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Way up High - A MasterChef Experience

Friday, March 27, 2015Me! In words

I met with Emelia Jackson and Renae Smith, finalists of MasterChef Australia 2014, recently who were in Bangalore for a promotional event at High Ultra Lounge. You can read my interview with them here. Two days after I spoke to them, I also had the chance of attending a sit-down, 6-course wine dinner that was organized. The idea of the event was to showcase, for just one evening, a set of dishes that were combined efforts of these MasterChef finalists and the chefs of High Ultra. The wines for the evening were by Jacob's Creek and made the evening all the more pleasant. 

Speaking to the ladies during my interview with them, I asked them if planning, prepping and executing a meal in a new environment like this reminded them of Masterchef any? I was curious about the preparation they may have done to go about planning this meal. 

Emelia was of the opinion that the Indian palate is used to stronger flavours compared to theirs that are more subtle. Her worry was about their food being under-whelming. Renae too agreed on the Indian palate being different. "We are still trying to figure out what works. India has a very specific palate. Australia doesn't have a cuisine of its own and we absorb just about everything. We are worried about giving you something that you are not used to. I am going to take direction from the chef here though I will be making a point."

It was with this base that I was curious to see what the meal had in store for us. In my opinion the Indian palate is quite appreciative of subtle nuances in cooking considering the myriad spices we use. We also have a strong understanding and appreciation of international cuisines considering we are a melting pot of cultures as well. 

The two ladies share a lovely camaraderie, one forged at the MasterChef Kitchen and which has kept them good friends till today. This definitely makes a wonderful difference to the food they create.

The first course for the evening was an Eggplant and Charred Tomato salad in a ginger soy dressing. This was topped off with lotus flower biscuit and scallions. While the individual components make for a great salad, the dressing was quite overpowering in terms of flavour. Perhaps a few drops of it would have hit the right notes. 

The entire evening saw the two ladies walking amidst the tables fielding questions from the audience, largely on their time at the MasterChef Kitchen. Emelia's admiration of Heston Blumenthal and his love to teach and in-depth knowledge of food is something she spoke of. Of the judges at MasterChef Kitchen, Emelia found it a little difficult to get along with Gary, but worked it all out in the end. 

Emelia Jackson

The second course was a Miso Soup which packed in a great deal of flavour. 

The third course was a Grilled Salmon with a Teriyaki Glaze that was Emelia's creation. Nice subtle flavours here, with a brilliant teriyaki glaze bringing an already beautifully done salmon to perfection. 

At this point the vegetarians were served a creation by Renae. This was a coming together of Button and Enoki mushrooms with some waterchestnuts for added crunch. A little chutney on top completed the dish. I did not sample this, though it did look interesting.

Renae spoke of her love for Scottish men and African accents and having one such gentleman in the audience ask her a question sent her into a tizzy of giggles. But then, if you had heard that accent, you would have done the same. Renae hit it off extremely well with George and told the audience that Matt was her favourite among the judges - "He was more humanized to me."

Moving on to the third course the vegetarians had sesame rolls with a strawberry mascarpone filling. The lettuce on the side was to balance out the bitter flavours. Again, did not try this.  

For the non-vegetarians there was Pork Belly and you have to try really hard to get that wrong. This one was done fabulously and the Asian flavours were well infused into the meat. It was cooked for several hours with a tomato relish and Shichimi dressing. The little bits of crackling are the small pleasures that life is made of.

There was also a Chicken Roulade that I did not care too much for. 

Desserts were something we were all looking forward to. There were two desserts for the evening - a Coconut Pannacotta with chocolate soil and  Lemon Cake with Torched Meringue on top. I was a bit disappointed to see the pannacotta in a glass rather than turned out on the plate. The flavours just did not come together at all. The Lemon cake made a pretty picture but lacked tartness to complete the dessert. 

When I spoke to the two ladies, I asked them if ambiance makes a difference to the meal being served. Emelia felt that it was really important and went on to say that High did a great job with this venue, with the lighting and the tents and the design along the roof. "You can go to a fancy restaurant and sit down to a brilliant meal in a cold ambiance and feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, you may walk into a great atmosphere and have a bad meal. The only compensation being the fun you have in a great ambiance. Feeling comfortable and relaxed can make a world of difference to how you experience your food." 

Renae feels that food has become and experience now and that is where dining out as a concept is headed. "The theme of an evening out is a great meal. It is no longer a dinner and movie. When you step out of the elevator here at High and take in the ambiance, your expectations are already set and you feel great. That makes a difference to the meal."

The evening was a really pleasant one and the service at High commendable. Commandeering and executing a sit-down plated meal service for 130 people is no mean task but the staff did it beautifully and without a delay. The experience was a brilliant one to add to my kitty of eating exploits!

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