In 2011, Grey Goose Vodka launched a series of “Taste By Appointment” events in the UK, aimed at helping attendees understand their flavour preferences while enjoying some great drinks and food. The Taste By Appointment concept proved to be a success and was subsequently launched outside of the UK. In September 2014 the concept hit Australia and I was invited to attend the Melbourne Taste By Appointment event at Collingwood’s Saint Crispin (you can read my review of Saint Crispin here).
The event was hosted by mixologist, jazz pianist and Grey Goose Global Brand Ambassador Joe McCanta, who went into great detail about taste – how it works, its complexities, its components and why it’s so subjective and personal to each one of us. I was very impressed with McCanta’s knowledge and leaned a few new “taste theory” related things throughout the night.
The first taste experiment started with the bread. The bread was baked without salt and we tried it alone and then with the addition of salt to demonstrate the importance of salt as a flavour enhancer.
The first dish proper to come out was an Amouse Bouche plate, designed to exhibit a further 3 of the 5 known elements of taste.
Sweet: Bannockburn chicken, golden raisin jam.
Sour: Hapuka ceviche, lime, coriander.
Bitter: Ocean trout, blood orange endive, cucumber.
All 3 tasted great, however my favourite was the sweet one. Interestingly, when McCanta asked the room to raise their hands to indicate which was their preferred option of the 3, the room was evenly split 3 ways.
After some more theory, we were directed towards this set up on the tables and encouraged to use our experiences from the first dish plus the theory we had just learned, to make a cocktail. We had Grey Goose Vodka, soda water, salt, sugar, bitters and lemon juice. We first made a “balanced” cocktail and then modified it until we got the flavours working the way that we liked.
We were then told to add, as we desired, lemon peel, mint and pepper to our cocktails. McCanta explained the flavour profiles of all the components and what was actually going on with our brains and taste buds as we experienced each one. We were taught the best way to extract the flavours from each component, such as clapping the mint a few times or rolling the inside of the lemon peel across the rims of our glasses.
The main dish was wagyu beef check and rump, miso eggplant, fricasse of mushrooms, parmesan gel and soil. It was matched with a Grey Goose Vodka and Noilly Prat dry vermouth martini washed with black truffle butter and plum vinegar. The drink was created by James Wynn-Williams, the Australian Grey Goose Brand Ambassador. Unsurprisingly, the cocktail and the main worked brilliantly together, exhibiting the taste element of umami.
For dessert, we were served a parfait of hazelnuts, caramelised pear, crispy phyllo pastry and almond gel. I was really impressed with this dessert. The super crispy, honey snap like texture of the phyllo pastry was unlike any phyllo pastry I’ve tried before. Simple flavours that worked really well together. It was paired with a surprisingly strong sparkling pear and vodka cocktail.
To finish off the meal we were served coffee and a trio of chocolates. One smooth, one crunchy and one chilli.
Joe Grbac, head chef at Saint Crispin, created the 3 course meal especially for this event and came in to have a little chat with us at the end of the night. The food at Saint Crispin is always outstanding, and what we were served at the Taste By Appointment event was no exception.
Once the meal was done, we were invited next door to Saint Crispin’s bar, Thomas Olive, to try a bespoke martini created with flavours influenced by what we had just learned. I was going to try and use some of my new-found knowledge but to be honest when I walked up to the bar and saw dried mangoes and bananas as two of the options on the plates in front of me my mind instantly said “tropical Martini!”. The cocktail was described to me as it was being made, with lemon juice being added in order to balance the added sweetness that was present in the dried fruit. It was delicious.
My wife went for an umami flavour trip with a bacon and shitake martini which drew quite a few curious looks from those around us. It was different, that’s for sure but it worked.
I was really impressed by the Taste By Appointment even that Grey Goose put on. The drinks were excellent, the food was outstanding and Joe McCanta was not only very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, but a genuinely nice guy to chat to. I had the opportunity to interview McCanta about a few things that were of interest to me, and I think will be of interest to you about the world of food and drink. You can read the interview here.