That post title sounds impressive, doesn’t it? It was! Recently I was invited to attend a MasterChef MasterClass with Ben MacDonald, a 2014 MasterChef Australia finalist. It took me about 30 seconds to accept.
Arriving at Palazzo Versace is very impressive. The mosaic stone driveway leading to the Roman colonnade instantly conveys elegance and attention to detail and that’s what you’ll find throughout the hotel. It does remind me of an upscale Vegas hotel, beautifully decorated with friendly, welcoming staff.
Once inside I was met by the event management and taken to the Vanitas restaurant where I was introduced to Ben MacDonald who is so friendly and down-to-earth that I didn’t feel at all like the poor country cousin. In fact, I mentioned to Kel Constantine, the marketing manager, that I’d stayed at the resort across the street several times because I didn’t think I was posh enough for the Palazzo Versace. She laughed and said that she hears that a lot and nothing could be farther from the truth.
‘We’re a great resort hotel with guests from around the world and everyone feels welcome here,’ Kel told me. Honestly, I expected to find fashionistas who’d look at my gladrags and roll their eyes. It didn’t happen. I had the best day there.
The class of 16 was full and the attendees ranged from those who couldn’t cook very well at all to some who were quite expert to begin with. Everyone was friendly and the room had a great vibe.
Ben MacDonald had an excellent assistant in Charles Duffin, the Palazzo Versace’s Executive Sous Chef. He’s been cooking professionally for 42 years and there’s little about food and its preparation that Charles doesn’t know. I instantly liked him.
The menu for the day that we watched (and helped) Ben make was also the lunch we all enjoyed.
Entrée: Pan Fried Scallops, Braised Daikon, Chorizo Crumb and Romesco Sauce
Main Course: Pan Fried Snapper with Asparagus, Fennel Puree and Orange Miso Reduction
Dessert: Pepper Roasted Pineapple with Coconut Gelato
When I saw Ben pull out the Thermomix, I knew I was in for a treat. I use my Thermomix all the time but I doubt my food equals his and it was a great opportunity to see how I could lift my game in the kitchen.
This was a beautiful plate of food. Scallops and I are not the best of friends but look to the center left of this photo and you’ll see that Ben has shaped and braised the daikon to look just like a scallop. Perfect for me!
The cooking began with making the romesco sauce (recipe below). The red capsicums/bell peppers had already been roasted over a flame and charred skin removed, the tomatoes had already been cored and seeded, the sourdough bread had been turned into cubes and pan fried in olive oil and the tomatoes and almonds had been roasted in the oven for about 10 minutes and the garlic for about 30 minutes. The hard work had already been done, but Ben showed every step for those who weren’t experienced in the kitchen.
Everything but the oil went into the Thermomix and whizzed while he added the oil slowly until he got the consistency he was looking for. The aroma of that sauce made my heart beat just a bit faster.
The sauce finished and we moved on to the main course of pan fried snapper. Ben began making the orange miso reduction, the fennel puree and then moved on to pan frying the snapper. While the fish was cooking he pan fried the asparagus and really, in a very short amount of time, that dish was plated.
The dessert was really outstanding. The pineapples were sliced lengthways and roasted before making a sauce of brown sugar, honey, cinnamon stick, star anise and 2 teaspoons of Szechwan pepper and 2 teaspoons of black pepper and 4 cloves.
The coconut gelato was made from coconut milk, runny honey, icing/confectioner’s sugar and the juice of half a lime. Before serving the pineapple and sauce was garnished with a mix of toasted dessicated coconut, brown sugar and 4 teaspoons of pink peppercorns. The gelato went on top.
Once the cooking was done it was time for the eating. The Vanitas staff prepared the menu for the 16 of us plus a few staff who joined us. I wish you’d been with me as we dined and drank wonderful wine served by French sommelier Cyril Thevenet.
Once the meal was finished I had a stroll around the place before driving back home to the Sunshine Coast. I know I’m going to stay at the Versace next time I need to be on the Gold Coast. This is a regular hotel room.
The pool is really beautiful and this photograph courtesy of the Palazzo Versace shows just how close the hotel is to the water.
Just next door is an upscale shopping center where John and I bought our first art work for our home. His Australian-ness and my American-ness meant that we were always going to clash so when we looked at a beautiful nude sketch he said, “I don’t hate that,” and I said, “I don’t hate that either,” so we bought it. It’s still a favourite.
Waterside just outside the Vie Bar and Restaurant is the marina so you can arrive by car or by boat.
My friend Marj Osborne who does restaurant reviews all over the Gold Coast was also at the masterclass. She asked some of the best questions about MasterChef like how does one get a spot and what’s a shooting day like. You can read her review on her blog at Food Gold Coast. Marj is the reason I don’t often review restaurants – she’s REALLY good at it.
