I’ve had the good fortune over the years to follow West Australian black truffle across the world. I’m a truffle groupie you could argue. As a former co-director for the annual Truffle Kerfuffle (2016-18) I worked with visiting chefs of the highest calibre – Mark Best, Marianne Lumb, Bruno Loubet, Guy Grossi and Duncan Welgemoed to name a few – alongside our state’s own brigade of talent. Just when I think I’ve seen the best crop of truffle dishes a season could present, the next rolls around, and I’m again in thrall to Tuber melanosporum and the imagination of those who frame dishes around it. This year is no exception.
The dining room at Vasse Felix is silent; white covers shroud every surface, the restaurant still in its coronavirus hiatus. While chef Brendan Pratt is eyeing a late June opening, he’s also had time to plan his new menu and a special WA Good Food Guide, Truffles Unearthed dinner. I’ve always found Pratt to be a humble chef. There’s no showiness in his demeanor, little posturing, which belies the fact that he’s one of the state’s best.
“It’s an entrée and we’re just working out how big we want to make it,” he says of the steamed black pudding bun in front of me. It’s the size of a large crumpet, laid on a square of brown paper, the black pudding element scrolling through the bun.
The inspiration was a street snack tasted on a work trip to Taiwan: a glazed black pudding cooked over coals. “When we got back, I tried to make black pudding that had that kind of sweet and spiced flavour going on. It’s got loads of ginger in it, shallots, garlic and Shaoxing wine,” he says. “We had all these different ideas and it has evolved into this.”
“It’s kind of a black pudding steamed bun with burnt butter and truffle,” says Pratt. Of an unctuous sauce that he spoons on top he says “we took a tuna loin, cured, smoked, dried and then minced it, before turning it into a soy sauce. So, it’s just super smoky and umami-ish. There’s a bit of vinegar and then burnt butter and egg to bring it together.” On the one hand Pratt is matter of fact but on the other you sense he knows he’s on to a winner. Taking a decent sized specimen from The Truffle & Wine Co., Pratt rains down truffle on the dish. The verdict: his newest creation takes a top spot in my best truffle dishes, anywhere.
At Wills Domain, chef Seth James is also in menu planning mode. A week earlier chatting on the phone James mused on pigeons cooked in barley, a beetroot tarte tatin with truffle and hinted at a meeting of the Southern Forests with the Indian Ocean. It’s this that he’s perfecting when I visit his Yallingup kitchen. Shark Bay scallop from Fins Seafood is cured in miso, layered in a circular construction with black truffle from The Truffle & Wine Co. Formed on a base of apple and truffle cream with crème fraiche there’s a freshness to James’ work. Picture perfect as is, there’s a final touch: a warm chicken vinaigrette.
“I’ve been on a bit of a congee, okayu [rice porridge] quest recently with the weather,” says Leeuwin Estate’s Head Chef, Dan Gedge. I’ve started thinking about a buckwheat okayu dish with truffle, mushrooms, seaweed and lightly smoked Southern Forests trout. Lots of umami from the seaweed and onion soy, and a light trout bone dashi and chicken stock. Then puffed buckwheat and lots of truffle. Maybe even some trout roe if the Blue Ridge guys have it. I’m thinking elegant, rich and comforting. A dish very much still on my pad and in my head but hope I hope to be working more on it soon.”
In Perth Jed Gerrard, Executive Chef at the Ritz-Carlton’s signature restaurant Hearth finds being city based no impediment. Gerrard has made a career out of his connection to land and sea; his menu at Hearth is complete with a produce map.
“I like pairing with things from the Southern Forests region,” he says. “Nice, earthy kind of flavours. We’ll be changing the menu weekly for now but things to expect will be the likes of our celeriac dish. We bury it in coals in the hearth and then glaze it with a vegetable jus that has truffle in it. We baste with that jus and then serve it with a Hall’s Suzette [a Pont L’Eveque style, soft washed rind cheese] from Hall’s Family Dairy in Wokalup.”
While Gerrard hails the marron from Manjimup producer Blue Ridge, like Dan Gedge, he is also enamoured by the rainbow trout. “I grew up down there and I used to go fishing in the Donnelly River. It was a prized fish to catch in the rivers because there’s a lot of Red Fin Perch in the waterways – a real pest. It’s great that Blue Ridge are raising them. It takes up the smoke and the earthy flavours of the grill and the truffles really well.”
Fine dining menus won’t be the only place to find black truffle this season. “We take the simple approach,” says Joel Valvasori of casual but accomplished pasta bar Lulu La Delizia. ”It’s a fresh product and we take it when it’s at its best and we make things that are already great and add truffle awesomeness; showing the truffle as it should be. Four cheese gnocchi for example. It’s already going to be amazing but the truffle just pushes it further. We don’t have truffle signature dishes as such, we simply adapt the menu as we go.”
I’ve seen first-hand what Amy Hamilton can do with a truffle. Her Truffle Kerfuffle appearances included a most memorable cassoulet with truffle. But in-situ at Liberte in Albany she’s dreaming of bringing back truffle pho, or its French cousin a pot-au-feu. Then there’s “the bloody truffle loaded fries,” their most liked Instagram post of 2019. On Hamilton’s mind is the return of a Liberte classic. “Our first Liberté menu had the haute dog. It could be fun to do that again with a bratwurst and a little truffle mustard.”
The chefs mind is now firing on the possibilities, throwing out a Viet-inspired sausage roll. “It’s called a pâté chaud, a puff pastry with pork mince and vermicelli rice noodles. It lends itself pretty well to having truffle on it with the pork and mushroom in it. I’d probably put a bit of truffle in it and then go for gold with the microplane.”
For more truffle indulgence check out the Truffles Unearthed dining series with events in Perth and the South West – click here