The truffle season is upon us, and with it comes the race among chefs and bartenders to find new ways to reinvent its place in your next dining experience and cocktail menu.
The luxury item, which can fetch up to $2500 a kilo, is right at home on a Chinese degustation menu to a cheese toastie. But if you really want to impress your friends, infuse your vodka, tequila or gin with fresh truffle shavings at home to earn extra foraging points among your peers.
Yu Kitchen's Head Chef Bernard Kong brings a touch of Chinese cooking style to the truffle experience this season. Best known for running Crown Casino's Silks Restaurant and earning 2 Chefs Hats from the prestigious Gault & Millau Restaurant Guide, Kong takes traditional Chinese dishes and infuses them with truffle for a luxury kickback – taking us on a sweet, savoury and salty journey along the way.
"The recent cold snap has seen the truffle skins burst and really enhance and bring out the flavour," says Kong, who sourced truffles from WA and Victoria for his restaurant.
"Some people like to use truffle in traditional dishes like beef, chicken and mushroom, but we're all about taking some risks too," he says.
"Diners who are paying for truffles what to see how far we can take it, and that's what the Chinese degustation is all about," he adds.
Taste the journey
Kong combines truffle with abalone – and adds green apple, cucumber and celery to take on a palette-cleansing role while the abalone and truffle remain fragrant friends when served side by side.
There's hokkaido scallop wrapped in Yunnan ham, truffle and pumpkin veloute – think sweet pumpkin infused with truffle, salty ham and an extra fresh truffle presence floating on top of the scallop.
For a quirky take on tradition, Kong takes the iconic drunken free-range chicken roulade and adds velvet truffled egg and asparagus fried rice for the ultimate mop your plate experience.
"This dish is big in China, Singapore and Hong Kong and we've made truffle eggs with fried rice so you can fold it through and enjoy the fragrance from all ingredients. It's a modern cooking technique with a Chines touch," says Kong.
In Sydney, a truffle degustation dinner kicks off the season at The Gantry.
The two and a half hour expedition (six courses) is priced at $160 per person (food only, an additional $89 per person for matching wines) and showcases truffles from the Canberra and NSW Highland region. Think camembert stuffed with truffle, goose liver parfait with truffle and a luxurious spanner crab chawanmushi with truffle and Jerusalem artichoke truffle for a high-end rush.
According to The Gantry's Head Chef Thom Gorringe; the seasonality and demand for truffles keeps him on his toes in the kitchen.
"When you only have a small window of time to access the ingredient, it creates an extra buzz around it," says Gorringe.
"And using high end ingredients like truffle means you're time is limited and diner wants to see what you've come up with next. The key is not to overcomplicate the dishes and truffles shouldn't be clouded with too many other flavours either," he says.
"That's the secret really. But I'd suggest diners to head into and experience truffle season – you've got until early to mid August if we're lucky. And my hot tip is don't substitute with truffle oil – experience the real deal – you won't go back."
A toast to truffle
When it comes to cocktails, truffles have also found a spot at the bar. According to Bar Manager Cara Devine at Bomba Rooftop Bar in Melbourne, you can infuse truffles in vodka, gin or tequila and it won't damage the shelf life of the spirit.
For the ultimate post-dinner cocktail, she's created the Truffled Tiger – a take on the classic Brandy Alexander – but made in a dairy free version with a nod to the restaurant's Spain roots.
"Truffles are a difficult flavour to work with because they're quite pungent, so a little goes a long way in a cocktail," says Cara Devine.
"The Brandy Alexander is cream based after dinner cocktail and we've used this as a base because truffle works well with fat – it rounds it out, but instead of using traditional dairy fat – we have tiger nut milk which is popular in Spain and doesn't feel as heavy to drink."