TORONTO — It was a feast for the senses last night as a select bunch of media and tourism industry types escaped the frigid Toronto weather to a warm Australian reception at St. James Cathedral Centre for a media preview of a public two-part avant-garde dinner series celebrating Australia Day Jan. 26.
Chefs John Placko (culinary director at the Toronto-based Modern Culinary Academy) and Luke Hayes-Alexander (head chef of his Kingston, Ont., restaurant, Luke’s Gastronomy) used Oz as their inspiration for the elaborate eight-course tasting menu, which they were asked to create following the success of an Australian-inspired dinner series pop-up they hosted last year. “This year we were approached by Tourism Australia and Wine Australia to do a dinner series, and they wanted that Australian connection. I was born there and Luke was there last year for a tour of Australia,” said Placko. “The whole idea is to celebrate Australia Day and create additional awareness around Australian foods and wines.”
The resulting meal features a range of ingredients indigenous to Australia, including wattleseeds, lemon myrtle, pepperberry, akudjura and vegemite, which complement proteins such as kangaroo and barramundi. And, with both chefs having an affinity for molecular gastronomy, the dishes showcased their skills. “All of the techniques are quite advanced and different,” explained Placko. “We take unique Australian ingredients, and visually normal cuisine, and we transform it into something quite different. So, you’re getting a difference in taste combinations, textures, and, in a lot of cases, the visuals as well.”
Standout dishes included Hayes-Alexander’s Blinman, which is comprised of lamb, beets, lemon myrtle, brown butter and wattleseed, and Placko’s Pavlova Deconstructed (pictured), with mudgee honey, passion fruit, mango, banana and strawberries. Each meal was complemented by wines from Wine Australia.
The dinner series, which is open to the public, runs tonight and tomorrow. The $150 tickets can be ordered online at ozdayinto.com.