Discovering the beauty of regional food
It was a day right out of the box.
Wasabi Restaurant and Bar is among only four Queensland restaurants to make the Financial Review’s Australia’s Top 100 chosen by Australia’s chefs and restaurateurs.
I had heard about it many times but never had the chance to go there.
Yet here was an invitation I could not refuse.
The chance not only to eat there but be given cooking lessons by the best.
The award-winning Japanese restaurant overlooks the waters of Noosa Sound. A prime position shaded from the early afternoon sun yet one that opens up glorious sunsets up the river with the rugged shape of Mt Tinbeerwah silhouetted against the deepening colours.
Now Wasabi has replicated its style with their associated cooking school, a beautiful dedicated space just a few doors up from the restaurant in the Noosa Sound Centre.
Beautifully positioned beside the Noosa Sound Park, The Cooking School Noosa offers exclusive classes with chefs from Wasabi as well as guest chefs from around the country.
The chance to learn to cook food is all about discovering its taste, texture, temperature and flavours.
My mind is flooded with thoughts of growing up on a farm and the way my mother would always have an old black kettle on the wood-fired stove, for when someone dropped by for a cup of tea and a chat.
Mum maintained she could have a batch of scones mixed up and in the oven by the time visitors came up the driveway to the farmhouse.
And she always maintained there would always be enough food for an extra person at dinner … it was just a matter of another one or two potatoes in the pot.
Most times the vegetables were from the farm and they would accompany lamb, beef, chicken, duck or even rabbit raised or caught by Dad, as well as fish caught in the nearby rivers or Westernport Bay.
With these memories in mind I was brought back to reality by the talk and activity in the cooking school.
It was a long journey from farm life to this well-credentialed Noosa restaurant and a day filled with excitement as well as apprehension.
The classes are for the starters and the serious, from home cooks to budding chefs – a chance to get together with friends and family, with work colleagues or loved ones, for a day of fun as well as how to fashion fine fare.
A day to bring out the chef from within if you like, see whether your skills can match it with those on the reality television cooking shows.
The cooking school is luxuriously appointed with the most innovative, high-end Electrolux equipment.
As part of a group of a dozen or so, we soon found the various levels of experience were of little concern to instructor Richard Ousby, the Electrolux ambassador and executive chef of Stokehouse Restaurants in Brisbane and Melbourne.
Everyone paired up and given a variety of tasks – skills to master, food to understand its origins, its preparation and end result.
Richard took it all in his stride and with a certain mindfulness calmly set the program and warmly responded to calls for information, advice and support.
Specific tasks were allocated that ultimately would contribute to the whole menu. One that we would get to enjoy in the restaurant.
It was a joy working with the purity of natural ingredients, including the marvellous plant food gathered from local beaches by Wild Forage Australia.
Other produce is sourced from the restaurant farm, Honeysuckle Hill, located in the Noosa hinterland town of Pomona, where Japanese ingredients, that would otherwise not be available, are grown.
The farm embraces the Japanese system ‘Bokashi’ where all the organic matter from the restaurant, mixed with micro organism activated rice bran, is used to nourish the soil, completing the paddock to plate cycle.
For all other products, Wasabi Restaurant and Cooking School owner Danielle Gjestland ensures supplies are sourced from local farmers, fishermen and producers.
The seafood is caught daily from the Sunshine Coast fishing fleet. This allows them to provide a showcase for some of the lesser-known catches and the techniques used to prepare them.
The philosophy behind Wasabi is contemporary sensibility and the pursuit of their belief in Japanese purity.
This stems from the way the Japanese specialise in a local cuisine that predominantly sources the ingredients from the immediate area.
At Wasabi, they are trying to maintain that aesthetic.
Their menu is designed to showcase seasonal produce mainly from their farm at Pomona, less than 30 minutes from the restaurant and cooking school.
Yet other regional ingredients are included such as the seafood caught daily from the Sunshine Coast fishing fleet.
This allows them to provide a showcase for some of the lesser-known catches and the techniques used to prepare them.
About 70% of the produce for the restaurant is grown at the farm and production has increased to cater for the cooking school as well.
The Cooking School uses hand-crafted Japanese knives from Mr Teiichiro Yamaguchi, a 10th-generation Yoshisada Hamono grand master.
Each knife is hand-crafted in Kyoto with exceptional attention to detail.
Mr Yamaguchi is committed to producing cutting tools of exceptional performance, practicality and beauty.
It is this precision, this pursuit of excellence that sets Wasabi’s culture.
With this introduction it was time to trim the leaves and snap the fruit of the foraged beach succulents to mix in with other salad ingredients.
Then set fire to the macadamia nut kernels in the smoking oven and place the fresh cobia fillets on the hot plate and cover them.
Others were preparing a smoked mussel ragu for the chargrilled swordfish, creating herb puree and chilli dressing or starting on the desserts.
Brandy was added to flambé the sauces in the pans, pineapple roasted in the oven, vanilla custard whisked by hand. It was exciting to see it coming together – to feel the different textures, to smell the aromas as well as the visual delights.
All preparing us for the tasting.
With a sense of expectation we dutifully made our way into the restaurant and observed the privilege we had been offered.
A beautifully set table at the window by the river was waiting for us and as soon as we sat down were served a special sommelier-chosen wine to match the food.
A Kientzler 2012 gewurztraminer from the Alsace to accompany the tuna ceviches, a layer of daikons with a tigers milk marinade including beetroot juice as well as grapefruit juice and ginger.
The other starter was fresh crab tarts with lemon myrtle shells, herbs and crème fraiche.
And to think we had a hand in it … the foraged succulents sprinkled along the top of the tuna.
The experience is enhanced with views of pelicans and red-beaked seagulls dashing into the diamond studded waters where the occasional dinghy or sailing boat drifts across the gently rippling river.
Fishermen trying their luck, stand-up paddle-boarders improving their balance.
Naturally, the conversation inside Wasabi was animated.
A 2016 Luke Lambert chardonnay from Victoria’s Yarra Valley was served with the char-grilled albicore tuna and the smoked cobia with baby cos salad and a seaside dressing.
To finish with we sat back and enjoyed the rum-roasted pineapple with vanilla custard, caramel brioche and fresh passionfruit.
The cooking school when combined with the restaurant experience fulfils the ideal of a perfect recipe – a wonderful day.
But the day does not quite end there, because of the opportunity to ask questions and receive advice from the chef you have now acquired certain delicious skills that can be put to practical use in the home kitchen.
A toast to a day that will live long in memory as well as learned skills.