Gourmet Institute 2015: New Kids on the Block, Emma McCaskill & Scott Huggins

Two exciting, young newcomers to the culinary circuit, Chefs Emma McCaskill and Scott Huggins of Penfolds Magill Estate both impressively acquired the title of ‘Best New Talent’ at the 2014 Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Awards. This dynamic duo are at the forefront of passionate, cutting-edge dining and it was an absolute honour to be able to experience these two enthusiastic chefs in action at Harvey Norman Adelaide’s Gourmet Institute session – and the truth is definitely in the tasting.

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Scampi, Tomato and Buckwheat

Later, Emma took a break from wowing us with her culinary skills to join us for a quick chat:

Who sparked your initial passion for cooking and how old were you?
My nanna Beryl sparked my initial passion for cooking. My grandparents are Anglo-Indian and my nanna looked after me a lot when I was little. Every time we would go to their house we would always bee-line for the kitchen. There would always be something delicious to eat there, even if she wasn’t expecting us. I really enjoyed making parathas with her. There wasn’t any weighing involved, just eye measurements. I loved watching her teach me, kneading the dough, cooking them and then rolling them up and eating them with strawberry jam. I think I would’ve been about 5 or 6.

What’s your fondest cooking-related memory?
One of my fondest cooking-related memories is meeting Scott a decade ago in our early twenties. I loved cooking together and knew very shortly upon meeting him that someday we’d open a restaurant together.

What’s the most exciting city you’ve worked in and why?
Tokyo. I enjoyed working there as it totally pushed me out of my comfort zone: food, culture, language barriers and as a person. I enjoyed the nervous, excited energy before starting work each day, not knowing what was going to happen or what I’d be doing.

What are your sources of inspiration when developing a menu or new dishes?
It really varies. Sometimes it’s a memory or an ingredient that’s beautiful at the moment, our staff, a wine, it could be a discussion or even reading a book. I also find the MAD talks really inspiring.

Who are your culinary muses?
I aspire to be like females in our industry such as Alena Arzak, Helena Rizzo, Margot Henderson, Skye Gyngell, Maggie Beer and Alla-Wolftasker.

What can diners expect when visiting your restaurant?
They can expect to have a wonderful food and wine experience.

Who is the most famous person you’ve cooked for – and what was the dish?
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to cook in the artists’ tent at Splendour in the Grass. The tent was set up as a Mexican restaurant with really tasty food. Over the weekend I cooked for The Strokes, Scissor Sisters, Florence + The Machine, Wolfmother, the Pixies, plus Mumford & Sons. It was an amazing experience.

Have you had a particularly disastrous or comedic cooking experience that you can share?
When I was at Sat Bains in Nottingham we would often have Colston Basset Stilton on as a cheese course. It would be left to sit at room temperature to allow the flavours to develop. At the end of service the cheese would be mature and sweaty. I would always linger around Ewan’s (the pastry chef) section at the end of the night hoping to get a spoonful of ice cream or some sort of sugar hit. On this particular night, he offered me a teaspoon of a clear orange/brown-looking liquid. I thought ‘yes’ it’s the mandarin vinegar for the new dessert dish. I tasted it and suddenly the shock of the flavour hit me it was the blue cheese Stilton sweat!! Blah! Ewan was dying of laughter.

What’s your go-to dish when you’re at home and short on time?
Toasted cheese and chutney sandwich or steamed broccoli with French dressing.

What are two or three ingredients that you particularly enjoy working with? Why?
I enjoy working with wine, finding the flavours profiles within and balancing them with food. I also enjoy working with eggs as there are so many different possibilities depending on variation, temperature, method and technique.

What’s the one simple cooking tip that you believe everyone needs to know?
Trust your instinct.

Finish this sentence: “If I wasn’t a chef, I’d probably be…”
A secret detective.

What advice would you offer anyone wishing to become a chef?
Choose a restaurant wisely, to mould you into the chef you want to become.

What’s something you’re really excited about working on right now?
Today we started working on treacle, walnut and caramelised pumpkin tarte Tatin.

If you could sum up your cooking style in three words, what would they be?
Gentle, balanced, thoughtful.

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Kingfish, Ponzu and Radish

Next, we were fortunate enough to chat with Scott:

Who sparked your initial passion for cooking and how old were you?
My mother inspired me and sparked my interest in cooking when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I used to stand on a stool and help her bake.

What’s your fondest cooking-related memory?
Emma and I were asked to Narisawa’s house (Emma’s boss at the time) to cook dinner for his birthday.

What’s the most exciting city you’ve worked in and why?
So far I must say Adelaide, due to the accessibility of produce, and it feels like there is excitement in the air with the direction this town is going.

What are your sources of inspiration when developing a menu or new dishes?
Spending time at the Markets with Emma and Grace.

Who are your culinary muses?
I am inspired by humble chefs.

What can diners expect when visiting your restaurant?
Expect a tremendous back vintage cellar, and maybe even some wines that you didn’t realise we made.

Who is the most famous person you’ve cooked for – and what was the dish?
David Grohl from the Foo Fighters. It was a cheese course and we were privileged to be asked to sit down with him.

Have you had a particularly disastrous or comedic cooking experience that you can share?
When I was 15 years old in my first job, a waiter kept pinching food from the pass, and I witnessed the chef crumb a fish eye and feed it to them as a scallop. I laughed pretty hard.

What’s your go-to dish when you’re at home and short on time?
Mi Goreng noodles and fried egg.

What are two or three ingredients that you particularly enjoy working with?
I enjoy working with Wagyu Beef as I have spent a lot of time with Scott de Bruin and I feel I understand the product well. I also like Jersey Fresh milk, one of the only 100% full Jersey herd that hasn’t been mixed with Fresia herds, and it makes tremendous butter.

What’s the one simple cooking tip that you believe everyone needs to know?
Always start with a good quality ingredient.

Finish this sentence: “If I wasn’t a chef, I’d probably be…”
A farmer.

What advice would you offer anyone wishing to become a chef?
The harder you work, the further you will go.

What’s something you’re really excited about working on right now?
We have started working on a dish of crabs from the tank wrapped in Chinese cabbage and then a stock made of whole chickens cooked over charcoal on a rotisserie and sprayed with soy sauce, then placed in the pressure cooker to make a broth with celery leaves and kale.

If you could sum up your cooking style in three words, what would they be?
Passionate, precise, evolving.

Tools of the Trade

Assisting Chefs Emma McCaskill and Scott Huggins with their mouth-watering Kingfish, ponzu and radish were some innovative AEG appliances. The AEG ProCombi Steam Oven makes light work of creating the perfect meal with its unique cooking system, which uses a combination of steam and hot air to slow cook, bake and grill the food while enhancing flavour and bringing out texture.

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AEG ProCombi Steam Oven

It was all systems go in the Gourmet Institute kitchen with our chefs creating a delectable Scampi, Tomato and Buckwheat dish, and the clever AEG OptiZone Cooktop kept up with the pace – the DirekTouch controls providing complete temperature control and precision heating, helping to create a masterful meal that wowed the audience.

The evening’s comestible creations were paired beautifully with wines from Penfolds Magill Estate.

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Want to try your hand at creating these delicious creations? View the mouth-watering recipes here. To browse our range of innovative cooking appliances, shop online or head down to your local Harvey Norman store to chat to our friendly staff.

Want more? Check out our Gourmet Institute recipes from the talented Darren Robertson.