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Posted by portugalpress on May 19, 2017

It’s one thing to organise a major gastronomic event with a stellar international line-up; it’s quite another to have those same chefs ask to come back. In fact, you could say it’s a whole different ball game. For that reason, for the fourth night of the Fine Wines & Food Fair 2017, Vila Vita Parc’s general manager, Kurt Gillig, and executive chef of the two-star Ocean restaurant, Hans Neuner, came up with the perfect name for the evening: the Vila Vita All Stars Dinner.

Like any great team in the world of sport, the event’s All Stars culinary squad was no different: the crème de la crème of editions past flew over to the Algarve purposely to cook for guests at the resort, and if you had front-row seats, you were certainly in for a treat.

As has become tradition, the chefs were introduced at the Champagne reception, this time at Manzar, the resort’s Moroccan-themed terrace above Atlântico restaurant where the dinner was to take place.

The Netherlands’ Erik van Loo had missed his flight and arrived minutes before (“I’m very relaxed,” he joked), Dieter Koschina from neighbouring two-star Vila Joya couldn’t make it, sending his right-hand-man in his place, and Kurt Gillig forgot to introduce his own resident chef Hans Neuner, amid much laughter. But even so, overlooking the Atlantic on a cloudless but particularly windy evening with a Blanc de Blanc in hand, guests knew it was going to be a special one indeed.

This was the evening with the fewest wines on the menu; rather, it was a matter of carefully selecting five great wines that would match the brilliance of the chefs’ creations.

The first such wine was again a single-varietal but non-filtered Alvarinho, the 2015 Soalheiro Terramatter, poured as chef Hans Neuner announced the first dish, in the Austrian’s typical short-and-sweet fashion: the pretty violet prawn with yuzu, kimchi and daikon radish that we had seen on the first night.

The next two dishes followed the seafood theme, and whose vibrance was such that, sometimes, only a Riesling will do. With the producer Wilhelm Weil in attendance, guests were served from a magnum of 2013 Robert Weil Kiedrich Gräfenberg Riesling GG, which paired with the simply superb (an undeniably unanimous verdict) dish from Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan.

The three-star Belgian chef is known for creating food intent on touching all the senses, and his locally sourced carabineiro (scarlet prawn) encased in a dim sum of butternut squash from his restaurant’s garden, did just that. Tangy passion fruit, the subtle vanilla flavour of the tonka bean and cardamom blended with the prawn bisque, poured at the table by the chef himself and the rest of the Dream Team.

From Rotterdam’s two-star Parkheuvel, Erik van Loo was next to announce the dish that he made for the first time in 1992, a delicate piece of langoustine sitting atop a ravioli, filled with Bresse chicken; an elegant surf & turf dish crowned with miniature mushrooms and a lobster sauce.

Hans’s next dish – as Instagrammable as ever – was a meat-lover’s dream. A deep red fillet of Wagyu beef with an interpretation of ravioli shared the plate with tiny steppe mushrooms and caviar. The Krug Grand Cuvée was an inspired pairing.

Pigeon has become a bit of a signature of fellow Austrian Dieter Koschina, this time taking on a delicious tropical form with coconut and the small, sweet banana from Madeira. Texture-wise it was just divine; the meat was tender and prepared in various forms, with the pink breast sitting in a rich jus.

It was an interesting menu, the first year the event has seen different chefs each create a dish, but plate after plate proved that the overall effect was outstanding nonetheless, in great part because of Klaus Erfort’s venison offering. The German chef stayed true to his philosophy – one that has earned him three Michelin stars – of drawing the maximum flavour from just a few ingredients, serving a perfectly tender piece of venison hidden beneath a glossy layer of beetroot, with cabbage and plump chanterelle mushrooms. Both dishes were paired with the red Reserva blend from the resort’s Alentejo country estate of Herdade dos Grous.

For those, like me, who had swooned over the popcorn, strawberry and lemon dessert on Tuesday night, we were more than happy to see the return of the creation from Márcio Baltazar, this time paired with a Late Harvest from Douro producer Rozès. But Ocean’s pastry chef had another trick up his sleeve with the second and final dessert of the evening: a tongue-tingling citrus ice cold ‘tower’, described as ‘stones’ with lime caviar, which resembled a sponge but could easily have been a cloud, so light was its texture, milk and pines.

It was a slam dunk. A touchdown. A home run. The All Stars are at the top of their game.

By CRISTINA ALCOCK

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