There's nothing better we love than drinking and eating, and more so when it's all for charity. Back in 2014, Glenfiddich started a culinary competition with a difference; challenge chefs around the country to come up with a dish inspired by a family member they consider pioneering, and using an expression of Glenfiddich whisky.
The top 6 entries were then presented in a degustation style dinner to paying culinary enthusiasts who voted for the winning entry at the end of the evening. The best part? All proceeds from ticket sales went to Soldier On, a charity that supports Australia's physically and psychologically wounded Defence Force personnel. It's certainly a way of celebrating being one of the few single malt distilleries in the world that is still family owned.
This year on 14 March, the Glenfiddich Culinary Degustation returned to Centennial Parklands Dining, a panoramic space located within the park. Utilising the same format as before, 100 diners were treated to a five-course degustation paired with Glenfiddich whiskies. With live jazz tunes in the background, the tone was set for an elegant soiree.
Course 1: Storm clams with saffron and Glenfiddich aioli paired with a Glenfiddich 12 year old by chef Arkin Baretto from Centennial Parklands Dining
Course 2: Smoked mussels and roast crab with charred baby cos, caramelised whisky barrel yeast and Glenfiddich butter sauce paired with Glenfiddich 18 year old by chef Duncan Welgemond from South Australia's Africola
Course 3: Chicken tortellini with scorched corn and Glenfiddich custard served with Glenfiddich 14 year old by chef Leigh McDivitt from One6Eight in Balmain
Course 4: Hay smoked spatchcock with fail all'uccelletto, Glenfiddich and thyme jus served with Glenfiddich 15 year old by chef Matthew Ouwerkerk from the Paddington Inn in Sydney
Course 5: Glenfiddich and maralumi cacao with lambs blood ganache served with Glenfiddich 21 year old by chef Kayle Burns from Lume in Victoria.
Our favourite of the night? Turns out it was also the crowd favourite (and winner) - the smoked mussels and roast crab. The seamless marriage between the slight sour brininess from the mussels, sweetness of the crabmeat and cos lettuce coupled with the smoke and the whisky butter sauce created an overall flavour bomb that wasn't quite matched by the other dishes that followed. Third place went to chef Leigh McDivitt with his chicken pasta dish, a pleasing enough combination with a killer Glenfiddich custard but pipped to second post by chef Arkin Baretto with his storm clams, cooked with the right amount of chew to it and served on a bed of rocks (as well as rather confusingly, a roasted sweet potato and sweet potato crisps that the dish could have done without). If we had to pick one item that highlighted the whisky the best, it would have to be chef McDivitt's whisky custard - that has Christmas written all over it.
It's always a tough ask incorporating whisky in cooking in a way that still shows off the liquid and matches it well, a fact that is highlighted through this challenge. The dessert dish, as beautiful as it looked, didn't do it for us - perhaps it was the bitterness of the chocolate used, which seemed to mask any hints of whisky. Or the rubbery texture of those "cocoa pops" accompanying the ganache; it was a little distracting trying to chew our way through that and enjoy a whisky at the same time.
Having said all that, we're all for events that takes whisky away from a straight up tasting to highlight how it can be enjoyed in different contexts. So kudos to Glenfiddich for coming up with the concept and the generous invitation as well as all the chefs involved for turning out some beautiful dishes.