Can Saturday afternoons really be this good?
As I drove through the grounds at Cape Lodge, which sits on its own vineyard with 40 acres of manicured gardens and natural forest, it was difficult to believe that just 15 minutes earlier I had been sat on our sofa as the familiar sound of my husband watching Saturday afternoon AFL (Australian Football League) filled the room.
This was my first visit to Cape Lodge, named ‘Best Boutique Hotel in Australia’, and I was there for a Cooking With Beef class with Executive Chef Michael Elfwing.
Winter is upon us and it was raining outside, but inside was cosy as we settled into the comfortable lounge chairs and were treated to coffee and pastries with views over the lake.
Our small class was made up of some Yallingup locals, two friends from Perth who were enjoying a child-free ladies’ weekend away, and a couple from Bunbury who were on a trip ‘down south’ and simply fancied trying something new. We were all excited to have such an intimate class with such a renowned chef.
Swedish-born Michael Elfwing lives in Dunsborough and he took over from former Cape Lodge Executive Chef Tony Howell (of Masterchef fame) last year, following five years working as the creative force at Senses restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Michael’s culinary CV includes working at celebrated restaurants including the Grange in Adelaide and Fat Duck restaurant with Heston Blumenthal.
There’s a lot of good meat round here.
It quickly became clear that Michael adores his meat. He helped to create Malaysia’s Chambers restaurant based on charcoal cooking, and told us that his latest daydream is to create a Chinese duck oven from wine barrels. “We’ll just see how many times we can burn it before we get it right” he joked.
Michael is particularly impressed by the meat he is able to cook with here in Your Margaret River Region, saying that “the cows live in paradise round here; there are 30 cattle per square kilometre. Organic Margaret River beef is grass fed and is super natural, super tasty.”
As Michael proceeded with the cooking demonstration I was surprised by how much of his focus was on affordable home cooking and sustainability. He offered heaps of practical advice and at the end of each dish he was careful to make sure that we would be confident in reproducing the meal at home.
Michael’s Best Beef Tips
- Must try: Leeuwin Grass Fed Beef from Margaret River Farmers’ Market. The best in the region!
- Choose: Darker beef, which is older than pinker meat and has had time to develop flavour.
- Look out for: Marbling of fat inside the meat.
- Avoid: Cuts with fat round the outside of the meat.
- Experiment with: Cuts of meat other than tenderloin (fillet). One cow generally produces just 10 tenderloin steaks, so choosing different cuts is better for sustainability, offers better value for money and often better flavour.
Michael’s demonstration took us through four mouth-watering beef dishes, starting with ‘fancy restaurant’ style and moving onto flavoursome home cooking. The following descriptions don’t include the full recipes as I don’t want to give away all of Michael’s secrets, but I hope they’ll inspire your next beef dish.
(pictured left) Michael picked up this unusual dish in Sweden, but says it was actually the Australians who thought of it first. The secret ingredient is a semi-frozen oyster mixed through the finely chopped tenderloin. Invisible to the eye but so fresh to taste.
Chef’s tip: If you make this dish in advance and your tartare oxidises on top and goes grey, just re-mix before serving.
2. Thai Beef Salad
(pictured right) Michael cooked tenderloin marinated in lime juice and fish sauce and combined it with thai basil, mint, coriander, sweet chilli sauce, watermelon and beansprouts for a gorgeous salad with heaps of character and crunch.
Chef’s tip: When your basil goes to seed, use the flowers – “they are super tasty and pretty”.
“Oysterblade is one of those understated cuts, it just needs a bit of love” said Michael as he prepared this dish. And a lot of love he gave it – the beef was brined for around 48 hours and simmered for two hours with root vegetables before our arrival. Michael reheated the whole thing in the original stock and served it up with a veloute sauce (a white sauce like béchamel, but made with stock rather than milk). The result? Meat so tender you could eat it with a spoon.
Chef’s tip: Choose oysterblade for great value home cooking. This piece of beef could feed 8 people and cost just $20.
“Star anais, cardamom, fennel and cinnamon are the heroes here” said Michael as the aromas of this rich, Chinese-influenced dish filled the air. There were some seriously sophisticated flavours developing, but the cooking was really quite simple; the beef was seared and placed in an oven dish then covered with a cooking liquid made from herbs, spices, light and dark soya sauce and Chinese cooking wine. It was baked for three hours until extremely tender and served in its own sauce with rice.
Chef’s tip: You can cook this on a Wednesday ahead of a dinner party on Friday. Just reheat in the original cooking liquid.
Once the demonstrations were complete, we were shown into the restaurant to enjoy the dishes in full. We learnt that as cooking class participants we had the rare opportunity to enjoy lake views while dining, as the restaurant is usually only open in the evening.
Our host matched the dishes with Cape Lodge wine, which is exclusively available to purchase by guests of the hotel and restaurant. This was all accompanied by a good chin wag with Michael, who shared more tips and, importantly, helped us to find out where the gorgeous plates we were eating off were made.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any better, the meal was completed with home-made chocolate truffles.
As I arrived home the footy was still going, and I put my recipe kit and notes somewhere safe so that I could have a go at recreating those wonderful dishes. “I mustn’t forget,” I thought to myself, “that Saturday afternoons really can be this good!”
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