Gastronomic Birthday Feast with Alex Poltera

 Alex Poltera Birthday
 Alex Poltera
I would recommend this experience to everyone, for anyone. It really was such a special treat and a fantastic foodie journey. Thanks again to Jackie and her team for facilitating such a memorable birthday for me.
— Alex Poltera / Chef - Fern Hill Hotel

"Wine Pairing at Jackie Cameron School of Food & Wine"

A few weeks ago, I was treated to a gastronomic birthday feast and wine pairing at Jackie Cameron School of Food and Wine. We arrived in the early evening to the beautiful location – the sun was setting, casting the early autumn light into the glass-walled seating area of the school. A table awaited us with elements set to create one of my most beloved beverages. The gin of choice on this occasion was our local Inverroche Verdant, accompanied by Fitch and Leedes Indian Tonic Water and choices of garnish such as grapefruit, mint and orange (amongst others). This created a fun, interactive arrival drink with all guests choosing different combinations to create unique and interesting flavours. After a chat, we posed for the obligatory group photo which took longer than anticipated as various victims tried to work out my camera settings, resulting in about fifty almost identical photos.

We were ushered down into the wine cellar which was set for us with a simple and natural wholesome theme. The under plates were slices of rough wood contrasted with Willow china blue crockery. The beautiful low-ceilinged underground room with the round table and leather chairs made me feel like part of the Mafioso until an incredibly extensive bread board with accompaniments was brought to us. A large wooden platform of beer-steamed mealie bread, chilli bites, patta and Jackie's famous health bread was placed in front of us along with amaqheqhe (maas curd), butter and spinach spoom. Again, this created a fun, interactive experience which really focused on perfecting the basics and making a spectacle of an otherwise usually overseen course. The first dish was 'Miso Marinated Cold-Sliced Scallop with Home-Picked Avocado and Mojito Dew Drop.' We were instructed to have the mojito sphere before eating, to cleanse our pallets. The little bubble explodes in one's mouth leaving an intense, clean and minty effect. The scallop was particularly large and the umami flavour of the miso worked a treat with the avocado. The wine pairing was the Cape of Good Hope's Altima Sauvignon Blanc which went perfectly with a dish that was definitely a fantastic way to whet our appetites for the rest of the meal.

Next up was the 'Smoked Mussel Soup with Fond Seaside Memories' – a dish made very well-known after it was served to five hundred people a few years ago at the Eat Out Awards dinner. We were each given a handcrafted pottery bowl containing a host of exciting intricacies. Looking into the bowl made sense of the 'Seaside Memories' part of the title, as it made one reminisce about exploring a rock pool at the beach. Then came the soup part which was poured into the bowl. Each mouthful dealt a fascinating culinary experience. From the very first spoonful to the last, none were the same. Different combinations created by the varying elements made for an exciting and enticing course, leaving the guests to work out unusual flavours such as intense cocoa, fennel and nori. The paired wine this time around was the Vondeling's Babiana 2014.

We then moved on to the 'Crispy Midland's Duck Breast with Porcini Mushroom Puree and Forest-Floor 48 Hour Dried Vegetables.' This course was paired with a slightly chilled Newton Johnson's Walker Bay Pinot Noir. Yet another beautiful plate was put in front of us and the red wine jus was drizzled over its contents at the table. The combination of the perfectly-cooked duck with the earthy mushroom puree made for something really special. It was a dish that wholeheartedly let you know that it was created for Autumn going into Winter. It demonstrated again how, if done correctly, simple flavours and ingredients can give offer something truly special. The Pinot Noir outlined and improved the savoury flavours, especially that of the mushroom puree.

We opted for a rest before our next courses to allow some of the food to be digested. This was a good call as thereafter came the dish of the day for me. 'Midlands' Chicken with Confit Coq-au-Vin, Dumplings and "Your" Greens'. This dish was a tremendous representation of the humble chicken. Tender slices of chicken breast atop shredded confit coq-au-vin with a rich reduction sauce, peas, squishy but light dumplings, parmesan shavings and a brilliant white espuma. It was truly delicious in every way and accompanied with Shannon Mount Bullet Merlot 2012, which was deep and rich and paired stunningly well, making it an exciting and superb course.

Our dessert was 'Hint of Gold Marshmallows with Honey Mead Cream, Almond Dragees, Granadilla Sorbet and Fresh Granadilla' paired with Waterford's Family Reserve Heatherleigh NV. Soft, stretchy marshmallows with light sponge, sweet intense cream, tart granadilla and dark chocolate coated almonds. It was yet another exciting, interactive course, encouraging interesting flavour combinations. As per my request, the dessert wasn't overly sweet. I really enjoyed the combination of flavours and textures.

After this enormous meal, we were all ready to crawl out of the cellar, into the car, and straight into bed. We were given some coffee and started preparing ourselves for the thought of having to get up. Next came the ominous sight of two large cake stands with a different cake on each. The first cake placed before me was a dark chocolate cake, dripping with shiny ganache and lathered with fresh whipped cream. Behind that was a savoury cheese cake topped with nuts, poached pears and crumbled blue cheese. I was in awe. It was a complete surprise and a very generous gift from Jackie and her team. I was also in awe of myself as I managed to make space to taste them both! They were both exquisite and topped off the evening perfectly. (Again). Luckily, I was allowed to take the cakes home with me as none of us could really do any justice to them after the feast we had experienced!

I would recommend this experience to everyone, for anyone. It really was such a special treat and a fantastic foodie journey. Thanks again to Jackie and her team for facilitating such a memorable birthday for me.