"Making the snow egg at home would be a bit of a challenge," says Peter Gilmore, master of understatement (if you'd like to give it a try, here's the guava snow egg recipe). The Quay chef is thrilled by the reaction his best-known dessert has drawn following its appearance as the ultimate challenge on this year's season finale of MasterChef. We were the first to sing the dish's praises in its various guises here at GT, and the current version, an orb of poached meringue with a crisp toffee shell and a custard apple ice-cream nucleus sitting pretty in a glass with the blissful textural contrast of strawberry guava fool and granita, at once rich and refreshing, still probably tops our list of the country's most swoon-worthy sweets. For the record, Gilmore thought that Callum Hann and Adam Liaw acquitted themselves fairly on the show with their attempts, even if they had two hours in which to do it. "We normally have a team doing it at Quay, of course," he says, "but I think if I had Angus Jones, my pastry chef, on, he could have done it in an hour."
Quay is currently booked out well in advance. The MasterChef stint is the latest in a series of triumphs for the Sydney fine-diner, following two years at the top of GT's national top 100 and its appearance in April as the top-placed Australian restaurant (ahead of Tetsuya's) in the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. If you want to taste the snow egg, though, along with the restaurant's other signatures, you're in luck. Next month, Murdoch Books publishes Quay, quite possibly the most sumptuous cookbook to have come from an Australian restaurant.
Photographed by GT regular Anson Smart, it's a hefty volume filled with the instantly recognisable organic forms of Gilmore's food, and packed with information he has picked up both as a chef and, more recently, as a gardener. The diversity of nature, Gilmore says, is his key inspiration in the kitchen, and it was important to him that the book reflected it.
"It's a definite movement around the world, looking again at diversity of ingredients, and I think if chefs don't champion them, a lot of those ingredients will just disappear," he says. "It's the same with different breeds of animals - if it weren't for restaurants and the trickle-down effect from them, everything would just be run by the supermarkets." Good restaurants, he argues, differ because they don't reject products simply for reasons of shelf life or the shortness of their season, "we just move onto the next special thing". It wasn't so many years ago that supermarkets sold only one kind of lettuce, and Gilmore points to the work done by chefs such as Sydney's Serge Dansereau to encourage growers to branch out. "And lo and behold, they're all in the supermarkets now, along with all the different types of potatoes."
This celebration of nature may prove a little tricky for cooks who want to follow recipes in Quay to the letter. One salad lists more than 40 separate ingredients, while another calls for four different kinds of violets. Gilmore refused to cut corners for the book, but by the same token he says a bit of flexibility is key when it comes to choosing how to cook from it. "There's a dish of white asparagus with a curd and nuts and something like 15 different herbs and buds on it, but it'll still be really nice with just the curd and the nuts and two or three normal herbs." If you can't get strawberry guavas for the snow egg, you could try using white peaches. "It's meant to be inspiration as much as anything else."
The book gives alternatives for home kitchens not equipped with restaurant kit such as combi-ovens and sous-vide machines, but by and large, it pulls no punches. If you want to follow things to the letter, start stocking up on your borage buds and digging through seed catalogues for miniature sour Mexican cucumbers now. Peter Gilmore wants to leave you with this guarantee. "If someone is going to take the time to make the Quay chocolate cake, I want it to taste like the Quay chocolate cake, even if it takes them four hours to make it." He stops and thinks a moment. "Okay, it'll take eight hours. But it will taste like the Quay chocolate cake."
Quay, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, Sydney, (02) 9251 5600