The reason I love these Masterclasses, is not because of the expertly prepared food, or the excitement at trying new wines that are painstakingly paired with the courses, or the NoMU, Willow Creek and Bosch gifts, or the other giveaways during the night (although these reasons on their own should be enough to entice you to come along :)) But, for me, these evenings are about the people...
The feel is of a casual dinner party - the guests being a collection of amazing personalities, all with a story to tell. If I don't know them at the beginning, I always feel that by the end, I have made a friend. And Thursday, 8th September's, Masterclass was no exception!
The demonstrations are another highlight. I enjoy the relaxed way that Neill guides us through his menu and thought processes and encourages us to get hands on while he shows us how to make each course.
His passion for food is evident in each action and statement.
Neill's ethos is to use only locally produced, seasonal and ethical ingredients. Therefore, you know that what you are eating is of the highest quality.
For starters we had Grilled Courgette Soup with Aubergine Tortellini. Char-grilling the courgettes adds another dimension to these otherwise fairly bland veggies and by blending in a high speed blender, the soup becomes creamy, eliminating the need to add too much cream.
I never realised how much effort went into making pasta; for the kneading alone you need to be strong, really strong! And you have to be quick and not over-knead because if it cracks, it's ruined.
This Masterclass was a rather special one as we were privileged to be the first members of public to see and taste Mad Hatters' wine. The name is symbolic of the various hats we wear on a daily basis, be it at work, home or while socialising. Each wine is based on a different region of the world, and is designed to educate South Africans on interesting cultivars.
The wine that was paired with the soup was called Roussane Grenache Blanc, which is a French-style light wine. It has a buttery feeling that complimented the creaminess of the soup. The palate is soft citrus and the nose is reminiscent of flowers. The French saying "Joie de Vivre" or Joy of Life captures the essence.
My thoughts on the first dish: The wine, a little crisp to begin with, became instantly smooth when in contact with the soup. The soup on its own was subtly delicious, but a triumph when combined with the smoky, earthy and zesty flavours of the aubergine tortellini.
Andre Pentz is THE wine man; his reasoning behind the pairings and his enthusiasm for all things wine and food related is infectious. He leaves you eager to take that first sip of wine... and to carry on sipping. ;)
Matt Manning is the Sous Chef at La Colombe, which has been rated as one of the top 10 restaurants in South Africa. He is Neill's right hand man during these Masterclasses and is doing unbelievably well for himself at such a young age.
Above photos courtesy of Jon Meinking
Together these three men make an unstoppable team!
The main course was Pressed Pork Belly with Olive Oil, Lemon Potato Puree and Seasonal Greens. The pork belly is cooked slowly to produce the best result. It is firstly placed in a 10% salt brine over night to draw out all the excess water, which is then rinsed off. The pork belly is then pressed and rubbed with NoMU Coffee Rub and cinnamon and roasted for 8.5 hours.
The seasonal greens that accompanied the pork were called Bright Lights and according to Neill, "Very Cape Town" due to their psychedelic colouring... no points for guessing why :)
The crackling, for me, was most certainly the highlight as it conjured up memories from my childhood. It is amazing how food has the power to do that!
The crackling is also cooked very slowly over a period of 6 hours and the oil continuously drained off so that what is left is just the crispy, delightfully salty skin.
This course was paired with Mourvedre, which is a full bodied wine of Spanish descent. The wine evokes the grace and power the Spaniards exhibit while dancing the Flamenco.
My thoughts on the main course: The tenderness of the pork although in direct contrast to the zingy mash, made a surprisingly joyous pairing, while the richness of the gravy rounded off the dish. The lemon cut through the slight harshness of the wine (due to it only having been in the bottle for 3 weeks), whose gingery and peppery notes, brought out the coffee flavours of the pork. The end result was harmony on the tongue.
"If ever I'm on death row, I want Neill to make this gravy for me!" Exclaimed Dawn Jorgensen after her first taste. An impressive compliment, wouldn't you say?
The final course was Strawberry Shortbread with Vanilla Creme Fraiche. Resting the pastry once it has been rolled is imperative. Due to its high butter content, the pastry will split if this step is not followed. Macerated strawberries (softened or broken into pieces using a liquid), creme fraiche, speckled with seeds from a vanilla pod and an extra special sprinkling of salted peanut brittle made up the remainder of the dessert.
This dish was paired with Bovlei Gewurztraminer. An off dry wine with litchi flavours.
My thoughts on dessert: When combined, each component of the dish united magically - the salted peanut brittle tied the whole dish together, resulting in a marriage made in heaven. The wine, an atypical dessert wine, although delicious on its own, in my mind, needed to be slightly sweeter to break through the tartness of the strawberries.
And as all good things must, so ends another enlightening Masterclass...
Jokes fly, wine flows, cutlery clinks and laughter rings out as food is devoured by friends, new and old.
For more information Contact Neill Anthony on firstname.lastname@example.org or 072 584 7851 or on twitter @neillanthony.