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Nostalgic Carpetbag Steak Recreated at Marriott Culinary and Beverage Workshop

Carpetbag steak, an iconic menu item of the 1950's to 90s in Australia, was recently revived at the Marriott Culinary and Beverage Workshop at De Bortoli Winery. Participating influencers were asked by Marriott chefs to nominate a childhood nostalgic dish and The World Loves Melbourne nominated Carpetbag steak! It was an unforgettable day of fun, nostalgia, premium producers, and fine food!

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The World Loves Melbourne stayed in The Westin Melbourne for the night and enjoyed an amazing dinner and breakfast before we were transported to De Bortoli Wines for the Marriott Hotels Food and Beverage Workshop (see my article on the dinner and more of our day at De Bortoli). Marriott chefs from all over Australia and some from overseas spent 3 days honing skills and forging relationships in one of the most stunning locations in Australia.

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When I shared my nostalgic dish with Andrew Fraser the Executive Chef at Surfers Paradise Marriott, he was excited being an adventurous chef with nostalgic food memories himself. Andrew told me he knew of the Carpetbag steak and would be putting his own twist on this nostalgic dish.

One of my earliest memories is visiting a restaurant in Adelaide where Carpetbag steak was on the menu. It was a menu item of intrigue, even grandeur. After all, both steak and oysters are known to be expensive. This was a dish that stood above the Parma and Pot and Schnitzel, not to mention Pie of the Day to be the menu choice of the well heeled. i remember eating a simple plain dish in a traditional Aussie restaurant of the 80s and glance across to the "rich people" enjoying Carpetbag steak. This was opulence and indulgence in a dish. In fact it was the original surf and turf! But then the day came when I experienced Carpetbag steak myself...

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Andrew Fraser was in for a busy time as not only was he and his fellow chefs creating my nostalgic dish, but also cooking for Marriott guests who arrived on a bus for a "cook off" lunch.

Marriott chefs were divided into BBQ stations and were responsible for cooking up a selection of ingredients at their BBQ station, where the guests could vote on the best dishes and winning station.

In between culinary tasks and preparation I was able to sit down with Andrew Fraser and find out more about his passion for being a Marriott chef and his cooking philosophy. Andrew came to Marriott as a highly acclaimed chef having worked at the Dorchester Hotel in London. Andrew is currently in charge of 107 staff at the hotel and it's amazing he knows them all by name and greets them all when they start their shifts! He likes to know the staff's hobbies, footy teams, family events and other things so he can encourage! Andrew likes to shake the hands of his staff everyday! 

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Living on the Gold Coast is magical according to Andrew (pictured above left in the De Bortoli kitchen) - with around 700 tropical fish near the main pool of the hotel! He raves about the slippery slide and the features of the hotel, not just the kitchen. But in the kitchen Andrew has created a culture of fun and excitement and adventure! He loves roasting meats and takes inspiration from his mother who used to be a chef at Coffs Harbour Zoo years ago and was famous for using indigenous ingredients.

Andrew Fraser started sharing about his own nostalgic moments and the emotion of food. He spoke of childhood memories of life on Sandy Beach where he caught pippies and muscles at low tide, as well as went diving for abalone. He then cooked the seafood on an old FJ Holden grill and wrapped it in pandan leaves! Andrew brings this adventure to the Surfers Paradise Marriott with a series of menu promotions that have featured foods of the world such as Nepalese, Brazilian, Thai, Dutch, Korean and French cooking.

Andrew told me that the Marriott culinary experience is becoming more participative with customers, and he spends more time interacting with them. People like to see food being cooked, he says, and there's more "buy in and involvement" now of people wanting to know where food is from.

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Andrew Fraser was the perfect chef to cook my nostalgic dish of Carpetbag steak. The history of the Carpetbag steak goes way back and there's much debate as to whether it originated in the USA or in Australia. Oyster houses and steak houses were the rage of the rich and wealthy of the mid 19th Century. However historians credit the first Carpetbag steak recipe in a cookbook to Louis Diat in 1941.

The art of the Carpetbag is to make a pocket in the steak and stuff with raw oysters. (Smoked oysters just don't cut it.) The history of Carpetbag steak is fascinating - a dish that was popular before the turn of the 20th Century in both America and Australia! Legend would have it that that Carpetbag handbags were a fashion item of the rich in that period (1840 - 1870). The steak resembles the sack like bag with its top closure.  Therefore was the Carpetbag steak referring to the food of the rich - steak and oysters? It's certainly a dish of indulgence!

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Andrew Fraser prepared the Carpetbag steak incorporating my nostalgia but also adding his twist. First he grabbed some Coffin Bay Oysters and top grade Porterhouse steak. Then he then made an incision in the steak to create a pocket and inserted the Coffin Bay oysters into the steak. Fresh oysters (and raw of course)!

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A masterstroke was to add native finger limes in with the oysters in the pocket for a taste and texture triumph. Bush limes have more flavour than normal limes we think, and the texture of finger limes causes a taste explosion in your mouth.

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Carpetbag steak action. Bringing back the Carpetbag steak dream!

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A master at work...

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Then Andrew Fraser added another element by introducing Rosemary, designed to provide smoke and char and Rosemary flavours in the cooking process.

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Ready for the BBQ!

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The grounds of De Bortoli were magical.

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Here is a photo of the pre-prepared carpetbag steak below against the backdrop of the De Bortoli grounds.

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Bravo the Marriott team of talented chefs!

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Even if the Carpetbag steak was invented in America it was more popular in Australia. We argue that it is a significant and forgotten part of Australia's culinary history! Steak with mushrooms or mushroom sauce has always been a hit in Australia but a steak smothered or inserted into oysters is something else! It was fun to see Marriott chefs reviving my dream!

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Carpetbag steak cooking on the BBQ. Marriott chefs working miracles taping in to the nostalgia of my childhood.

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Here we have it! Porterhouse Carpetbag steak with Coffin Bay Oysters, Finger Limes, char and smoke of Rosemary, and French Beurre Blanc sauce with a side of BBQ Scallops and Coffin Bay Oysters with salsa.

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Heaven on a plate.

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Personally I loved the connection with top Marriott chefs and the process of collaboration. It was huge fun, although I couldn't help but also admire Marriott chefs for their professionalism and skill.

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Thanks to the PR team and to Marriott Hotels and De Bortoli for such a stunning location. And may the Carpetbag steak live on!