Australia’s degustation king, Chef Nelly Robinson—known best for his rule-breaking Sydney restaurant, Nel— might have just pulled off the impossible, turning KFC’s fast food dishes, into an 11-course degustation.
So how did he do it?
Robinson appeared after guests were ushered into the room within a room inside a clandestine building in Marrickville, to explain the menu of the night—leaving out key details that would later become a surprise.
The first course was a tomatoey marshmallow cube with the hallowed secret spices and cheese flavour. It was called, “You Call That A Burger?” and it seems Robinson took that quite literally.
This set the tone for the night. After the marshmallow dissolved in my mouth, I realised this was no ordinary degustation experience.
The Zinger Katsu was next: a delicious mouthful made with a mini-Zinger piece, katsu jus, curry mayo and dill, sitting on a potato pillow.
The idea of the first four courses was a take on finger food, which Robinson explains is what KFC and fast food are. Although, Robinson added his signature flair to it, serving KFCs wicked wings, on a flaming bed of charcoal. Who doesn’t love a bit of theatrical dining?
Speaking of theatrics, the next dish was simply named Potato and Gravy, after KFC’s signature tub of potato and gravy. Although, what we didn’t realise was the candle the servers ignited at the start was a gravy candle (yes, that’s a thing), and they poured a dark gravy over the melted candle and told us to dip our potato bun into it.
According to Robinson, the candle is made up of a mixture of sage, chicken fat, and beef fat.
“We mould them in with the wicks, freeze them, and then light them. They take about 10 minutes to burn down,” said Robinson.
“I had some servers come back to me and said guests were asking about the candle. I told them, the best thing to do is just smile and walk away”
As to why the candle made an appearance, Robinson explained it was simply to get people talking. “It’s fun and we want people to get excited about what’s coming next.”
The next dish was a Zinger kingfish, which is a KFC first. They’ve never had fish on the menu, and Robinson received some pushback, but in the end, he got it on the menu.
“When I was approached with this opportunity, I was adamant from the start that if I’m going to do this, they need to let me have free reign of it,” said Robinson.
“I wanted it to be out of the box, so I looked at the menu and realised we can’t just serve chicken, because no one is going to eat chicken all night. Instead, I grabbed a piece of kingfish and started experimenting with the Zinger spices. We marinated the fish in the Zinger spice mix, which took some trial and error.
We marinated one for 12 hours, the next 24 hours, and one for 48 hours. The first was too weak, the second wasn’t good enough, and the 48 hours blew your head off. So we needed to work between 24-48 hours. In the next trial, we did 30 hours, which was weak and 38 hours, which again—blew your head off. So we did 37 hours and 37 and a half hours. In the end, we worked out 37 hours was the perfect amount of time to get the flavours right.”
The Zinger Kingfish was served on a bed of yogurt slaw with lobster, which Robinson explains is an ode to his mum’s slaw.
To understand the next dish, you have to understand Robinson. As he explains, he’s fun and cheeky, he loves to play with food so when it came to recreating the Twister, Robinson split the classic dish in two.
The first dish was the Colonel’s face on a plate with the flavours of Kentucky Fried Chicken—tomato, lettuce, and pepper mayo. We were instructed to lick the plate, which isn’t something you see at many degustation restaurants.
“As kids, we licked the plate, but people at Nel always said they want to lick the sauce off the plate, so with this dish, I decided this would be a bit of fun. I didn’t know how it would go down, but everyone laughed in the test run, so we made stencils and created the Colonel’s face with all the flavours of a Twister,” said Robinson.
The second part of the Twister was a mini twister on a tortilla with tomatoes, a chicken tender and sauce.
The next dish is a testament to the true genius of Robinson’s innovation. Popcorn chicken is everyone’s favourite, it’s easy and delicious, but Robinson managed to turn this simple, snack into a celeriac soup, with mushroom gnocchi, popcorn chicken pieces, and basil.
“To me, popcorn chicken is a bundle of comfort—a pillow. What else is pillowy? gnocchi. And what’s comforting Italian cuisine? So for this dish, I wanted to make a comfy, garlic mushroom soup to match the flavour of popcorn chicken. In gnocchi, parsley is usually through the gnocchi so we used parsley oil and chips,” said Robinson.
“It’s about breaking down each element and turning it into something that works.”
The main dish was a signature chicken drumstick, but according to Robinson, he wanted to showcase the main item KFC is known for. What better way to present a royal dish, than with a cloche filled with smoke and a sprinkling of gold dust.
“I’m just trying to give a dining experience people will remember, said Robinson”
For one of three desserts, Robinson took a KFC chip and turned it into artwork on a bed of wattleseed ice cream and burnt pineapple.
“The chip dessert is the one I’m most proud of because we did something really off-key.
We took two bags of KFC chips and roasted them in the oven slowly, to crisp them up and give them flavour. We then boiled them in a pan with extra potatoes and when you soak them in water it releases the starch so you get that great flavour. We dehydrated it and fried it up with some salt.
I remember telling them, we do three desserts at Nel, and I want to do three desserts here. Now KFC doesn’t have many desserts except for the chocolate mousse, so after they tried the chip dessert, everyone loved it. It’s different. I then added roasted pineapple and a mead custard with a scoop of wattleseed ice cream to bring it together,” said Robinson.
The next two desserts were petit fours, including a chocolate mousse dipped in nitrogen, which melted in your mouth and a chocolate and peppermint Krusher, which exploded in one bite.
“It’s what we do at Nel. We want to break down ingredients, challenge the norm, and create something truly memorable.”
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