A day with Tony Bilson | Gourmand and Gourmet

A day with Tony Bilson

  • Food & Booze
I was asked to go to a cooking class last week with no clear mention of location or expert. (I’ve learnt to say yes without asking these questions lest I miss out on an amazing experience). I opened my inbox, revealing an invite to enjoy a one-off cooking lesson from Tony Bilson, the Godfather of Australian cuisine, at the very French Lutece on Macgregor Terrace, Bardon with our host chef Romain Bapst. The starry eyed apprentice chef, still trapped inside this funky nanna’s body, was very excited to say the least. Tony Bilson is credited with changing Australia’s food culture. He was revolutionising the way we eat before such a thing as a celebrity chef existed. In the past 40 years he’s been responsible for some of the most iconic restaurants in Australia and has nurtured world famous chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda and owned the iconic Berowra Waters Inn on the Hawkesbury River. I arrived to find a group of other eager cooks engaged in convivial conversation over house-made croissants and coffee. I very cheekily introduced myself to Chef, remembering my copy of “A Fine Family Table” (that I’d put out for Chef to sign) was still sitting on my kitchen table. His recipes are drawn from the French style and are beautifully simple. Classy cooking! The class began with a Baba aux poires comme une tatin or loosely translated; a pear tart tatin using a yeast baba dough instead of puff paste. Chef is a very accommodating cook and hinted that we could use a Greens packet cake over our caramel and pears with the addition of extra eggs and lemon zest for richness in the dough. I’m liking him more and more. Pike eel was prepared for our entree by rubbing with salt and sugar, then rolled and frozen to allow a paper thin slice for Carpaccio served with micro herbs, caviar and basil oil. The heavy oil in the flesh is perfect for this as the cell structure doesn’t get broken down with freezing and it has a flavour and texture similar to salmon. Chefs’ aim is to convert us to the eating pleasures of pike eel and I’ve definitely been converted. He then pulled out some duck legs to debone, stuff with foie gras and cook at approx 58C in a water bath for his grilled confit of duck stuffed with foie gras, ratte potatoes with spinach, ceps and pigs trotter sauce bordelaise. Foie gras was opened ready to be sliced and stuffed into the deboned legs. An imagined round of bread along with a generous taste of the fattened goose liver suddenly appeared to appreciative gasps. If I’d written the score for “A Sound of Music”, this would have certainly made it onto a list of my favourite things. I requested a lick of the duck jelly bowl for the sauce bordelaise. If the stock jelly was good, the sauce was going to be magnificent; and it was! This was going to be a dish eaten with my eyes closed. Whilst Chef was showing us all the intricacies and helpful hints for the recipes included in his Masterclass, the Lutece Chefs, were busily preparing the same dishes for their lunch service. We were seated and each course that we had observed was placed before us along with matching wines. Chef played host with the most, delivering plates to awaiting tables, playing to a very appreciative audience. It was an afternoon I will long remember and as an aside, Chef has generous hands. Words by nims xx