Harnessing Tasmania’s Produce With James Boag & James Viles

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MELBOURNE | Once a year, on the first Tuesday of November, The Melbourne Cup “stops the nation”. It seems odd to many outside of Australia that a horse racing event can be such a big deal to the extent that the entire nation gets involved, but Australians will take any chance to celebrate and, if in Victoria, have a day off work. The Melbourne Cup’s success can also be attributed to the fact that it’s much more than a horse race. It’s about catching up with friends and enjoying good food and wine. Whether celebrating at a backyard barbecue, a bar or restaurant, everyone’s out enjoying themselves.

This year The City Lane was invited to the James Boag Harnessed marquee at the Melbourne Cup birdcage and were excited to get the chance to experience the day at Flemington. As part of the event, 12 people were invited to a special lunch “Harnessed by Boag”. James Viles, owner of award winning restaurant Biota Dining recently spent some time in Tasmania courtesy of James Boag and explored some of Tasmania’s harshest environments in search of ingredients and inspiration. His aim with the Melbourne Cup lunch was to harness the rugged spirit of Tasmania’s environment into an 8 course tasting menu.

Tasmania’s reputation as the place to go for the best Australian produce is ever increasing, and we were very excited to see what James had in store for us. To begin was a beautifully rich molasses dark rye with Tasmanian butter along with beef tartare and fresh oysters. The dishes were prepared in front of us and we loved hearing James share stories about the ingredients he was using, the experiences he had in Tasmania and the farmers, growers and producers he met while in Tasmania.

James’ creativity continued into the mains, where a range of dishes that really highlighted the ingredients were presented to us. We had an interesting discussion with James about simplicity and respect for the ingredients – it’s something we’re big fans of and so too is James. It’s no coincidence that Biota Dining is one of New South Wales’ most regarded restaurants – James’ cooking is characterised by impressive fine dining technique yet each dish is, at its heart, all about highlighting the produce.

Raw Ikijime spiked kingfish was served with a dressing of fish roe and smoked, then ground fish bones – a great way of using a part of the fish that’s normally discarded. Southern Calamari was thinly shaved and served as ‘pasta’ with toasted grain broth and samphire. The dressing for the broth was wild sea lettuce, which was hanging above us and tasted completely of the sea. Even the humble leek was transformed into something fantastic – cooked in brown butter with fried saltbush and served with Tongola goat’s curd.

The highlight for many at the table was the Cape Grim Robbins Island Wagyu cooked over coals and served on clay baked beetroot with Shima Wasabi. The meat was beautifully tender and full of flavour while the beetroot was particularly rich and juicy. The wasabi, which was ground fresh in front of us, was unrecognisable to the stuff that most of us associate with wasabi (it’s actually coloured horseradish most of the time). It was interesting to hear about the grazing patterns of the cows on Robbins Island, and the virtues of cooking root vegetables in clay. It was also very interesting to learn about the Tasmanian wasabi industry – it turns out that Tasmania actually exports a lot of high grade wasabi to Japan, and that the majority of the wasabi root (and the hottest part) is actually a beige colour – there’s only a bit of green as the stem begins to join the leaves.

For dessert we were treated to James Boag beer and parsnip ice-cream, followed by ‘The Bee Hive’ – a dish of raw Tasmanian honey, almond creme and wild spring flowers. James got us to try the honey on its own before serving the honey dessert and it was the kind of honey you’d happily eat on its own with a spoon and bowl – very creamy and floral and not sickeningly sweet.

We loved our experience at ‘Harnessed by James Boag’ and were impressed by all of the food that we ate. James was very personable and his passion for the ingredients and his cooking was evident throughout the lunch. With our stomachs full, we went back to the main part of the impressive James Boag marquee and continued to enjoy the festivities of the day with good food, drink and company.

We finished the day with a desire to do two things next year – first, visit Biota Dining in Bowral to experience more of James’ fantastic cooking and second, get down to Tasmania to experience first hand the produce, people and environment.

For a chance to win your own Biota Dining experience for two up to the value of $800, check out the competition over on the James Boag website before 24 November 2016.

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Paul
Paul
Paul founded The City Lane back in 2009 as a place to share photos of his travels around Europe with friends and family. The City Lane might have changed quite a lot since those early days but one thing that’s remained constant is Paul’s passion for food, travel and culture, and a desire to photograph and write about his experiences. Paul has a strong inquisitive nature that drives him to look beneath the surface in order to discover what really makes a city and its people tick, and what better way to do this than over a good meal or drink, with a city’s locals, at places that people who live in that city actually frequent. Paul is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast that may or may not actually be about beer.

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