My thanks to Kel and the marketing staff at Palazzo Versace for inviting me to be a guest at this masterclass.
- 2 red capsicums/bell peppers
- 2 tomatoes, core removed
- 6 cloves garlic
- ½ onion
- 1 medium chilli
- 100g almonds
- 1 slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
- 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
- 40ml sherry vinegar
- 100ml olive oil
- salt and pepper
- Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.
- Wrap the garlic in foil with a dash of olive oil, then place on a tray in the oven with the tomatoes and chilis.
- Char the capsicums/peppers over a gas flame until blackened all over (if you don’t have gas you can use a blow torch or just place them in the oven with the other ingredients). Place in a sealed bag or bowl covered in cling film so as to not let the heat escape. Leave to steam for 10-20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes in the oven, remove the tomatoes, chili and garlic and allow to rest a couple of minutes until cool enough to handle. Remove the skins from the roasted vegetables and also the seeds from the chili, then roughly chop and place in a blender.
- Fry the bread in a little olive oil until browned. Tear into pieces and add to the blender.
- Carefully remove the black skin from the capsicum and also any seeds and ribs from the inside. Roughly chop and add to the blender.
- When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and seeds and discard. Roughly chop the remaining flesh.
- Roast the almonds in the oven for 3 - 4 minutes until lightly roasted but not coloured. Add to the blender along with the sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.
- Blend the ingredients until they form a smooth paste and then with the blender running, add the remaining olive oil slowly so that it emulsifies. The sauce should be textured and rough, rather than smooth. You can pass it through a fine sieve if desired, but it is typically served as is.
- Check the seasoning of the sauce and adjust as necessary with salt, pepper and vinegar (or a touch of lemon juice).
Taste of Beirut says
Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and exclusive experience with us! I’m glad you had a great time!
What a place! Such stunning detail and design in everything. Wow! The Masterclass looks and sounds like a lot of fun. Love that scallop like daikon. Great post Maureen. Thanks for sharing this experience. 🙂
Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen says
What a lovely experience, although I think I would have taken on 27 seconds to accept. The food looks gorgeous – elegant but with sufficient quantities to make a sturdy Irish lass like me feel that she wasn’t going to go away starving!
Those plates look amazing, especially the scallops! I love a hotel that feels fancy, but isn’t pretentious – looks like you had a great time!
Choc Chip Uru says
What an exciting experience my friend, sounds like an awesome time 😀
That tropical dessert really caught my eye!
Choc Chip Uru
Chris Scheuer says
What a fun day you had but I think maybe you should have been teaching the class 🙂
Suzy @ The Mediterranean Dish says
Wow! I am a tad jeleous:-) To be a fly on the wall at such an event! Thanks for sharing. Beautiful pictures and detail.
John@Kitchen Riffs says
Sounds like a great time! And good to see Romesco Sauce — it has such great flavor, and I almost never see it on restaurant menus these days (and haven’t made it myself in years; need to remedy that!). Fun read — thanks.
Lizzy (Good Things) says
Wow, what a fabulous masterclass experience, Maureen! I wasn’t sure who Ben is, but recognised his face. Lovely recipe too.
Wonderful experience, gosh, I wish I could have been there to enjoy your company!
The fact that the sous chef is a feast for the eyes doesn’t bother me either 😉 (with all due respect….)
They were both cute with wonderful personalities. The young MasterChef had great ideas but the seasoned professional knew all the tricks.
Thank you for sharing your experience! Everything looks beautiful! From the resort to the food!
wow, what an honor! Beautiful hotel, looks like a lot of fun! 🙂
Stephanie - The Dessert Spoon says
What fun! I’ve always wanted to go to Palazzo Versace; it looks so posh!
All the food looks gorgeous!
Hotly Spiced says
Interesting how both the entree and main were seafood! I do love Palazzo Versace but I’ve only wandered around it; not yet been fortunate enough to be a guest. My parents have friends who own an apartment there and they let mum and dad stay there whenever they like – we both need friends like that! xx
I’d stayed across the street many times and we shopped at Marina Mirage heaps of times but I always figured Versace was too posh for my physique. 🙂
Rachel (Rachel's Kitchen NZ) says
Sounds as if you had a great day – Maureen – and a fabulous meal. We are watching Aus Masterchef here in NZ at the moment, so feel as if I know Ben:)
Anna @ shenANNAgans says
Holy smokes. What a wonderful experience. How freakin cool is the hotel?! Looks like you had one tasty fun filled day. 🙂
Joanne T Ferguson says
G’day What a great experience Maureen and great photos of the class!
I ABSOLUTELY LOVED out stays at Palazzo Versace as one is truly treated like royalty!
