I've been looking forward to this night, since Scott from Beast and Matty from Parts and Labour first suggested it. As members of the Group of 7 Chefs they thought an Odd Bits dinner would be fun and a way to help them raise money for their trip to New York to cook at the James Beard House later this year. Importantly it would be a way for offal lovers and neophytes to try a range of dishes not often found on restaurant menus. All seven chefs picked an odd bit and created a dish. The list was bone and tendon, lamb kidneys, lamb tripe, tongue and testicles, pork heart, veal brain and pork blood.
Appetizers included the platter of duck liver paté and head cheese, shown above, and slices of headcheese served on baguette with pimento cheese an interesting taste and play with "cheese". There were familiar poultry livers wrapped in bacon, retro and delicious, and puff pastry rounds topped with bone marrow, eggplant and a black truffle slice presented on top of empty marrow bones.
Here are the group of 7 chefs, actually eight because there is a team of two; Matty Matheson, Scott Vivian, Kevin Mckenna, Mark Cutrara, Chris Brown, Marc Dufour, Rob Gentile, and Bertrand Alepee.
So the meal begins -
Bone and tendon interpreted by Matty was a roasted marrow bone, topped with grated horseradish set in a broth with beef tendon and peas. A dessert spoon was inserted into the marrow handle first. I think the idea was to use the handle to extract the marrow, as the bowl of the spoon was too big for most of the bones. I pushed my marrow out into the broth, and reached for the sour dough toasts. Although the toasts already had a smear of foie gras butter, that didn't stop me from spreading the bone marrow on top.
Then came Chris with the lamb kidneys. Gnocchi, rapini and sauteed lamb kidneys topped with a fennel zabaglione was a great way to introduce people to kidneys. These kidneys were mild almost sweet, balanced by the rapini and light well flavoured sauce.
Tripe is often a hard sell as most people think they don't like tripe. Kevin and Marc cooked unbleached lamb's tripe with pork bits to make a rich, satisfying stew that wasn't overly gutty in taste. They added beans and topped it with cornmeal encrusted, fried slice of testicle.
Testicles always create interest and Mark approached them with a sense of humour with his take of tongue and balls. He served a thick slice of beef tongue topped with a well seasoned sausage of lamb testicles. It was accompanied with a homemade ketchup and garnished with potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Scott presented pork heart on a tostada. Rare slices of heart were mixed with radish, pickled squash, watercress, crispy fried pig's ears and the right amount of chile. Those crisp slices of ears converted a long time pig's ear hater at my table into a fan. Odd bits is often all about texture. The bacon fat aioli on the plate was the final touch of brilliance. The flavours and textures played well against each other.
Veal brain was next and Bertrand served it with a bacon brioche Toulouse sausage, black trumpet mushrooms tand tied the dish together with a beurre blanc, rich and satisfying. Some diners expressed nervousness about eating brains, they should know that odd bits from well raised healthy animals are fit for the table.
Blood was the finale and Rob presented his signature dish blood chocolate tart. It was topped with an espresso poached fig, and topped with a buffalo milk crema and almonds. The perfect way to convert the doubters to the versatility of blood in kitchen.
Well done gentlemen, I'm hoping you'll consider a repeat performance. Although it took a day and a half for me to even have the slightest hint of hunger, I'm ready to eat it all again. Two great meals of odd bits and another coming next month, a great start to 2012, The Year of Offal.