A rollcall of some of the world's most renowned chefs came together behind the stoves at Rockpool Bar & Grill for The Ultimate Dinners to benefit the Starlight Children's Foundation.
Neil Perry's Ultimate Dinners are exotic affairs at the best of times, but this year's events might have been the most impressive - and surprising - yet. "Star-studded" was a barely adequate term for the talent manning the stoves at the Sydney event, held at Rockpool Bar & Grill on September 28 ahead of another dinner at the Perth restaurant. Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, The Fat Duck's Heston Blumenthal, Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago, The Ledbury's Brett Graham and Attica's Ben Shewry all volunteered their time alongside Perry and Rockpool chef Phil Wood.
Achatz kicked things off with a blitz of Australian flavours, making Spencer Gulf king prawns snap and crackle with bush tomatoes, seaweed and finger lime, while Ben Shewry pulled a masterful bait-and-switch, presenting a tame-sounding plate of holy flax, cucumber and a sauce of trout and burnet that was full of savour and an easy contender for dish of the night.
Brett Graham played things quietly luxe, pairing roast mulloway with mud crab and caramelised cauliflower, while wood-fired roast chicken with a savoury custard and "precious herbs and drunken condiments" from the home team brought a dash of Chinese elegance to the table. Chef Keller made it look easy simply knocking some roasted saddle and collar of Blackmore wagyu for six with a pairing of whole, puréed and flowering broad beans. Having both 1991 Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon and Henschke 2008 Hill of Grace on hand didn't hurt, either.
Then Heston Blumenthal unleashed his show-stopper: "botrytis cinerea", a trompe l'œil bunch of grapes made up of everything from saffron to blue cheese, combining to taste sweetly of the "noble rot" that transforms grapes into Sauternes.
Stuart Gregor's auctioneering of donated prizes has been a highlight of dinners past; the bidding was hot and hilarious on this occasion, and in an 11th-hour twist, Keller and Blumenthal sprung a surprise on their host, chopping off 10 centimetres of Perry's ponytail after extracting $50,000 in donations, which went towards the nationwide total of $820,000 raised for the Starlight Children's Foundation Australia. Now, that's what we call giving.