Nice to see another Masterchef contestant find his niche! Remember Ben well . . . don’t think surnames ever came up 🙂 ! Also know the place well – that is what living six years on the Coast does . . . personally not quite ‘my cup of tea’ but it looks a wonderful day was had by all!! And I am genuinely glad for the guy . . . 🙂 ! Nice recipes too: shall copy this Romesco . . .
wok with ray says
Wow! That place looks amazing! 🙂
Veronica (Roni) says
Oh you lucky ducky…thanks for sharing a wonderful experience with us all :)) xx
Helen | Grab Your Fork says
Loving the sear on those scallops. And what a view!
Laura (Tutti Dolci) says
What an impressive place and the food looks incredible! You lucky girl :).
What a lovely opportunity, especially if you do get to learn new things or reinforce existing practices.
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says
How fabulous! Thanks for giving us a glimpse into life there. I’ve always wondered what it was like 😀
Victoria of Flavors of the Sun says
What an exceptional class! And thanks for the romesco recipe. It is one of my favorite sauces, and the use of sourdough bread instead of regular intrigues me. I can imagine that it adds one more subtle layer of flavor.
Lucy @ Bake Play Smile says
I am so massively jealous right now!!! What an amazing experience at such a gorgeous venue. I actually went there for a drink on the weekend as we were staying across the road – so gorgeous with their lovely Christmas trees! Just beautiful! xx
In the past we have always stayed across the road and then shopped at the Marina Mirage. I’ll stay at the Versace next time. 🙂
Emma @ Bake Then Eat says
What a fantastic experience, you are so lucky sounds like it was a fun day!
Wow, that looks like a great experience. How fun!! Thanks for sharing some lovely pictures.
I haven’t make seafood in a while, and the dishes look good.
That pineapple dish looks fantastic! What a lucky day you had, and such an opulent venue.
Thanks for sharing your experience, looks like you had great time! What a beautiful hotel and enjoyable cooking class! That gelato sounds amazing! And of course I love the Romesco sauce, so flavorful , can’t wait to try it 🙂
sherry mackay from sherryspickings says
what a wonderful day you must have had maureen. everything looks so marvellous. yes i have always thought the same about the versace- that i would be sneered at by the fashionistas! but it looks so very nice!
the food you all made looks really good too!
I LOVE how you and John picked out your first artwork. 🙂 I’m so glad we’re not the only Aussie/North American couple who has such stark differences in taste and culture. 🙂 This cooking class sounds fantastic! And what a stunning setting. I’m so glad you felt comfy there. 🙂
That scallop entree looks amazing. Worth the drive for this alone. What a great day and the Palazzo Versace is magnificent. How lucky were you to attend this function and thank you for sharing your day with us Maureen x
What a glorious day! The setting takes the breath away. I’m with John?I haven’t seen or made a Romesco sauce in ages, but your travelogue and recipe share makes me feel like I’ve had a master class.
Oh my goodness!
This is an amazing and orgasmic honor!
I bow down to your culinary authority and expertise as a result of your recognition!
As my sister and I say, “WOWZA!”
Sounds like you had a great time Maureen. The location is stunning indeed.
Sugar et al. says
What a beautiful location…makes me think of going on a holiday this instant! I am a huge fan of Masterchef Australia and I can see how lovely this experience was. Thanks for sharing this.
Nagi@RecipeTin Eats says
Will you be sharing a photo of the lovely piece you and John selected together that neither of you hate? You could blur out the rude bits!! I’m so jealous. SO so jealous!! My, what a hard day! I hope you took some R&R time by the pool.
Oh my gosh – I LOVE Palazzo Versace!! I went for a weekend earlier this year and had the Best Time! I’m very unglamorous too, and didn’t feel out of place, haha.
PS Room Service there is the best – definitely splash out if you do end up going!!! 🙂
This class looks like a great experience for you, I’m very jealous! 🙂
I’m very impressive! What a Lucky girl you are!! It’s like a dream go to a place like that. Everything is beautiful 🙂
David Crichton says
What an amazing day out Maureen. I am totally jealous and sad for you at the same time. I can’t believe you can’t eat scallops, they are my favourite thing ever.
Great location. Would have taken me 5 seconds, not 30!!
Kate @ Babaganosh.org says
Wow, what a fun opportunity! Do you have any idea how such a random group of people were chosen, from people who couldn’t cook to those that are experienced? I can totally see why you were invited, but where’d they find the other people?
Those scallops look amazing, I totally would have volunteered to take those off your plate. 🙂
Oh only Marj and I were invite guests. This was a commercial venture by the Palazzo Versace and the tickets were $165 I think. It might be a bit more but I’m doing 10 things at once today. 🙂