Food of the gods served at Shangri La

Shangri La Hotel

We’re not quite that high today, but the views of Sydney Harbour from the Shangri-La Hotel’s 36th floor are doing their best to take our breath away, writes FCI's Will Temple.

THE mythic Shangri-La valley supposedly sits in the Himalayas, offering a mountain utopia of peace and tranquillity isolated from the rest of the world. 

It was a full house at the Executive Chefs Club at the hotel’s Altitude Restaurant for preliminary drinks and presentations with host and Shangri-La Sydney head chef Bo Sorensen.

As we mingle over bottles of Yenda Hell unfiltered lager from the Australian Beer Company, Sorensen prepared an Asian-inspired feast with the focus clearly on Japan. 

After a high school in Hong Kong, Sorensen completed a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) diploma in professional cooking in Westminster, London. He has since worked at the Dorchester in London and the Burj al Arab in Dubai, among other top properties before settling into his current role in Sydney. 

Today he takes the floor to join a discussion on how to be a modern success in the kitchen. 

“Every kitchen, has taught me valuable lessons, new techniques,” our host says. 

“And all had pros and cons they are all special to me.

“We need modern to push boundaries, but need the basics of classic techniques to make the best outcome.” 

Sorensen stresses the need for mentoring to retain staff and urges any up-and-comers to “let the chefs see you sweat, never your tears”. 

“There’s never a dull day in the kitchen - tackling different problems, creating new and exciting dishes and creating trends.” 

Sorensen is joined by today by Shaun Presland from Sake Restaurant.

Presland says after finishing university he decided to train in Japan instead of working as a waiter back home in Australia.

“I fell in love with the people, the culture and the food,” Presland says.  

“What made me want to become a chef was seeing such beauty in the food and such pleasure on people’s faces. I wanted to be one of them.” 

The chef says he leads by example and tries to really get to know his staff.

“Get into their heads what success can be like. Treat them as people rather than robots.”

Downstairs for the long table presentation and main lunch, we see his technique for hand-shaped classic Tokyo-style sushi alongside Master Japanese chef Hideo Dekura. 

During a soy taste test, Presland also reveals he has just made the switch to Kikkoman gluten-free. 

“It’s gorgeous,” he says. 

Next up is a speed tasting of uniquely Japanese ingredients with Henrietta Morgan from the Good Grub Hub.

The samples include different varieties of flavoured salts and sesame seeds, as well as syrups, vinegars, seaweeds and flowers.

We try caviar-like decorative balls known as Angel Tears with real 22 carat gold, as well as shiitake snow salt in a range that even includes edible four-leaf clovers.  

A more traditional menu item being used today is Tassal salmon produced sustainably in Tasmania with the help of a marine biologist from British Columbia. 

Tassal’s head of sustainability and fish health Linda Sams first came here in 2008 and says the company has partnered with green groups like the WWF to grow alongside the environment. 

“Transparency is key,” Sams says. “It’s a very green state. We are not afraid to be transparent. Sometimes people will disagree but we are out there for debate.” 

Under her watch, the company has reduced wild fish oil and meal in the feed, which has global sustainability ramifications, and is using seal proof bird nets as a commitment to local wildlife. 

The product is certified in sustainability by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council, an externally audited gold standard certificate.

“Happy healthy fish are better tasting fish,” Sams says.  

Juan Sagnier from Idea Foods takes us through the best Spanish delicacies, including white anchovies, olives and jamon. 

Guests also sample the flavours and characteristics of grain and grass fed beef from Andrews Meats, in a tutored tasting. 

The message is that neither is better or worse, just different.  

Other delights from the kitchen include award-winning New Zealand yogurt, mozzarella and bocconcini from Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company and tea-infused jams and chutneys from Hank’s Jams. 

All of this is washed down with top quality Sunraysia juices and a Nespresso shot to finish the afternoon, perfect.  

The executive chefs also enjoyed hearing about the latest of the Nestle Golden Chef’s Hat Award, which was in its 50th year and to recognise top chefs under the age of 25.

It was revealed that this year’s winners went to South Africa on a food safari in Johannesburg and all returned happy and “enriched” from the experience.