Co-lab Cook-off at Palate
The restaurant is cool and softly lit from morning sun. Everything is tidy and set up for the lunch time crowd. But for Mat McLean, executive chef and owner of Palate Restaurant in Hamilton, and Michael Coughlin, chef ambassador for Provenance Lamb, it’s a chance to sit down and chat about cheffing, lamb, life
Mat McLean – Rudi Bauer – Michael CoughlinLast night Palate hosted a winemaker’s evening featuring Quartz Reef wines from Central Otago. Mat arranged a tasting menu to match the wines and invited Michael to cook the main dish of Provenance lamb which the restaurant features in its offering.
Palate was full for the event hosted by award winning winemaker, Rudi Bauer. Rudi was an informative MC as he discussed the wine match with each course. All of the wines came from Rudi’s Quartz Reef vineyard in Bendigo, Central Otago. Given Quartz Reef’s biodynamic certification, pairing with bio-farmed Provenance lamb promised something special for the evening. We weren’t disappointed. The wines were well matched throughout with the buzz level rising as each course was served.
We started with Port Waikato whitebait, pomelo, crumpet and dill matched with Methode Traditionelle Brut NV. We then moved onto trevally tartare, Cloudy Bay clams, mango, coconut and lime matched with single vineyard Gruner Veltiner 2017.
The Gruner Veltiner grape stock was imported by Rudi from Austria and has quickly developed into a fine wine. Its tasting notes boast, “aromas of dried apricots and honey with fresh lime notes – vibrant, creamy and dry with crisp grapefruit followed by a hint of white pepper”. This interesting match with seafood and fruit was stunning.
The entrees were completed with a vitello tonnato, bell pepper mousse, white asparagus, black pudding, pickled garlic and strawberry matched to a single vineyard Pinot Rose 2018.
As conversation level rose, we paused for a breather before Michael offered a main course of Provenance lamb oyster cut shoulder with sage and fennel seed, roasted heirloom carrots, cherry gastrique, lamb belly bacon, smoked white miso and cauliflower cream topped with a horseradish cracker. Speaking afterwards, Michael said he used the miso to create a unami flavour to come through in the cauliflower puree. This contrasted nicely with the fine texture of the shoulder and complemented its tenderness. Yumm…
Rudi offered two wines with this – both single ferment Pinot Noir, 2011 and 2016.These are beautiful wines – perhaps too much so as the complex 2011 in particular, slightly overshadowed the subtle taste of the lamb. If this was so, though, no one told the diners who made short work of both the main and the Pinot.
Dessert was a lemon and Thai basil custard with raspberry, lemon curd, meringues and sorrel. Matched with a Blanc de Blanc 2013 this was a fantastic finish.
So now it’s the morning after. Time for pause and a catch up… Mat and Michael have known each other for a number of years as they are both ambassadors for Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Palate is Mat’s first restaurant (although the current one is a bigger version of the first) and he is working hard as he loves cooking though he’s also focussed on the business side of keeping a restaurant profitable. He says that the joy of food, new ingredients, locally sourced items and the excellent quality of them makes him excited about cooking and the taste experience.
He is complimentary about Provenance lamb describing it as a quality meat, succulent and flavoursome. He thinks each cut has its own particular flavour which reflects the terroir and feed the lambs are getting, and these factors bestow unique flavours into the meat.
Mat has worked overseas in Sydney, Melbourne, London and the south coast of England. He spent time with Eric Chavot in London and learned a lot from him, gaining huge respect for him. He said it was like watching a highly trained athlete when Eric cooked and he was just so much better than anybody else. Mat commented that he’s only seen a chef of this calibre a couple of times in his travels, adding that Eric was just born for it. He said for himself it’s hard work and tenacity, rather than just being able to rely on talent alone.
The current trend in food is moving away from sharing plates, Mat believes. He is happy about this as preparing several items for small plates is time consuming and he doesn’t believe that diners get a broad sample of different tastes and textures. Plating it can be difficult when there are a lot of diners and time is pressured.
He puts a lot of effort into relationships with his suppliers, even visiting their farms or boats to appreciate the work that has gone into a superb product. These relationships keep him interested in food and planning menus. He believes discerning diners now want to know where their food comes from, and how it was raised or grown. He likes the story of Provenance lamb story and enjoys passing this onto diners.
Being a family man as well as a business owner keeps him fully occupied with less time these days for dining out, reading cook books and following trends but his staff contribute ideas and even Google helps finding local cottage industries and new suppliers. His current favourite book is Source New Zealand by Gerhard and Henriette Egger with stories of people, food and land.
Mat believes organic farming is important and that the wine industry in New Zealand is well ahead of agriculture and it’s important that it catches up with the movement for fresh, local, sustainable and responsible food production.
So what would he do with some time off? Mat likes the challenge of playing with different foods and cooking methods especially when he doesn’t have his chef kitchen on hand. If that sounds too much like a busman’s holiday then going fishing to a remote part of the Coromandel with a hamper of wine and food to enjoy with friends is always a favourite.
The last word came from Michael who commented that between the two of them they had seen a lot of change over the years and were inspired by the New Zealand pantry which produces so much more for the chef’s kitchen these days. “For chefs, cooking is no longer imported fusion, it’s inspired food”, Michael says. Certainly the menu last night lived up to this claim.