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Behind the Classics–Pâté

Behind the Classics–Pâté
My name is Mandy Kennedy and over the last 25-plus years I’ve worked in the hospitality and food industries: managing cafes, restaurants, a butcher shop, and even cooking paella for 100 people on a weekly basis. Most recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of Victoria’s best producers and providores. Being a food writer isn’t always the most glamorous of occupations but it sure does mean I get to visit some cool places. So, I jumped at the chance to take a behind-the-scenes tour of charcuterie specialist City Larder’s pâté-making process.

Tuesday is pâté day at City Larder’s Coburg production facility and the moment you walk through the doors a seductive aroma envelops you. The elusive scent is a combination of aromatic herbs and vegetables, the heady blend of brandy, Madeira, and Port, and the rich, sweet smell of melted butter.

I’ve been in busy restaurant kitchens before so am used to the noise and the bustle which, to an outsider’s eye, can look chaotic. This is different; this kitchen is calm and a calm kitchen is a beautiful thing. It’s not silent though. There’s a radio on in the background somewhere and plenty of good-natured banter, one chef claiming his footy team ‘was robbed’ on the weekend. I manage to corner head honcho Robbie Bell and grill him about what makes City Larder Pâté so special.

a jar of city larder free range chicken liver pate in the sunlight with fresh figs and pickled onions on the side

‘Our pâté is the same as you’d be served in a French restaurant. I mean, it’s really a parfait with its creamy, silky mouthfeel. The key to maintaining the delicate egg/protein emulsification is a gentle use of heat. We cook the pâté in a water bath which means the texture stays silky, and doesn’t turn grainy. This mouthfeel is what sets a parfait apart from a more rustic, coarse product.’

Temperature is vital also. For instance, you can’t add cold butter to hot livers and expect it all to emulsify. These nuances matter. Our new equipment keeps it all where it needs to be so our chefs can concentrate on keeping each part of the recipe on point.’

In the room next door, one chef is checking on a batch of Duck & Cherry Pâté being blended with one of Robbie’s new toys, I mean, important piece of production equipment. It looks like the largest mixmaster you’ve ever seen. After adding the ingredients, chef sets the stirring speed and a precise temperature then stands back and watches it all happen. After a few minutes with spatula in hand he checks for texture and taste, adjusting the temperature and slowing the blending speed. As I said, it’s all very calm in here.

a chef at city larder dispensing the port and madeira jelly on top of our pate

New equipment and more physical space mean they’re no juggling ovens, countertop and fridge space. A process that once took multiple people up to 18 hours to complete, now takes one person only 6 hours. Previously, a team of chefs would have to manually force the mixture through coarse sieves to achieve the same result. Little wonder the whole process took 18 hrs.

By the time I visit at 11am, more than a dozen batches of pâté have been squared away. The upshot of all this is there is now more City Larder pâté to go around. I call that a win!

When it comes to getting the pâté into the jars Robbie has another fancy-pants piece of equipment to do that. The filling machine looks like a cross between a Galactic Empire Dune Walker and man’s best friend. This shiny stainless steel filling machine came all the way from Turkey after Robbie spotted it on YouTube. Months later, this mobile wonder has become an important part of the new production schedule, delivery speed and accuracy when filling sterilised glass jars.

a jar of city larder duck and cherry pate in the sunlight accompanied by fresh cherries and a knife with some pate on it

After each jar receives its measured dose, the trays are loaded into the oven for a gentle cook before getting tucked away into a cooling room to chill down and rest. I do a quick count of the trolleys waiting patiently in the fridge for their delicious gel top. 40 jars to a tray, 15 trays to a trolley, and more trolleys than I have the chance to count. You get the gist, there’s a lot of pâté being produced on Tuesdays.

Just before I leave, I spy an open jar on with a spoon sticking out. ‘What’s that?’ I ask.

Robbie replies, ‘Oh, that. We’re just putting the finishing touches on our new release truffle pâté. Would you like to try some?’

And how does it taste? Perfect, of course.

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