped with crème frâiche, caviar and gold leaf was a fitting statement to the luxury and creativity at the table.
Before the culinary adventure began, Chef toured us in the kitchen. As the Aussies calmly oversaw the prep, Chef Shewry and his assistant worked alongside Kostow’s staff.
The mood was quiet, calm, and professional. In the midst of the spotless cooking stations, the service table bustled with activity.
Several lucky guests sat at the Chef’s Table in the kitchen and enjoyed one-on-one attention throughout the meal. “I’ve taken what Meadowood offers and foraged locally,” said Shewry. One course was called “Autumn on the West Coast” which featured mushrooms he picked in the woods.
The one beef course came early in the dinner. The tartare, from 30-day aged meat, was topped with acorn-miso sauce and pepper berries. The next course, “Aromatic Broth of Meadowood and Spot Prawn” brought together a symphony of 30 herbs, prawn and their roe in an aromatic matsutake mushroom broth.
Riffing off his favorite course from Kostow’s tasting menu, a cauliflower custard, Shewry prepared “Chris’s Cauliflower Turned in a Pumpkin.” A savory pumpkin custard, the bruléed crust boasted a crumble of sweet and sour pumpkin seeds which provided an intriguing punch to each bite.
At Attica, Shewry seeks the freshest, sweetest potatoes for his tasting menu. Tapping into the Meadowood gardener’s meticulous records, Shewry tasted raw La Ratte fingerling potatoes in the Meadowood garden and picked them at 59 days and six hours old. The chef seasoned the roasted potatoes with yeast butter and raw potato juice.
The “main” course, “At the Heart of It,” was a heart of Savoy cabbage with black garlic on top. And dessert was also focused on produce—“Zac and Charlie’s Excellent Beetroot with Sweet Pear.” Beets and plums were dried and then crumbled on top of the pear with beet syrup and a dollop of Italian meringue to round out the textural surprises.
“Meadowood, like Attica, is already farm-to-table. I simply added my imprint to the menu. This is what the Gelinaz is all about. Add your spin to what exists at one of your favorite chef’s restaurants,” said Shewry.
On the same evening, at Brae, another of the World’s 100 Best Restaurants in Victoria near Attica, the kitchen was taken over by Gelinaz Chef Blaine Wetzel of the Willows Inn on Lummi Island near Seattle.
And what about Chef Kostow from Meadowood ensconced in the Osteria Francescana kitchen? Unlike Shewry, Kostow sourced everything locally once he arrived in Modena. Kostow learned new culinary ideas from chef-owner Massimo Bottura and especially enjoyed spending time with the chef and his family.
Both Kostow and Shewry are eager to participate in the Grand Gelinaz Shuffle again though the date has not yet been announced.
Summing up the Gelinaz, Kostow said, “The event was extremely dynamic, very fun, an incredibly interesting concept. It was a pleasure welcoming Chef Ben back to The Restaurant at Meadowood. He is one of the chefs that I admire most in the world—and I was happy that my team got to spend more time with him.”
Those of us at Meadowood were also delighted that we discovered that the star chef from the culinary galaxy of Victoria, Australia, who created such an inventive, delicious, two-continent, farm-to-table dinner.
The Grand Gelinaz Shuffle http://www.gelinaz.com/
Melbourne-Victoria Region http://www.visitvictoria.com/
Brea Restaurant https://braerestaurant.com/
The Restaurant at Meadowood https://www.visitnapavalley.com/listing/the-restaurant-at-meadowood-napa-valley/131/
Osteria Francescana http://www.osteriafrancescana.it/
The World’s Top 50 Restaurants http://www.theworlds50best.com/