Story by By Trish Gallagher – www.inkandcleaver.com


 

One thing you don’t expect to see on an autumnal night in Melbourne is a bloody big Silver Creek smoker chugging away at the back of St Kilda Road. Thanks to Jess Pryles of Burger Mary fame, Ormond Hall was transformed into a slice of the the US BBQ belt for the evening when the Carnivores Ball came to town.

The event was held over two nights in April, and we will blame global warming for the almost perfect weather. The ornate venue was turned into a beskulled and cow-skinned dining hall, maximum capacity punters filling the tables up quick.

Carnivores Ball

The theme of the Carnivores Ball, unsurprisingly, was meat and every course served had a meaty element. Yep, even dessert. If you’re thinking slow cooked lamb cheesecake you are so wrong, but we’ll get to that later. There were meaty quotes on every table to remind us all about the beauty of the beast. On stage, a huge screen had rolling images of Texan images to whet our senses; food, landscapes and even a picture of my spirit father – Johnny Cash.

Jess took to the stage to thank us all for coming and to thank the sponsors for this meal we are about to eat. Then she said something that soured my spirits – the meal would be served buffet style and we had to queue up to get our dinner. Oh no. I had flashbacks of ‘Sizzler’- lining up behind the very person that stole all the parmesan bread and prawns, missing out on everything good and being stuck with a dry jacket potato and some lurid mayonnaise. Here, everyone jumped up to get their food and I stared dejectedly at my beer (a pleasant Little Creatures pale ale) and decided to wait until the throng died down.

Carnivores Ball

All of a sudden, my dining companions were back! How did that happen? how did they get their food so fast? It’s because there was one plate for each diner – no multi pieces of chicken, stockpiling for your mates or standing around umming and ahhing at which piece you wanted. We were handed a plate and politely moved along. It was the most efficient and organised buffet I’ve ever been too. The food was even hot! Unheard of.

Carnivores Ball

One of the reasons I decided to come to the Carnivores Ball (apart from hearing how excellent it was last year) was for Rockwell & Sons fried chicken. Having never experienced this chicken in the confines of the restaurant, I can tell you that eating a piece of this golden fowl was a heavenly experience. So moist! I guess that’s the fermented buttermilk and a flavoursome crunchy coating that is quickly becoming famous around this country (I’ve checked, it’s ‘grandmas recipe’ so no chance of recreating at home). Combined with a biscuit that had more layers than a New York cronut, a tangy house made (big) pickle and a hot sauce that could have had the heat dialled up a few notches in my opinion; I could have contentedly headed home then and there. If Rockwell & Sons start now, maybe they can have bottles of hot sauce on the table next year? MAYBE THEY CAN GIVE EVERYONE THEIR OWN BOTTLE OF HOT SAUCE.

Carnivores Ball

A few on our table had chosen to brave the lagerita – a tequila, lemon and crushed ice concoction with a corona stuffed in the top; as you draw the bottle up the beer fills your glass and there you have a lagerita. Why did I drive! No lagerita for me. Whilst we ate the band, Catfish Voodoo, belted out classic tunes that reignited my interest in harmonica lessons. What a bunch of young talent right there.

It was time for the mains queue to start, this one took a little longer but still moved relatively quick. As we approached the serving table, I overheard a bunch of kids in front of me say “make sure you get that stuff there, its called ‘bark’ and it’s the bit the all chefs fight over” I chuckled as my plate was generously piled high with slow smoked Flinders Island lamb and pink-ringed beef brisket. The thing I love about proper great smoked meat is the delicate smoke flavour which, having attempted such a smoke at home and rendering a decent brisket inedible, it is no easy feat to get the flavour perfect. It’s the reason why these folks are called Pit ‘Masters’ and not Pit dude-with-meat-and-woodchips-and-fire. It takes practice and time to get a lamb this flavour-packed and moist.

Carnivores Ball

I timed my brisket run badly because I got an end piece which was pretty dry, but my dining companions who were much more experienced in the delights of smoked brisket, assured me that theirs was moister than a cotton ball in a bath tub. Turns out there are benefits to queuing a little earlier.

The same occurred with dessert however this time, as soon as Jess started to ascend the stage stairs to inform everyone that Gavin Baker and Shaun Quade would be serving their pork fat doughnuts, I was up and out of my seat like the roadrunner incarnate. Pork fat in adough and fried with cinnamon sugar needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. These doughnuts were on the firmish side due to them being room temperature but I can just imagine fresh out of the fryer, you may have the urge to go to confession when you’re done. The winner for me here was the sweet corn custard. It was one of those moments where your mind is in overdrive “what IS that? It’s MAGNIFICENT!” A super smooth texture with a slight nutty taste more than corn notes. I want jugs of this stuff. Sweet corn custard, you are my latest hero.

I sat back and looked around. Every one was happy. Every one was smiling (maybe the lageritas?) and strangers were fast becoming friends. There were folks there in jeans and some in ball gowns, there were plenty of cowboy boots and there was even the odd corn pipe to be seen. No one cared what you looked like or how well your hair was done. I had to depart after dessert but from reports on social media the next day there was plenty of dancing to be had and beer to be drank well after I was gone. The whole evening really was like Texas – warm, friendly banter over a slab of smoked meat.

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