It’s the most Australian food of them all, loved (and loathed) for its salty, yeasty kick and smeary tar qualities but, until now, Vegemite has been largely restricted to breakfast toast or cheesymite scrolls stuffed in lunchboxes.
No longer. Now Vegemite is the star ingredient in an elaborate dessert at Dinner by Heston, the high-end Crown restaurant which otherwise focuses on historical British food – its most famous dish is Meat Fruit, a chicken liver parfait disguised as a mandarin, which dates back to the 16th century.
There’s no such trompe l’oeil in the new dessert, an elaborate ice cream sundae. A crunchy muesli-style base of puffed grains, cocoa nibs and macadamia strikes a morning mood while splodges of chocolate ganache pull the flavours towards dessert. Looming above is an orb of creamy ice cream with a familiar breakfast aroma. No wonder: there’s about a teaspoon of Vegemite in every serve of ice cream and the malty Vegemite caramel drizzled over the top.
To create the dessert, Vegemite’s key elements were dissected in chef Heston Blumenthal’s UK development kitchen and, having identified dark caramel, a deep savouriness and a suspicion of chocolate, recipes were tested over a six-month period.
Executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts reckons the team chewed through 10 kilograms of Vegemite in the process. “We started by learning how you guys eat Vegemite,” says the British chef. “Then we made cake, biscuits, panna cotta, so many applications that at times it felt like we were going around in circles. In the end, ice cream felt like the right direction to go.” The result is a dessert that’s balanced yet quirky. “We wanted something fun and we wanted the textures and flavours to marry, be interesting and combine differently with every bite,” says Palmer-Watts. As a Vegemite toast fan from way back, I also appreciate the symmetry of starting and finishing my day with the same taste.
Executive chef Ashley Palmer-Watts prepares Vegemite Ice Cream
While chatting to Palmer-Watts about the new dessert I took the opportunity to quiz him about their Thermomix use at Dinner by Heston. “We’ve got nine of them and they get a hammering!” he says. There is a Thermomix component to the Vegemite dessert too – it’s used to make a verjus and grapefruit gel which is dotted around the plate, bringing a tangy citrus element to the sweet and salty creaminess of the other elements.
Other celebrity chefs have tackled Vegemite. Nigella Lawson cooked Vegemite spaghetti with grated parmesan cheese at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in 2011. Sydney’s Momofuku Seiobo has been the scene of concerted Vegemite experimentation. When Rene Redzepi brought Noma to Sydney in 2016, they worked hard on a yeasty ‘Nomamite’ that was eventually diluted and served with abalone schnitzel. Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck has even dabbled with a Vegemite stock for a vegetarian pot au feu.
Vegemite Ice Cream was served to the public for the first time at an Australia Day 2017 lunch, to debut on the menu proper soon after. Stay tuned for a Dani Valent Cooking collaboration with chef Ashley Palmer-Watts later this year.
And while we’re on the subject of ice cream, why don’t you try my heavenly White Chocolate and Baileys Parfait with Coffee Crumble.