This review by Randy Lee Svendsen of a promotional dinner in Beijing featuring Chef Graham Brown and Mountain River Venison appears in the Grand Hotels (大酒店) publication, May 2018.
Randy Lee Svendsen, from The United States of America, lives and works in Beijing as Grand Director of 1421 Wines, the world's first Chinese wine traceable to international standards for food safety and quality. He works in the spirit of Admiral Zheng He and the Ming Dynasty for a better world for wine in China. Please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. A long-term devotee of "Fine Dining and Wine", the Bon Vivant studies Chinese History and Culture and has developed a refined taste in appreciating and collecting art. Prompted by his passion toward the nectar and ambrosia, Randy performs reviews of hotel restaurants and resorts, returning prompt and insightful responses based on his personal experience and first hand information. Here, we would like to share with you Randy's latest experiences.
I was so happy to be invited by Chef de Cuisine, Christoph Zoller, to attend a very special dinner he was planning at The Cut restaurant in Fairmont Beijing Hotel. The dinner was advertised as CHEF GRAHAM BROWN AT THE CUT, Presenting a Fusion Venison Experience with a Craft Beer Pairing.
Chef Graham Brown is an expert in working with New Zealand venison. Recognized internationally as a leading Chef and culinary arts innovator, Graham Brown joined New Zealand Venison in 1991 as their executive Chef and international Ambassador. In this role he travels the world promoting the virtues and superior quality of the premium New Zealand farmed venison to Chefs and consumers through educational demonstrations at top culinary schools, participation in top food shows and events worldwide, and demonstrating his favorite preparations of the distinctive meat on television for the home cook.
Chef Graham Brown has presented at the North American National Restaurant Association show in May 2010 on their international culinary stage. Graham was also invited to guest Chef with the legendary Charlie Palmer at his restaurant in Sonoma, California, and to present workshops and dinners at the Prestigious Rheingau Gourmet Festival in Germany in 2013.
Chef Brown has worked alongside many Michelin Star Chefs and presented to prestigious culinary magazines and members of the Press worldwide. He has over 40 years experience in the restaurant and hospitality industries and has received numerous awards and appointments from professional organizations worldwide. When not traveling the world, Chef Brown enjoys the quietness of country life at Ashley Forest, north of Christchurch, overlooking a deer farm and established old forests.
I arrived early on the first of only 2 nights this dinner would take place. Chef Christoph Zoller greeted me and introduced me to guest Chef Graham Brown, who then introduced me to Hunter McGregor, Managing Director of Shanghai Rata Trade Company Limited, who imports farm raised grass fed venison from New Zealand and distributes to fine hotels and restaurants in China.
Graham and Hunter planned several of these special dinners at famous restaurants in China and I was delighted to attend the first night of the 2 Beijing dinners, held exclusively at The Cut. What makes these dinners so special is the venison used in 5 of the 6 courses served.
Shanghai Rata Trade Company Limited has been involved in the importation of venison into China for several years, sourced from Mountain River Venison located in the South Island of New Zealand. It is 100% farm raised and processed and it is very healthy red meat, low in fat and high in protein and iron. The deer are less than 2 years old and the meat has a mild, mellow taste, and it is very tender. There are a variety of cuts available to suit the requirements of the hotels and restaurants using this fine venison.
According to the company press release, “Natural farm raised venison from the fresh pastures of New Zealand is one of the most exciting new products in the worldwide food industry. This fresh modern product has so much to offer: a subtle delicate flavor, superb tenderness and excellent nutritional qualities. Chefs around the world are exploring the versatility of venison in many different culinary traditions, and the market for this exclusive product continues to grow. Lean venison is a healthy food that is low in fat, saturated fatty acids and cholesterol, and high in protein, vitamins and minerals, particularly iron.
The Mountain River deer are raised as close to nature as possible, using modern environmentally sustainable farming methods. Their diet consists of grass and occasional supplementary foods such as hay, silage or grain during the cold winter months. They are processed on the farm at Mountain River’s world-class production facilities, which offers year-round supply. Mountain River ensures only the highest quality venison is produced.
