It was the final weekend of the Hawke’s Bay Winter F.A.W.C! Series as we headed to Napier to attend one of the sold-out events hosted by Beef and Lamb Ambassador Chef, Damon McGinniss. Damon is Executive Chef at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel and was named a Beef + Lamb Ambassador Chef for 2018 based on his outstanding beef and lamb dishes at Emporium Eatery & Bar. We were warmly greeted by staff at The Masonic and spending time at this iconic Art Deco Hotel in the centre of Napier was such an indulgent experience - the hotel is embellished with gorgeous furnishings and décor which enhances the experience and brings the art deco era to life for their guests.
Damon has had a long association with Beef + Lamb New Zealand throughout his career, and 2018 was the third time he has been named an Ambassador Chef. With his skill and knowledge combined, his trademark is working with humble cuts of beef and lamb elevating them to high end and beautifully executed dishes.
The evening began in the Gatsby Room where we sipped on glasses of champagne by the fire before being seated ready for the first course. Damon had chosen a theme of grass and gravel to showcase the wonderful beef and lamb raised on New Zealand grass which he had matched to some delicious Hawkes Bay Syrahs grown in the gravelly soil of Hawkes Bay. The front of house had literally taken this idea to the table, with centrepieces of real grass surrounded by river stones setting the scene for the evening.
Our culinary journey began with a Manuka smoked beef tartare matched with a Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2016. The beef had a subtle smokey flavour and was very tender. The dish was topped with a soft-boiled egg encased in a light crumb with a slice of crisp garlic ciabatta. This was a light and flavoursome dish to begin the evening with a nod to the classic steak, egg and chips. The matching Syrah had a peppery note which only added to the flavours of the dish.
Course two was a very clever use of lamb belly. As a secondary cut, lamb belly needs to be cooked carefully and with a large fat content it needs to be well matched with ingredients to cut through that fat. Lamb belly arancini with beetroot, cauliflower and peas matched with William Murdoch Syrah 2010 did just that. Damon had combined the slowly cooked lamb belly into a risotto and then into delicious light arancini, dusted with a crunchy crumb. The risotto centre was soft and creamy with that beautiful fatty lamb belly flavour shining through. Pairing it with the earthy flavours of beetroot, cauliflower and peas was the perfect way to tone down the fat on the palate and create a beautiful harmony of flavours.
Next up was lamb consommé which was a light and flavoursome lamb broth served in a glass with the rim dipped in a mix of sumac, brown sugar and beef stock which created a Margarita-like experience with all the delicious flavours of lamb.
Next it was on to one of the main course dishes - Tempura beef short rib, barley and bacon béarnaise matched with a Te Awa Single Estate Syrah 2013. This dish was an absolute masterpiece, who would have thought to combine the buttery soft short rib into a crispy tempura batter? Damon had sous vide the ribs for 26 hours before portioning and searing them in a pan. He then tempured the portions creating a light crispy outer wrapped around the amazingly tender beef rib which held all that delicious beefy flavour which comes with this cut. The béarnaise was smooth and rich, made with bacon fat and the barley added a textural bite to contrast the soft meat and adding an earthy flavour which pulled the elements of this dish together so well.
The final course showcased a prime and secondary cut of lamb. 12-hour braised lamb shoulder with a sesame crusted loin, smoked potato and horseradish cheesecake. Damon matched this dish to an amazing wine - Sacred Hill Deerstalkers Syrah 2014 which had a big bold flavour and was perfect for cutting through any fattiness from the lamb. The lamb shoulder was delicious and meltingly tender. The loin was beautifully cooked with its subtle lamb flavour and a wonderful texture with the sesame crust. The cheesecake with a kick of horseradish was a beautiful tart flavour contrast and the smokey potato was delicious. The jus came on the side in a tiny glass jar and provided just the correct amount of extra moisture for this dish. The Syrah did its job of complementing the lamb and this course was a wonderful finale to Damon’s homage to grass and gravel.
We finished the evening on a sweet note, with delicately presented coconut marshmallow which provided just that little bit of sweetness which always finishes off an evening so well. Damon and his team excelled and this was truly a culinary journey inspired by the grass raised beef and lamb and the gravelly Syrahs abundant in the beautiful Hawkes Bay.