Philippe Leban

by Doc-G on October 21, 2011

Philippe Leban

Sometimes, it just pays to have the right friends, right?

In this case, a friend of ours who some time ago travelled to the opening of the MONA gallery in Tasmania had the opportunity to partake in an auction that took place at this festive event. The result was that he bought the right to have the gallery’s head chef Philippe Leban fly over to Adelaide and cook a private meal for him and his friends. And the cool bit is that my wife and I were included amongst his friends that night! Typically the cooking of a meal by a truly world class chef in a private residence is the type of experience that only happens to rock stars and super celebs…I am neither, yet this was my turn and we moved heaven and hell to ensure that we could attend.

Speaking to Philippe, who moved to Australia with his French parents when he was a child, one would be mistaken for thinking that you were dealing with a native Australian. And for all intents and purposes he is. However, when you experience first hand his approach to food and his natural affinity for classic flavour combination whilst still utilising contemporary and even more native ingredients, you realise that ‘whilst you can take the boy out of France, you can’t take France out of the boy’.

Having worked in a number of Michelin-starred restaurants, he also helped Guillaume Brahimi establish Bennelong in Sydney, and opened Hamilton House in Shanghai in addition to spending a significant period of time working for Alain Passard in France. Philippe is now the head chef of ‘The Source’ restaurant, part of the MONA and Moorilla Estate complex established by millionaire David Walsh.

For this meal, he took the majority of the diners for that evenings meal to the Adelaide Central market where ingredients were chosen and then he used the diners throughout the day as kitchen hands in order to prepare the meal for finishing by the master himself. He also brought over one of his own staff, Peter Cooksley who was a true up and coming pro and finalist in the 2011 Appetite for Excellence awards. With the kitchen crew well in hand, the meal was produced and everyone had the opportunity to learn a few techniques that they could take with them to ‘wow’ their own guests at a later date.

What follows is a description of this truly wondrous culinary experience.

Philippe Leban
Gin and Cucumber Spheres with Soda Water
Using the wonderful technique of reverse spherification, Philippe and his assistant made spheres of gin and cucumber juice. The flavours were clean and the spheres popped in the mouth like caviar. They were an exemplary demonstration of culinary technique and flavour matching.

Philippe Leban
Asparagus and Enoki Mushrooms with a Comte Gruyere foam with Truffle Oil
This was curious from many perspectives as the whole dish was an interesting mixture of textures and a wonderfully matched combination of flavours. The asparagus and mushrooms were very gently sautéed and still crunchy to eat with the earthy and slightly umami overtones of the enoki mushrooms adding to the flavour of the asparagus whilst the comte gruyere foam added and smooth and velvety texture and just a hint of ‘cheesiness’ to the proceedings. The stability of the foam was maintained by the addition of a touch of Lecite.

Philippe Leban
Fresh shelled Peas with Pink Grapefruit, Ginger and Mint
This was for me perhaps one of the more interesting and perhaps unconventional combinations of ingredients. Whilst peas and mint are a universal combination in western cuisine, the addition of ginger provided warmth to the dish and the pink grapefruit provided acidity and a sense of refreshment to the dish. For me peas are typically quite stodgy, reminiscent of winter and not something I always relish however with the addition of grapefruit, the dish opened up. This would be a wonderful way to serve peas at a summer BBQ or with steak or more importantly from my perspective, just on its own.

Philippe Leban
Steamed Tommy Ruff with Broad Beans and a Green Tomato and Fennel sauce
Again, an exercise in technique and presentation, the Tommy Ruffs were filleted and rolled into cylinders and ever so gently steamed to provide a first protein dish that was delicate in texture yet robust in flavour due in part to the oily nature of the fish. The addition of a green tomato and fennel sauce provided acidity from the tomatoes and the slight aniseed flavour from the fennel gave the dish a fresh lift. The broad beans were wonderfully paired with the dish but were a labour of love for all those involved in preparing them. Philippe, like any other chef would only work with ingredients where ‘second to none’ is barely good enough. Therefore, a huge quantity of broad beans were required to supply what we consumed on this wonderful evening. They effectively served to ‘ground’ the dish and balance the light flavours and textures of the fish and sauce with something a little bit harder and earthier.

