Alpaca the new kid on the chopping block

… the real star of this month’s Sydney International Food Festival was the alpaca. … We use it for a carpaccio and a South American adobo braise using the neck, shoulders and shank, custom tailored to our modern Asian style with some lotus and Korean chilli paste.

FOOD DETECTIVE: MICHELLE ROWE From: The Australian October 22, 2011

FORGET international chefs such as David Tanis and Alex Atala, the real star of this month’s Sydney International Food Festival was the alpaca.

Sadly, it’s nothing to do with that cartoonishly cute face and a fleece resembling an overstuffed pair of jodhpurs — rather, these South American camelids are being eyed up for the dinner table.

“It was the hit ingredient of the chefs’ showcase dinners,” festival director Joanna Savill tells Food Detective. “I think it’s going to be the next big thing in its own little way.”

Alpaca is already on the menu at a handful of NSW restaurants, according to Ian Frith of Millpaca Farm in Berry who, with fellow alpaca breeder Ian Davison of Illawarra Alpacas, has recently diversified his stud farm to produce meat for sale to restaurants. After supplying about 50 animals for festival dinners, Frith says several chefs have asked to trial the product, a leaner, lighter meat similar to veal.

“We’re not selling it retail; it must go through trained chefs,” says Frith, who adds that the lack of fat makes it a particularly difficult meat to work with, requiring an experienced hand to do it justice.

Chef David Campbell at Berry’s Hungry Duck has had alpaca on his menu for six months.

“There was a bit of a stigma attached at first as a lot of people use alpacas as herd protectors, and they’re almost considered a pet, but once we explained that these are bred for consumption, people were a bit more understanding of it,” he says. “We use it for a carpaccio and a South American adobo braise using the neck, shoulders and shank, custom tailored to our modern Asian style with some lotus and Korean chilli paste.”

Peruvian Alejandro Saravia (see Short Order) is also using it at his new restaurant, Morena. “I like that it’s light in flavour, unlike lamb that can be too strong or heavy for some people,” Saravia says. “Alpaca is the best seller on my menu. I’m cooking it sous vide, 60 degrees for eight hours, and using the juices in the bag to make a jus with Peruvian chillies.”

Detective would be all for trying alpaca herself if it didn’t have a face so spookily reminiscent of Angelina Jolie.

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