Product quality is carefully monitored at every stage – from the farming and transport of the deer, at the processing plant, to the final export delivery. Their modern packing and storage technology ensures extended shelf-life for both chilled venison (in excess of 14 weeks) and frozen (more than two years)”. Armed with all this good information, I was excited to get started with my dinner!
Kelly Yu, The Cut Supervisor, prepared my table and brought my Dry Gin Martini to me, which I enjoyed while looking over the 6 course special menu. I love venison so I was particularly interested in experiencing it in 5 different preparations during this dinner.
What made it even more interesting was that the beverage pairings were selected with craft beer instead of wine, a novel touch. Kelly brought my Welcome Snack, 2 little round creations on a long glass plate. One was Cherry Tomato with Balsamic Dressing, Feta Cheese, and Cashew Nut. The Other was Honey Mellon with Parma Ham, Potato, Tomato, Olive, and Ciabatta Bread, with a little Roast Vegetable Purée with Parmesan Cheese and Lemon Butter. Both were flavor packed little treats that got me in the mood for the abundance of food that I knew was coming.
First, from the Chef’s Signature Venison Set Menu was the Amuse Bouche. Chef Zoller brought my Venison Tartar, with Piccalilli Clouds, Oat and Walnut Crackers & Pickled Onions, while Kelly poured a glass of Maredsous Abbaye – Abdij Blonde beer from Belgium. Chef Brown explained that piccalilli is very famous in New Zealand.
Made from cauliflower, small cucumbers, onions, carrots, vinegar, turmeric, garlic, and ginger, it is salted and sits overnight. Then the vegetables are drained and washed and cooked with vinegar, sugar, and turmeric until “al dente” and cooled in a jar with sealed lid. It is good with cold cuts and sandwiches. In this dish the piccalilli combination was served on top of the chopped raw venison, which was placed in a spoon with an oats and walnut cracker. This crisp bread is made from oatmeal, aged cheddar cheese, and crushed walnuts. Then it is twice baked and cut into shapes and sprinkled with Marlborough sea salt flakes. The raw venison meat for the tartar comes from the rump with lots of flavor.
All of this was artistically arranged on a bent stainless steel tablespoon and decorated with fresh basil and a light blue colored flower. It looked beautiful! The oat and walnut cracker was triangular in shape and I started with that. It was semi-crunchy with hearty oat and nutty flavors.
The venison tartar was chilled and super fresh, smooth in texture and flavorful, and the chopped piccalilli vegetables were crunchy with great pickled flavors. This was a very different tartar experience for me and I loved the addition of the piccalilli vegetables and the oat and walnut cracker.
The beer pairing was well thought out, as it was mild with good flavors and light bubbles, and it did not overpower the raw venison. It was a very good pairing!
My next course was the Starter, Apple Wood Smoked Venison Loin with Goat’s Cheese Mousse, Roast Beets & Watercress. It was a nice presentation on a long rectangular glass plate with mixed greens on top with crispy deep-fried shredded parsnips. Thinly sliced radish and toasted chopped walnuts were included as well. The venison is placed in a sugar and saltwater brine with some red berry tea, and then smoked over apple wood and sliced before mixing with the other ingredients.
This was a really unique combination of flavors and textures. I experimented with each of the several ingredients and found them all to be interesting in their own right, and special when combined. The venison, since it was only smoked, had a raw consistency but benefited from the flavors resulting from the brining and smoking processes. The goat’s cheese mousse was delightfully cheesy and smooth, while the beets were dark and earthy and a little tart.
I discovered some mandarin orange slices in the mix, and the crispy deep-fried parsnips were fun to eat with the greens. I liked the combination of the venison with the goat’s cheese mousse the most. It was a fun dish that looked like a summer garden and it was Chef Brown’s invention!
Kelly brought my next course, Venison Consommé Cappuccino with Roast Garlic and Horseradish Foam, Wild Mushrooms & Venison Meat Pie. This was paired with La Chouffe Blonde beer from Belgium. The consommé was served in a clear glass teapot and poured into a teacup with the roasted garlic, wild mushrooms, and horseradish foam. I stirred this together with a little spoon and took a sip.
The twice-cooked consommé was hot, highly flavored and tasty. I sipped on this and took a bite of the venison meat pie, served in pastry. It was hot with tender chunks of venison inside. The meat tasted very good, with a savory flavor. This was a hearty winter dish.
