Hilton Brisbane’s Masterclass 2010 weekend draws chefs from around the globe. And this year’s was no exception, a great array of culinary talent.

The best aspect of their demonstrations is that participants taste the same dishes which are demonstrated on stage-the Hilton hotel chefs cook and plate behind the scenes in parallel with the headline chefs.

I was lucky to pair up in the Singapore Airlines sponsored Asian Affairs Room with Vietnamese author and television chef Luke Nguyen (Red Lantern-Sydney) and once Queensland-domiciled Martin Boetz (Longrain-Melbourne and Sydney) cooking two similar dishes in sync-pomelo salad and duck.

To match wines sponsored by the Granite Belt Wine Country with these four dishes I took to dissecting their recipes first.

In my presentation I outlined that these foods contained the four principal taste sensations, SWEET-SOUR-SALTY-BITTER plus the most important aspect-Umami.

From there it was pointed out that Asian food components have certain repressive or emphasising actions on the principal tastes of table wines.

High food sweetness or sugar makes wine taste thin or often sourer. High food sourness or acidity such as lime juice can dominate the taste of light wines. Salty food emphasises wine tannin so wine selection needs to consider less tannic wines (pinot is a no brainer). Food bitterness is good because it creates wine savouriness. And food umami releases wine earthiness.

With that in mind I was anticipating reasonably salty dishes so low tannin reds were on the agenda, and for whites the means for avoiding high tannin was to go unwooded.

Both chef’s pair of dishes have strong flavours, distinct fragrances (they mélange well with aromatic wine smells) and ample fresh herbs.

Luke’s Crab and Pomelo Salad has mint, Vietnamese mint, paddy herb stems and coriander fresh herbs, principal flavours of garlic, garlic chip, peanuts, chilli (twice); leaving aside the crab protein, then umami in the dried shrimp and fish sauce (twice) when accounting for the dressing.

Martin’s Pomelo Ginger and Cashew Nut Salad with green chilli and crisp garlic has mint, coriander, lemon grass, and lime leaf fresh herbs, principal flavours of green chilli, garlic chips and galangal, then umami from the fish sauce.

The pair of wines served was Robert Channon Pinot Gris 2009 (pear-like, dry, medium bodied, on the lighter grigio end, bright acidity, little tannic grip) and Ballandean Estate Family Reserve Viognier 2009 (pale, heady citrus nose, full bodied, a clear palate bitterness to accentuate food flavours).

Luke’s Master Stock Duck with Tamarind and Plum Sauce is a umami bomb from two soy sauces, and oyster sauce plus one whole duck, and has garlic chive, watercress, cassia, anise and cardamon herbal and spice notes, then principal flavours are chilli and poached duck.

Martin’s Steamed Duck, Winter melon and Shitake Mushroom Soup has ginger, chives and Asian celery for the herb and spice pattern, principal flavours of garlic, peppercorns, preserved lime, plus umami from mushrooms, yellow bean soy and chicken stock.

The two red wines served were Symphony Hill Reserve Pinot Noir 2008 (earthy, strawberry, mushroom, soft tannins, elegant) and Summit Estate The Pinnacle Premium Red 2007 (shiraz and pinot noir blend, striking spice, pepper and supple tannins in line with the food influence).

Umami can never be under-estimated in Thai and Vietnamese dishes as it makes us salivate as we eat and appreciate the savouriness of wine influenced by food components, mainly salt. It is the spice of our eating lives.

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