• Michelle Meehan

Interactive Twist on Degustation Dining

If necessity is the mother of invention, the proof has certainly been in the pudding for those in the hospitality industry who have been forced to reinvent their businesses in the wake of COVID-19.

One of the most successful pivots among local restaurateurs has been the huge success of Matt Dillow’s Degustation to Your Door service. The owner of The Deck Café at Lovedale was quick to launch into the takeaway market when restrictions forced eateries to close their doors for on-site dining.


But it wasn’t long before the renowned chef took things one step further with an out-of-the-box alternative for customers seeking more than just a mouth-watering meal.

“We started doing upmarket-style takeaway food of a restaurant-quality, and then we just thought we could take it to the next level by doing a five-course degustation,” Matt said.

“We’d had feedback from people saying that they were missing out on their 50th birthdays, or their anniversaries, or whatever celebration, so we thought we could lift it to a new level for them and do something that no-one else was doing.”

Rather than just deliver a fully-prepared five-course meal, Matt’s degustations offered tasty takeaways with an interactive twist by incorporating an at-home cooking class element into the mix.

“I’ve done a lot of cooking classes, I do food, wine and produce tours and people enjoy that sort of thing,” Matt said.

“And without being able to go anywhere, a response to being inside was that a lot of people were cooking more, buying cookbooks and watching cooking videos.

“I thought that to give people something to look forward to at the end of the week we could do a degustation dinner with a cooking class involved too. We’d prep the food up as we would for any function in a kitchen, so they just had to do the final touches on the dishes.”

The degustation packages were delivered with full instructions each week before Matt took to Facebook on Saturday night to host a live cooking class, walking his customers through the final steps of each course while also offering professional tips on how to cook and plate up the restaurant-quality creations.

While Matt knew the at-home degustation had plenty of potential, even he wasn’t prepared for just how quickly the concept would take off.

“We did ten weeks straight and started off thinking we’ll do maybe 100 people each time,” Matt said.

“We did 180 the very first week, and then the second week we thought we’d do 200, and we did 250.

“By the third week the phone didn’t stop, and we did 450 people, while for Mother’s Day we did 900. It was amazing.

“We’ve done 13 of them now for a total of 6000 people.

“What gave us more inspiration was that people were so excited to look in the box at what they were going to put together.

“People are saying it’s changed the way they cook at home because they’re learning little techniques. I don’t just give them the food and say this is how you cook it; I give them explanations on dishes, like why when I cook a risotto I add the parmesan last and then stir it and serve it. What is the process of making a blue swimmer crab dish or a good red wine jus. How to make a good French beurre blanc.

“Every week was a different five-course, we were trying to mix it up to give an insight into what I’ve learnt cooking since I was 14-years-old, so people at home could cook like a pro.”

Matt and his staff weren’t the only ones benefitting from the innovative concept, with the chef tapping into his wide network throughout the Hunter to enhance the dining experience. This included pairing with a different winery each week to offer matching wines for each course, and utilising the expertise of Fernando Antao from Sabor Dessert Bar to cap off the meal with a truly decadent dessert.

Degustation to Your Door added a charitable flavour to the offering as well, with Matt and one of his wine partners, Tamburlaine, raising $11,690 for the Hunter Medical Research Institute from just one week’s degustation.

With restrictions easing and on-site dining back on the menu at The Deck Café, Matt has slowed down the weekly degustation, with the popular concept set to pop up every couple of months.

There are two more scheduled for the remainder of 2020, including a Christmas Feast on December 19 and a Spring Time Favourites offering on October 17, which will include everything from smoked duck and blue-eye cod to herb-roasted quail and lamb cutlet. A delectable Sabor’s Snicker’s bomb will provide a sweet treat at the end of the night, while an optional wine pack from Tintilla Wines will offer the perfect accompaniment to every course.

Visit www.deckcafelovedale.com.au to find out more.