It's Saturday night in Launceston and while it's all quiet on the main street, one of the world's greatest chefs is unveiling an epic 10-course degustation inside the local Tafe.
Alain Passard is known as the wizard of vegetables, and last week he took the sleepy city by storm as he kicked off TasTafe Drysdale's innovative Great Chefs Series, which sees international culinary masters mentoring hospitality students to produce elaborate one-off banquets for the public.
It's like the grand finale of MasterChef, but no one gets sent home.
Best of the best
The army of TasTafe students – 30 in the kitchen, 30 front of house – are very aware that the opportunity to work alongside the French chef is a major coup. In fact, some of them are shaking a little bit, but that's to be expected.
Passard has been an international culinary force for over 30 years, with his Paris restaurant L'Arpège holding on to its three Michelin stars since 1996.
Dressed in a white linen Indian smock with matching pants and shoes, the charismatic silver fox is far from a headline-grabbing ring-in. He's very much hands-on in the kitchen, carefully slicing, plating and coaching the young apprentices through each course of the seven-hour feast.
Passard, 60, began the day at the Harvest Launceston farmers market, surveying an exceptional array of quality produce to recreate his most iconic dishes. The ingredients included a checklist of Tasmania's finest, including Flinders Island meat, Cape Grim water, Leatherwood honey and Tamar Valley truffles.
Meanwhile design students from TasTafe overhauled the function space as a 'French farmhouse' dining room, with artful piles of wooden boxes overflowing with greenery, and rustic posies on every table.
Passard was still tweaking the menu as the first of 140 guests began to arrive at 6pm, keeping everyone on high alert, including staff from the Josef Chromy vineyard who were responsible for matching 10 glasses of Tasmanian wine with the intricate dishes.
The Great Chefs Series is the initiative of Christopher McGimpsey, education manager at TasTafe, who began the program last year with visits from Jacques Reymond, Donovan Cooke, Mark Best, Tetsuya Wakuda and Dan Hong.
This year he widened his scope, with two more international chefs arriving in Launceston after this week's World's 50 Best Awards in Melbourne. San Francisco's Dominique Crenn will bring her unique touch to the kitchen on Saturday, and sustainability legend Christian Pugsli will follow on April 12.
Through the winter, there will be a host of Aussie culinary guns jetting in to inspire the students, including Guillaume Brahimi, Phil Wood, Mike McEnearney and Hobart-based David Moyle.
It's certainly off to a flying start. The Passard gala was a red carpet smash, with staff and students pulling together for a memorable evening of haute Parisian cuisine in the deep south.
At the end of the dinner, guests had sampled everything from delicate ravioli in consomme to ingenious beetroot tartare; celery risotto with Huon Aquaculture salmon eggs to finely marbelled wagyu from Robbins Island.
With Passard's most famous dessert – a 'bouquet of roses' apple pie – hitting the table well after 1am in the morning, the evening's host Curly Haslam-Coates invited the exhausted students out for a round of applause.
"These are the people who made tonight happen, the next generation of hospitality greats," Haslam-Coates said. "And we need them here in Tassie."
Judging by the talent on show, the state is in good hands.
The Great Chefs Series runs until August 11. View the program here.
The writer was a guest of Tourism Tasmania.