I am fairly skeptical when it comes to those websites that peddle daily deals that are usually too good to be true, so when a friend of mine mentioned that she had recently taken a cooking class through Living Social, I subscribed more out of curiosity rather than intent. A couple of weeks later, hands-on duck cooking classes were offered at an unbelievable price and when I realised that it was provided by Luv-a-Duck, I didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the discounted offer to participate in the Duck and Pinot Masterclass.
The long awaited day finally arrived and I excitedly arrived early at the Luv-a-Duck retail showroom in Port Melbourne, and meandered around the refrigerated stands selling the extensive range of duck produce, and associated gourmet sauces and condiments. Class participants receive a 10 per cent discount for items purchased on the evening, so I mentally started to prepare a shopping list of things to buy after the class. The chef’s table had been laid out in anticipation and the kitchen stations were ready for action.
The night began in the small classroom area with Wendy, our instructor for the evening, giving a brief overview of the history of the Luv-a-Duck company and the format of the masterclass. We were also introduced to Steve from PinotNow who was supplying the matched pinot wines for the evening. As there were five courses to be prepared and served throughout the night, the class needed to divide into teams of two and proceed into the kitchen, where packages of whole duck and sharp knives were waiting for us.
Wendy demonstrated the process for preparing and cooking a perfect roast duck before moving on to show us how to dissect the duck into smaller portions and extract the duck breasts and marylands for some of the evening’s recipes. Then it was our turn to pick up the knives and get to work on breaking down the duck, which wasn’t always as easy and effortless as Wendy made it appear but fun nonetheless. I tried to imagine myself doing this at home and could only conjure an image of me sailing into my local Foodworks to pick up a couple of pre-packaged duck breasts!
The next task was to volunteer for a course to prepare so I partnered up with a couple of guys to make the Duck and Portobello Mushroom Pie. While Fazil started on preparing the marinade for the duck breasts, Jesper and I set about preparing the shortcrust pastry made with duck fat for the pies. The pastry was extremely easy to make and duck fat seemed to make the pastry soft and malleable. After rolling out the pastry we lined a dozen small ceramic dishes and strangely enough, while it was somewhat labour-intensive, I could readily imagine doing this at home or for a dinner party.
Once finishing the first preparation stage to our recipes, the first entrée course of Smoked Duck with Lentil and Pear Salad was ready to be served. Steve had matched this first course with a 2008 Grey Sands Pinot Noir from Glengarry, Tasmania. With a 92 point rating from James Halliday in the 2011 Australian Wine Companion, this wine was now showing signs of age in the colour and has probably reached its peak. It had a very elegant nose with subtle black cherry aromas and a short finish on the palate. The soft acidity and fine tannins were a good match with the smoked flavour in the dish. This course was exceptional and I started to secretly wish that I had prepared this course so that I could replicate it at home. The lentils were softly cooked in duck stock and the caramelised pears were a wonderful addition to the dish and balanced out the ripe fruit flavours in the wine.
Wendy got the teams back into the kitchen to keep preparing our courses. As the pastry cases were chilling out in the fridge, our little band of three started to prepare the filling for pies. It was fun working together and pretending to be sous chefs so that one person could cook the mixture on the stove while we scrambled about chopping the remaining ingredients and throwing everything into the pot. Somehow we just got our pies filled and into the oven before we were called back to the dining table for the next course.
It was another case of food envy as a plate of Sticky Marmalade Duck Breast with Duck Fat Roast Potatoes was set before me. This dish had been matched with 2011 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon USA. In the WSET 2 course I had studied about premium wines from Oregon but I hadn’t actually tasted one, until now that is. This wine had distinctive floral characteristics and I could smell and taste violets, lilac and cherries but also on the palate the spicy elements of this wine started to evolve. With a white pepper finish, the wine had traces of cinnamon, cloves or Chinese five spice which helped to bring out the Asian flavours in the duck. Beautifully cooked and prepared, the duck breast had been roasted and basted in citrus, ginger, soy and sesame seeds so the wine Steve had selected was quite a good match. This dish is definitely on my must-do list!
With the pies nicely warming in the oven, the last task for the course I was helping to prepare was cooking the Braised Baby Cos and Speck accompaniment. So easy to prepare and yet incredibly delicious, I had never thought to wilt baby cos quarters in a mixture of speck, rosemary, currants, verjuice and vino cotto in a frypan. This dish was matched with a 2010 Domaine Jean-Marc Millot “Aux Faulques” Pinot Noir from Cote de Nuits, France. The wine was elegant in style and its taste resembled a fine, classic burgundy. Although I’m generally not a fan of mushrooms, the mini duck pies were superb and a good choice for a cold Autumn evening.
With my course of the way, I could relax as the next team served the Duck Leg Tagine with Chermoula and Jewelled Cous Cous. This dish had been paired with the 2011 Pisa Range Estate “Run 245” Pinot Noir and as soon as I caught the beautiful bouquet on this wine, I reached for the order form. This wine was award 4 stars or 93 points by Gourmet Traveller Wine Magazine (September 2013) and is finely crafted with distinctive red berry characters and suitable for cellaring. The duck tagine was an array of rich colours and flavours and the spices in the Chermoula paste complemented the wine.
While we were all full and just about ready to head home after a long day, the first team had whipped up a delicious Hot Raspberry Souffle with Rose Petal Cream for dessert. Extremely light and sweet to taste, this was a perfect end to an incredibly fun evening. The only job left to do was to exit through the gift shop with my duck and Pinot purchases ready to take home. Apart from recreating my duck dishes at home, my new hobby is monitoring the daily internet deals for the next Luv-a-Duck special as it was $50 extremely well spent.