Philippe Leban
Slow cooked Tuna Loin with with Charred Eggplant, Wood Sorrel and Beef Jus
A large hunk of Tuna loin was cooked at incredibly low heat in a pan over the course of one hour. The pan was just warm enough to heat your hand upon touch without burning it. Every fifteen minutes or so, Philippe would turn the loin to ensure consistency of cooking throughout this noble piece of fish. The result was perfect and reminiscent of the type of stuff seen using sous vide techniques but this ‘traditional’ treatment gave the dish a little more authenticity. Indeed, Philippe admits to learning this technique from one of his own culinary hero’s, Alain Passard and it serves to remind us that what is perhaps perceived as ‘new’ is usually inherited from ideas that are more traditional. The eggplant was charred directly over the flames before being painstakingly peeled and roasted to give a soft textured accompaniment with smoky overtones that complimented the tuna. The addition of ‘jus’ from the roasting Water Buffalo danced with the smoky flavours of the eggplant and further reinforced its relationship with the tuna whilst the wood sorrel that was foraged locally added zest to the dish.

Philippe Leban
Roasted Pidgeon Breast, sous vide Pidgeon Wing with a Balsamic and Chocolate Beetroot and Honey and Sherry Vinegar sauce
This dish reminded me of the sort of food one gets at ‘Rules’ restaurant in Covent Garden in London, an establishing which claims to be London’s ‘oldest restaurant’ specialising in Game and Meat which maintains flavour combinations from the old school. The Pidgeons had their wings removed and were then Roasted in the oven after which the breasts were removed and the meat rested. Meanwhile, the wings were placed in a bag and cooked sous vide. Whilst the pidgeon breasts were not the most tender, the flavour was wonderful and the wings with their cooking technique were soft, gelatinous and tasty. Perhaps the most interesting part of the dish was the pairing of the pidgeon with Balsamic and Chocolate coated Beetroot with a Honey and Sherry Vinegar sauce. The chocolate and beetroot were typically earthy in flavour which were then lifted by the sweetness from the honey and the tartness from the balsamic and sherry vinegar. Together with the pidgeon this was a dish with strong character and charm and yet another flavour combination to keep in the memory banks for future reference.

Philippe Leban
Roasted Water Buffalo with Kumera with Garlic and Thyme jus
Phillipe lightly roasted this and let it rest for a long time…and I really mean a long time. It was then thinly sliced and served with roasted Kumera (a type of sweet potato) and pan juices. What Water Buffalo lacks in tenderness, it more than adequately made up for in flavour. Whilst one of the simplest dishes of the evening, it was possibly one of my favourites.

Philippe Leban
Gorgonzola Dolce with a Rosewater gel and Rasberries
This signified a change in the direction of the meal. The Dolce was soft and creamy with the blue mould giving characteristic ‘blue’ tones which were freshened up with the addition of perfect raspberries and a rosewater gel which served to bind the other two ingredients together to make a cohesive dish. It was small and lovely.

Philippe Leban
Roasted Caramelized Pineapple and a Rum and Raisin ice cream
The pineapple were roasted and caramelised with precision to ensure that the pineapple retained its freshness and juiciness yet still had caramelised and toasty flavours which was something of a taste revelation to me. The rum and raisin ice-cream was a great addition to the pineapple and was churning in the ice cream machine as we arrived for our meal. Both the pineapple and ice-cream were a fantastic combination and I recommend that you try them.

I might start by stating that this was an experience that I will never forget. Philippe is a true artist and on this evening in a private kitchen, he produced some of the finest food I have ever had the privilege of tasting. You might quite rightfully think that I am just blogging this as a means of one-upmanship, but in addition to a little bit of showing off, I think it is important to highlight the skills and dedication of an individual who is truly in touch with his ingredients both in terms of quality and in terms of their use. During the evening watching him cook and interacting with him, we were able to experience a passionate individual who was exceptionally thoughtful with regards to each and every ingredient that was used throughout the meal so that whilst it was something of a ‘scratch’ meal, each dish was carefully considered in terms of its constituent ingredients but the dishes brought together were considered in their entirety as a meal. This is my opinion was the mark of the true professional.

And this is where it up to you to seek him out at his restaurant and make the trip to Tasmania to experience what I had the pleasure of experiencing which is the culinary output of this highly talented individual.

The Source
Moorilla Estate , 655 Main Rd, Berriedale, TAS
T(03) 6277 9900

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