The consommé was rich and strongly flavored and the chopped wild mushrooms were a nice earthy touch, while the meat pie added its own kind of warmth. I alternated between these 2 main components of the dish until it was all gone, a sip of consommé…a bite of meat pie, followed by a sip of the impressive La Chouffe Blonde beer, which went very well with the meat pie. Chef Brown explained that this meat pie came historically from the Cornish Tin Miners of England.
They would take leftover meat of mutton and mix with leftover vegetables and gravy and wrap it in simple pastry made from hot water and flour. Folding it up like a purse, they would take it deep underground in the mines for their lunch. They would eat the filling in the middle and throw away the pastry because their hands were so dirty from mining. In my case, I was happy to eat the pastry!
My next course was Brochettes of Venison Hearts with Sweet Soy Dressing, Green Asparagus & Cucumber Blossoms. Kelly served this with Firestone Easy Jack IPA from California. It was a colorful presentation on a white plate with 4 half spears of asparagus topped with a wooden skewer of 6 pieces of Yakiniku style BBQ venison hearts, and 2 small cucumbers with yellow blossoms. The sweet soy dressing was drizzled over the top and on the plate as decoration. The asparagus was fresh with a little crunch. The BBQ venison hearts were put on the skewer with shiitake mushrooms and spring onions.
The hearts were surprisingly tender with strong flavors, both from the meat and the BBQ process and the IPA beer was strong and hoppy, which worked well with the hearts. Big flavors all around! I finished my glass of beer while reflecting on the interesting combinations of flavors in this pairing.
This was followed by a little Sorbet made with Pineapple Rosemary with Smoked Yoghurt & Blueberry Chutney, which offered a cool and sweet break from the preceding powerful flavors. I happily awaited the main course, Venison Picanha with Cannelloni, Root Vegetable Purée, Baby Carrots & Tomatoes with Red Wine Sauce. With this, Kelly poured a glass of Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale from Kansas City.
This was a good-looking plate that I couldn't wait to get into. Central on the hot, grey colored plate was a stuffed cannelloni, flanked to the left by 2 small grilled tomatoes and the white root vegetable purée, and on the right were 2 slices of venison tri-tip, otherwise called picanha, in the red wine reduction sauce, which was sprinkled around the plate as well. A slice of grilled eggplant and a few light greens were scattered around the plate. So as not to let it get cold, I approached the venison slices first. It was super tender and the thick red wine reduction sauce added rich flavors. The beer was cold and refreshing, not too strong for the tender meat.
Next I tried the baby carrots and they were soft and perfectly cooked. The cannelloni was packed with shredded brisket of venison and rich venison gravy and I rubbed slices of that in the root vegetable purée for added flavors. Chef Brown explained that the brisket was brazed slowly for 4 hours with vegetables, red wine, stock, and seasoning and then allowed to cool in the creamy cooking liqueur.
Then it is pulled apart and shredded and stuffed into the cannelloni pasta shell. Because of this detailed preparation of the meat, the cannelloni was packed with flavors that were very satisfying to me, making me wish that there were more of them on the plate! I finished my glass of beer and waited patiently for my Dessert, Creamy Black Tea Panna Cotta with Green Apple Honey Sorbet. Kelly brought my beer pairing before the dish arrived, Liefmans Kriek Brut from Belgium. This was a dark, cherry beer, a nice mixture of sweet and semi-sweet flavors.
Chef Brown explained the other ingredients on the plate as pumpkin sponge, honeycomb, caramel, apricots, small meringues, and white and dark chocolate. It was a pretty dessert on a white plate, decorated with a vertical sugar ring through the panna cotta. These many treats were a nice blend of sweet flavors, and the dark, cherry beer was fantastic with the multiple sweet flavors in the dessert. This beer was very special and I really loved it with and after I finished my dessert. There were complex sweet flavors in the beer with strong hints of cherry.
I was so happy to have the opportunity to meet Chef Brown and to experience his cooking of his favorite venison in so many creative ways. My sincere thanks goes to Chef Zoller for inviting me and to Kelly for taking such good care of me throughout my dinner. It was certainly a night to remember and I will always be on the lookout for more opportunities to try New Zealand venison, which is so special.
My Best as Always,