Wednesday, May 02, 2007

April 29, 2007: The Good Shepherd's Circus Pie Classic

I love rock and roll and I love food. If only there was some way to combine the two. Oh wait, there is! Sunday evening's entertainment, billed as "A Rock 'n' Roll Cook Off for Charity", was a kind of Iron Chef for Melbourne's indie rock elite. Devised as a fund raiser for Good Shepherd Youth and Family Service, the event pulled together Melbourne musicians, media personalities and food journalists for a surreal evening of fun at The Corner Hotel.

The basic structure of the evening involved four teams of five 'celebrities' each, two savoury cook-offs and a dessert challenge between two heat winners to find out whose cuisine reigned supreme. But the basic structure doesn't do justice to the chaotic, noisy and hilarious evening.

We arrived to a moderately busy band room, with the two stages set up: a small one scattered with amps, mics and drum kits and a big one with a makeshift kitchen, overhead mirrors to give the crowd a good view of the action and a clever apron collage for wallpaper.

After a food-themed D.J. set (my personal highlight: Cherry Pie by Warrant), Helen Razer (our cough-medicine addled host for the evening) took control, introducing her fellow commentators: Clem Bastow (Inpress, The Age etc) and Matt Preston (Epicure, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival). The rules were explained: each heat would pit two teams against each other for half an hour's fiercely competitive cooking producing at least three courses for judging. All of which had to contain... the secret ingredient.

To get the first heat underway, Helen introduced the first two teams, pitting a vegan-friendly Team 1 (Lindsay 'The Doctor' MacDougall and Macromantics plus three non-vegans) against Team 2, ably led by Lisa Miller with support from members of Mach Pelican, Dallas Crane and The Meanies. After a moment of well-orchestrated suspense, the secret ingredient for battle #1 was revealed: mushrooms!

As the cooking got underway, Little Red burst into some sort of amalgam of The Strokes and The Jackson Five. Our attention was divided between the band and the kitchen, but the mention of dumplings from Team 1 caught it and had me cheering on Macromantics and the gang. The alarm went off and, after some frantic plating, the dishes were ready to be served up to the judges: John Lethlean from The Age, Cath Claringbold from Mecca Bah and Andrew McConnell from Three One Two).

I imagine it's some time since these three gourmets ate food prepared in such a haphazard manner, but they gamely tucked into their feasts. From Team 1: shitake sweet soy stir-fry, Macro-dumpings and chocolate shitake surprise, while from Team 2: a suite of dishes dubbed 'Blitzkrieg Wok' including a mushroom penne and a couple of other dishes lost to the mists of time. According to the judges, team 1 produced both the best dish (Macro-dumplings) and most inedible effort (choc-shitake surprise). Unfortunately for them, the 'surprise' was enough to cost them the match, with the judges unanimously pronouncing Lisa Miller's Team 2 the winners of heat 1.

A brief pause for to let everyone get their breath back (and to allow the kitchen-roadies some cleaning time) followed, with Joelistics from TZU providing the music. Heat 2 followed, and out came the big guns of rock 'n' roll cooking: Team 3 was led by Dan Kelly, whose pre-rock career-path included a stint cooking at Claypots, while Team 4 boasted Rebecca Barnard - formerly of Rebecca's Empire and a cooking spot on JJJ. The secret ingredient for heat #2: the less veg-friendly chicken.

This time when the cooking started we moved across to the rock stage to experience SixFtHick - terrifying Brisbane rockers who have no respect for the comfortable line between the audience and the performers. Fronted by brothers Ben and Geoff Corbett, the show was chock full of insanity: prowling, screaming and kicking their way through short, sharp bursts of rock. As the clock ran down on heat #2, the 'Hick wound things up with a Queensland cocktail: a stubby tipped into a cowboy boot, shaken and poured down audience members' throats from on high.

I'm not sure how people cope with a full SixFtHick show - after thirty minutes I was ready to get away from the frightening world of rock and back to the gentle art of cookery. The judges, starting to show some alcohol-influenced wear and tear (I don't think food critics and chefs usually have access to a rider), dived into their second round of rock 'n' roll dishes. Team 4 were up first, with Rebecca taking charge. They came up with some sort of gyoza, a chicken-based pizza and something known as Spazzy-surprise (named after team member Ally Spazzy).

Team 3 produced four courses: Ming Dynasty chicken, Marvin the chicken sandwich, chicken with Dan Kelly Sauce and, in a decision that cost them the heat, Bog Log III's boobscotch whiskey chicken with a human breast-milk sauce. The judges were a little disappointed by Dan Kelly's effort given his pedigree, but the breast-milk flavoured chicken was the real problem for team 3 - with all of the judges disgusted both by the concept and by the taste. Despite Bob Log's disappointing performance in the kitchen, he got my vote for wittiest apron, proudly wearing the slogan, "Got more time for misbehavin', since I started microwavin'".

So Rebecca Barnard's Team 4 advanced to the dessert-themed final against Lisa Miller's Team 2. The final was a fifteen minute affair, with each team producing sweet treats based on the secret ingredient, bizarrely presented by a Devo-inspired helper, BANANAS!

Despite my anti-banana agenda, the dessert round was the highlight in terms of sheer cooking action: Andy and Scott from The Living End came up with chocolate bumholes: cored banana slices filled with a Mars bar mush.

In addition, Team 4 came up with two more dishes: maple leaf rag (bananas caremalised in maple syrup) and Elvis Presley's favourite, fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches. In comparision, Team 2 expended all their energy on one dish: banana filled crepes. While all this was going on, The Wayfaring Strangers were dancing around the music stage wearing little more than aprons and strategically places tongs. The judges traipsed out for the final time and hoed into the various dessert plates. Team 2 looked the favourites just through sheer number of dishes and, when the final scores were announced they were victorious, taking home the inaugural Golden Wok (see above).

This long and rambling post has barely begun to cover just how action-packed the whole evening was - the most fun I've had in ages. The whole idea is quintessentially Melbourne: rock 'n' roll and food mushed together into a chaotic mess where suddenly it makes perfect sense for John Lethlean and SixFtHick to be sharing a bill. And, of course, the whole thing was for a good cause - everyone involved donated their time and a good chunk of the money raised will end up helping young disadvantaged Melbourne-ites. Foodie entertainment can't get much better than that.


  1. OMG!!!

    Please pass the vodka (bottle that is!). Sounds like an amazing night!! I'm just glad that I didn't have to do the judging!

  2. I'm with you on the vodka - in spite of my state of origin, the Queensland cocktail doesn't really appeal. :D