‘Alain Passard? Who? Never heard of him…’ This would be the answer repeated consistently should you stop people in the streets of Launceston and ask them what they know about Alain Passard. It’s not a criticism, it’s knowing Launceston is a small city on a small island about as far from Europe as can possibly be. It’s knowing like many small regional Australian cities, sport is where our idols are sourced. TV shows like My Kitchen Rules are predominantly where our food interest lies, and that’s because it’s about personalities and elimination, cooking as sport if you like.
While Tasmania is seeing a steady influx of tourists clamouring for our food and wine scene, the locals more often than not take it for granted. We have grown up living a lifestyle without peak-hour traffic or long commutes. Any talk of an overcrowded beach means there was about twenty people vying for space on a one kilometre stretch of golden sand. I grew up here, I took it for granted too. After a short stint in the local hospitality industry I went away, interstate and overseas, for about fifteen years all up. Since returning I no longer take it for granted.
My time overseas opened my eyes to the international food scene and in particular the Michelin Guide. Going since 1900 the Michelin Guide is produced by the well known tyre manufacturer and originally was a publication for French motorists of local mechanics, petrol stations, hotels and maps. In 1926 Michelin started a star rating for restaurants and over time it has become the pinnacle of achievement for a restaurant to receive three stars. There are currently only twenty six restaurants in France with the accolade. One of those Restaurants is Arpége.
Alain Passard opened Arpége in 1986, in the same space he refined his skills under the tutelage of Alain Senderens. Within two years he had two Michelin stars and ten years after opening was awarded his third. In 2001 he turned away from cooking meat and concentrated his menu on presenting the freshest vegetables sourced from his own organic kitchen gardens. It was seen as scandalous in the small world of French haute cuisine. He retained his three Michelin stars that year, and has done now for twenty years, an impressive accomplishment.
The Great Chefs Series came about last year, the idea of Christopher McGimpsey, a former Education Manager of TasTafe Drysdale, the local trade school for young apprentices. The concept was to bring in the best Australian chefs to offer intensive training culminating with a fine dining experience that might otherwise only be found in Sydney or Melbourne. In 2016 Jacques Reymond, Tetsuya Wakuda, Mark Best and more offered their skills and knowledge to young apprentice chefs. Together, in the TasTafe Drysdale training restaurant, they created stunning dining experiences utilising the finest locally sourced produce for all those who attended.
This year The Great Chefs Series has attracted the extraordinary international talents of Alain Passard, Dominque Crenn and Christian Puglisi. This is the first time Chef Passard has visited Australia and yesterday (29/03/17) he teamed up with the latest group of young Tasmanian apprentices to present his first of two dining experiences. Chefs Crenn and Puglisi will be arriving in the coming weeks and believe it or not there are still tickets available.
The setting was not the TasTafe Drysdale training restaurant on this occasion but the restaurant of Josef Chromy Vineyards. Fifteen minutes out of Launceston the building is a blend of old and new. Entrance is through the cellar door, set within the original 1880s homestead, and the restaurant is a modern addition with sweeping views of the vineyard. Walking past the open kitchen to our seats the junior chefs could be seen transfixed on their mentor. There was no doubt what this day meant to them. There was also no doubt for all those in attendance just what a rare opportunity this was. Guests had flown in from all over Australia.
Lunch was five courses all superbly matched with Josef Chromy wines by head wine maker Jeremy Dineen. The second course deserves a mention for both its description, ‘Vegetable harlequin acidulated with Tasmanian honey, Image of gardens this morning,’ and Chef Passard’s exacting expectations the ingredients were all to be picked on the morning and not to see a refrigerator. It was a dish of exceptional colour, taste and textures paired perfectly with 2016 Josef Chromy Gewürztraminer. Each and every course offered a myriad of pleasing aromas and flavours.
For the apprentices yesterday and over the weeks ahead their understanding and knowledge of what is possible within the kitchen will be completely turned on its head. Having access to the most exceptional chefs and the best produce Tasmania has to offer will be absolutely inspiring. It is a credit to all those involved who have brought this concept to reality. It is an opportunity for budding chefs to learn, highly acclaimed chefs to get familiar with the outstanding local produce, and us the customers to enjoy the results of this fantastic collaboration.