Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Scarf Community Dinners

Scarfing it down for a cause

You’ve probably heard about the Scarf Community dinners. Then again, perhaps you haven’t. If you haven’t, you are the reason I’m writing this blog post—everyone should know about Scarf. 

Jess Moran and Hannah Colman are the brains (and big hearts) behind Scarf, a not-for-profit organisation that borrows restaurants (all of which boast a decent reputation) and uses them to provide hospitality training and mentoring for marginalised young people (refugees, asylum seekers, new migrants or Australians unable to access training). For whatever reason, it’s difficult for these people to find training and employment, so Scarf lends a helping hand. 

Following a theoretical training session on a Monday, Scarf trainees put on a dinner service under the caring and watchful eye of their mentors (like Kim from Cumulus Inc.). These dinners are not taken lightly; they are a serious learning opportunity that provide the Scarf trainees with hands-on hospitality experience.

The name Scarf has two meanings: people “scarf down” their dinner if they enjoy it and the garment (a neck scarf) can be used to express one’s personality while providing comfort and warmth.

I have attended two Scarf dinners, one at Three Bags Full at the end of last year and one just this week at Union Dining. Each Scarf dinner is a $35 two course menu... But this doesn’t mean you can’t order dessert and a glass of wine too! The tables are always set beautifully, with knitted napkin rings resembling mini scarfs and menu artwork by Flick, a former Scarf trainee who is apparently also a budding illustrator.

The first dinner at Three Bags Full was wonderful. It was certainly an experience sitting down for dinner in a bustling café that usually commands a queue of hopeful brunchers. Between everyone on our table, we tried all three of the entrées.

The flavoursome bouillabaisse was packed with fleshy mussels, scallops, prawns and salmon. Its thin tomato and saffron broth had a hint of fennel, but the taste was not overpowering. It arrived with a crisp slice of toast for dipping.

The asparagus with a perfectly poached egg, crisp shards of prosciutto, crunchy fried herbs and a dousing of sherry vinaigrette was so tempting to one member of our party that she asked if she could order it as a main. The kitchen complied and even sent out a bigger serve to accommodate us.

As for the goat’s cheese mille feuille, it was as lovely to eat as it was to look at. It resembled a macaron perched on a pomegranate molasses purée with a crisp roasted pumpkin shell, soft cheese oozing from the centre and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts.

The only main we didn’t sample was the garam masala roasted vegetables with homemade naan bread, labne and mango chutney. I had the tea-smoked chicken with a maple syrup and a cinnamon glaze. To be honest, the chicken was too smokey for me and I struggled to eat it. The sweet white peach somewhat helped cut through the intensity of the flavour, as did the shredded bok choy salad. Oh well, it’s a learning experience after all!

The tender seared beef with Swiss brown mushrooms, cornichons, capers and pilaf rice was the better choice. The ingredients floated in a puddle of red wine sauce, which seeped into the rice and added bursts of flavour. 

We couldn’t say no to dessert when it was offered and ordered both options: a mixed plate of sweet nibbles and a slice of cheesecake. The former contained homemade chocolate chip cookies, meringues and Scarf’s take on Monte Carlo biscuits. It seriously paled in comparison to the fluffy cheesecake with its biscuity crust and zesty berry coulis. We may or may not have fought over it. 

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening and our waiter (forgive me for forgetting his name) was one of the more confident trainees. He hardly faulted, had a contagious smile and was great with the young ones at the table.

The second Scarf dinner I attended was even better than the first. Union Dining truly is a grand space in which to learn, as well as in which to dine. Just to prove these dinners suit everyone, it’s worth mentioning that I first visited with my mother, younger brother, godmother and her daughter. The second time around I joined @eMeow, one of the men behind OMAH’S in Port Melbourne and Hawthorn. We also spread the love with @_yots and her friend Kate.

The Union Dining Scarf dinner was structured slightly differently from the last. The entrée was a share plate of duck live pâté, scallop and dill mousseline, roast tomato and mozzarella salad, baba ganoush (eggplant dip) and spiced Persian lentils. The pâté was my favourite: velvety, rich and addictive. I mopped up most of it with some extra bread. Please note the below photo is of all the elements of the share plate but arranged on my own dish, so not quite as pretty!

For main, I enjoyed the warm salad of smoked ocean trout (the kitchen nailed the smoking this time) with sliced kipfler potatoes, salty cornichons that popped in the mouth and a salad of julienned apple and celeriac tossed in a basil mayonnaise. 

The braised beef and chorizo dish was also divine. It was flavoured with smoked Spanish paprika and served with firm squares of grilled polenta that absorbed the juices.

Finally, the vegetable tagine baked in homemade filo pastry with yoghurt sauce also appeared at our table. While I cannot comment on how it tasted, I can report the serving was generous and it received two thumbs up.

Unlike the previous Scarf dinner, we resisted dessert. We again had a brilliant waiter looking after us. Tracy was truly wonderful and one would have trouble picking her out from a bunch of experienced staff in a local café. 

At the end of the evening, we said our thank-yous and farewells and went our separate ways. Who would have thought that an organisation would be able to combine dining out with helping others? If that isn’t the perfect excuse to eat out, I’d love to know what is. 

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” 

– Article 23 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

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Union Dining on Urbanspoon


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