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Sailesh Vala is the executive chef for Belleville, a restaurant and bar on Globe Alley in the Melbourne CBD. That hasn’t stopped him from preparing a meal to resemble dirt.
“I made a dish for Halloween one year that looked like a pumpkin with worms and dirt,” he says. The “pumpkin” was actually a doughnut, the “dirt” chocolate. So realistic were the “worms” – raspberry gel set in straws – some patrons refused to eat them. “Simple things like that can mess around with people pretty easily,” he says.
And excite them. Vala is planning another sensory challenge for one competition winner and eleven of their friends at a unique dinner party event being held in partnership with Broadsheet and Stoneleigh Wines.
Held in a warehouse on Flinders Street in Melbourne, The Stoneleigh Project is a three-week immersive wine-tasting and art experience highlighting the theme of wild fermentation and nature’s beauty. Mirroring Stoneleigh’s minimalist winemaking philosophy, the exhibition invites the public to experience interactive light-scapes, virtual riverbeds, video art by internationally acclaimed artist Susi Sie, and mist bubbles that burst into “smoke” when touched. There is also complementary wine-tastings, a pop-up bar and invitation-only dining room hidden behind a one-way mirror. This is where you come in – blindfolded.
Vala will prepare a six-course degustation for one competition winner and 11 of their friends to eat completely blindfolded. Vala recommends the experience highly. “I’ve eaten blindfolded before,” he says. “It gave me a heads up on what to produce and the importance of texture and flavour in a dish.”
He says his skills are uniquely tailored to thriving despite sensory deprivation. “All the food I do is “impact” flavours,” he says. “So I’m going to put some dishes on the menu where you think you’ll know what they taste like, but they’ll be something completely different.”
Vala has always had an experimental streak in his cooking. He recently returned to his hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, where he was tasked with foraging for ingredients and creating a meal from them. It resulted in dishes using wild elderflowers, lemongrass, and spinach leaves, and unusual techniques like pressure-cooking pine nuts for puree.
Since guests will only discover what they’ve eaten afterwards, a heightened sense of taste will come to the fore. “It’s almost like a game,” says Vala. “They’ll get the flavours first and then hopefully open their eyes and go ‘Oh wow, I thought that was something else’.”
Each dish will also be paired with a unique wine from the Stoneleigh range. “Food and wine pairing is something that should be fun and exciting,” says Vala. “This sensory feast is the perfect opportunity to have a laugh while enjoying great food and wine.”
A Feast for the Senses with Broadsheet x Stoneleigh
Wednesday November 1 - 6.30–9.30pm
The Stoneleigh Project
524 Flinders Street, Melbourne
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Stoneleigh Wild Valley. The Stoneleigh Project is open to the public every day from October 13 to November 5, Mon-Fri, 4pm-10pm, Sat-Sun, midday-10pm.