In one of those serendipitous moments, a chance enquiry on Brunyfire’s authors page found me attending a pagan dinner in the candlelit ambience of the Paddington Uniting Church in Sydney the other evening.
Dominique Hage, from Many Hands Events had made contact a while ago having stumbled across Brunyfire’s site seeking advice on cooking chooks in clay for their upcoming pagan feast.Dominique and Yaman Kutlu are passionate about food – they believe strongly in sustainable food practices and like to utilise the produce of small scale food producers in conjunction with artists and designers to create interesting food events. These take place within a range of intimate environments as ‘pop-ups’ that connects intriguing spaces with local businesses and a host of creative individuals to wine and dine an open minded public as a one-off occasion!
Brunyfire’s interest in this particular event was piqued by Dominique’s impeccable pedigree – she is the granddaughter of Tasmania’s own Ambassadors for all things cultural, the late Claudio and Lesley Alcorso. Claudio Alcorso (1913-2000) was a passionate advocate of the best of Tasmania’s creative spirit that included the arts, food, wine and social and environmental justice. An industrialist and winemaker, Alcorso was born in Rome, migrated to Sydney in 1938 and established a fabric industry which he eventually transported to Derwent Park, Tasmania in 1947. Alcorso was a pioneer of the Tasmanian wine-making industry, planting 90 Riesling vines at his property, Moorilla on the edge of the Derwent river during the 1950s.
So hardly surprising that the wine served up on the evening of the pagan feast was a special brew! Richard Harkham of Harkham Wine in the Hunter Valley created a Pagan rosé – a completely natural biodynamic wine fermented in clay amphorae – especially for the evening.
With their emphasis on the natural, Harkham wines are also working on an ‘orange biblical wine project’ where Semillon grapes are fermented in clay amphorae made to the same dimensions as the ancient Romans and in similar working conditions – everything by hand with no electricity! Put simply, ancient Roman wine-making involved treading the grapes quickly by feet after harvesting – similar to the French pigeage. Once the Roman grapes were pressed, they were stored in large earthenware jars known as dolium where fermentation took place from anywhere between 2 weeks to 30 days before the wine was removed and stored. However, I would imagine Richard and his crew (above) would have done things slightly differently from their Roman counterparts!
But on the night, guests were greeted with a choice, and Brunyfire tried the Cabernet Sauvignon in a nice handmade beaker made by a couple of young potters – Milly Dent and Ion Fukazawa. Their stoneware wheel thrown and Chun glazed ‘Sunburnt Goblets’, intend to reflect the appreciation of the sun across cultures and the love of light over darkness. The pair also produced a series of clear glazed marbled slab and pinched platters from foraged and recycled clay that graced the long tables.
(Ion and Milly glazing the slab plates – plates on display at For the Pan)
The heavy cotton tablecloths with their runic symbols were printed by Betony Dircks……………..and provided the necessary absorbency to mop up the slops of the free wheeling bacchanalian boozers!The menu was ‘inspired by the basic pagan classification of the elements: earth, wind, fire and water, and by pagan cooking techniques such as smoking, poaching in milk and cooking meats directly on fire wrapped in clay.’ The Many Hands team ‘experiment with how raw food is culturally transferred b the direct effect of the basic elements or through the mediation of cultural utensils’.
For starters, we were served richly smokey jerusalem artichokes (though a little on the hard side!) – milk poached sea perch with seaweed pesto……………..and then, the ‘pièce de résistance’ – the clay baked chooks with kangaroo, fig and quinoa stuffing……………..that was cracked open with great ceremony and served up with salad greens and sweet potato puree.This was really delicious, and accompanied by the Harkham Cab Sav, made a truly tasty dish. The only minor disappointment of the meal was the dessert (incorrectly spelt on the menu!) – grilled halloumi with walnuts, strawberries and raw chocolate. An interesting combination, but the cheese was way too tough and much too salty which overpowered the fruit and chocolate – a pity.Despite this, Brunyfire enjoyed the evening immensely and was thoroughly entertained by the company of her fellow diners that came from all walks of life and nationalities. Having to return to her island home the next day, Brunyfire decided to leave sober and left the rest of the evening to the dark forces – and to the young………….