Vegemite-marinated duck with pommes fondant and Vegemite-glazed carrots Credit: Julia Thiel

Vegemite, ubiquitous in Australia, its country of origin, is barely known elsewhere. Brent Balika (Margeaux Brasserie) was aware of the existence of the savory spread, which is made from leftover brewers’ yeast extract and various flavorings, but had never tried it before Christopher Thompson of Coda di Volpe challenged him to cook with it. “It’s straight umami, superintense,” he says. “Like bouillon: super intense savory.”

It’s similar in flavor to the British spread Marmite, and was developed in Melbourne after World War I interrupted British imports, leaving Australia with a Marmite shortage. Kraft, which has owned Vegemite since the 1930s, has incorporated it into products like Vegemite CheesyBite (Vegemite with cream cheese) and the now-discontinued Vegemite Singles (the same but with Kraft Singles), while Cadbury once released a Vegemite chocolate bar. Mostly, though, Vegemite is eaten on toast with butter.

Balika, however, went with a less classic preparation. One thing Margeaux Brasserie is known for, he says, is its whole roasted duck, carved tableside. Specifically, the restaurant uses Rohan duck, a crossbreed created by the company D’Artagnan that includes Pekin and mallard, among others. Balika first tried using Vegemite in a rub, but discovered that it would burn during the roasting process. Instead, he combined it with soy sauce, sake lees (the solids left over after sake is made), mandarin orange juice, and honey to make a marinade that he injected into the duck breast. He then let it sit overnight, long enough for the marinade to flavor the meat but not long enough for it to break down the proteins too much, which, he says, causes a mealy texture. After rubbing the duck breast with honey and salt, he roasted it in a 375-degree convection oven for 20 minutes.

While a little Vegemite goes a long way, one application wasn’t enough: Balika also used it for sauteed carrots, combining it with butter that he added to the pan along with honey and mandarin orange juice and zest. “Mixing in sweetness and acidity helped play off the intense quality of Vegemite, tone it down to make it approachable and not overpower everything else,” he says. The final element of the dish was pommes fondant, potatoes cooked in butter, braised in stock, and then seared to a golden brown.

Compared to the more classic duck a l’orange, Balika says, duck a la Vegemite has a deeper umami flavor that “accentuates the richness and iron quality” of the meat. In the carrots, meanwhile, the Vegemite adds an “intense earthy quality that helps accentuate and play off the sweetness. Balance is the key ingredient to the success of any cuisine.”

Who’s next:
Balika has challenged chef CJ Jacobson of Ema to create a dish with dried scallops. “I love what it adds to dishes—sweetness, umami, funk,” says Balika.