Dusk had set when I emerged from the subway to walk the remaining block and a half to the house on West 12th, it felt as if NYC had a sparkle to it that I had not seen in a while. Perhaps it was because Christmas lights had started appearing in trees in advance of the upcoming holiday, perhaps it was that I was headed to a place I’ve been curious about for more than a decade; a closed-door private space that you have to pay to get into, or be invited into for an exclusive event. I was going to finally enter the hallowed, narrow halls of The James Beard Foundation house.
It is my role as an Ambassador for AFAR Magazine that caused me to don a little black dress, appropriately tall heels and delicate chandelier earrings before ascending over the threshold of 167 West 12th and once I did I immediately felt the excitement level heighten even more as I told the maître d’ my name, and he actually had it on the list. The small room felt warm and inviting but I wanted to explore the instinct that was pulling me toward the kitchen. Every chef was focused, all composed, heads bent, hands in motion; yet I knew immediately who Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker was, the evening’s celebrity chef. Her focus was absolute on a level above the others, despite multiple photographers zeroed in on her and the task of conductor hers for the evening.
Through the surprisingly small kitchen I continued, a cacophony of savory smells following in my wake. A glass of sparkling Shiraz by Shingleback in hand, I began to mingle, excited at the coming hors d’oeuvre. Not one disappointed. Endive with Fresh Curds and Grain-Seed Praline, Chestnut-Armagnac Velouté… And the real draw for so many there, the one I was a bit scared to ingest if I’m being honest, Kangaroo Tartare with Pepper Berries and Bush Tomatoes. That’s it to the left.
After exchanging pleasantries with my colleagues and making a few new friends it was already time to sit down for the first course. Under a glass canopy, within sight of the still bustling kitchen we began the real adventure. Six courses graced the table in front of each of us, each accompanied by an expertly-paired wine. Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker put up with my seafood allergy so gracefully and I still feel I had a superb glimpse into what makes Australia so wonderful. After my trip across the continent in February, it was a trip down memory lane as much as a lesson in their distinct cuisine.
My friends around the table enjoyed: Freshwater Trout with Buckwheat Vinaigrette and Fennel, Smoke Eel with Pancetta, Beet Rémoulade and Horseradish, Pork Croustillant with Choucroute Garnie, Butter-Poached Pheasant with Foraged Mushrooms and Black Truffles followed by Brioche French Toast with Goat Cheese and Local Pears as well as Late Harvest Apples with Caramel, Buttermilk, Honey and Oatmeal. There was also a delectable lemon macaron and one flavored with eucalyptus.
When we parted with rosy cheeks and face-splitting grins into the night punctuated by twinkling lights and a chill breeze there wasn’t a degree of cold to be found anywhere inside. Instead, it was all warmth and happy thoughts of one of the most unusual and wonderful continents I have ever been to. #DineAustralia reminded me of why I loved the country and why I still long every day to return.
Thank you AFAR and Chef Alla Wolf-Tasker.