A host of chefs and restaurateurs around the country are turning to their own backyards (and coastline or countryside) to source ingredients through growing and foraging. Think Clint Nolan at Harvest in Fremantle, WA; in NSW, the boys at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte, and Alex Puskas and James Parry at Sixpenny in Stanmore; Luke Burgess at Garagistes in Hobart, and Ben Shewry of Attica in Melbourne. Martin Boetz, co-owner and executive chef of Longrain, Sydney and Melbourne, is now taking it a step further. He’s long been a committed exponent of sustainable and ethical produce, and, about a year ago, bought an 11-hectare property overlooking the Hawkesbury River, an hour or so north of Sydney. He’s spent the past year planting the acreage with an assortment of herbs and vegetables to supplement his restaurant kitchen and is now living there full-time – commuting daily to inner-city Surry Hills. “The plan is to link up with other like-minded chefs and cooks to grow our own produce as a co-op, and to include interested local small farmers, who’ll be guaranteed a more reliable and regular outlet by supplying their produce direct to the chefs, too.” The Cooks Co-op HQ is a converted barn on the property, set up as a commercial kitchen, where chefs can bring their teams to a “kind of chefs’ retreat – a creative space where they can work up recipe and menu ideas, or learn about growing efficiently and sustainably, away from the distractions of their restaurant kitchens,” says Marty. Local producers will also be able to use it to value-add to their surplus produce – to make preserves, pickles, jams and so on. Marty is also putting on regular events, dinners and lunches for the public – where he or guest chefs will cook with ingredients grown in the region: “Things like a lunch celebrating the first tomato harvest.” And it doesn’t stop there – Marty hopes to see this develop into an Australia-wide initiative, with chef-farmer collectives in each state. “Ultimately, it could mean that we have a national network where we can swap ingredients and share our knowledge and experiences.” Follow the Cooks Co-op at www.facebook.com/cookscoop.
You could also snuggle up in a cottage on Marty’s property, which has the most amazing views of the Hawkesbury river. It costs $180 per night (minimum two nights), which not only means you get to wake up to that view, but includes eggs from the local chooks, a few fresh fixings from the garden and a bottle of something nice and grapey. Check it out at www.james-rose.com.au.
Appetite for Excellence
While that tiresome twosome big it up on MasterChef: The Professionals, there’s another competition humming along nicely without the tears, tokenism and fake posh English accent. Launched by Luke Mangan and Lucy Allon in 2005, the Electrolux Appetite for Excellence awards have been helping to raise the, um, bar, of the hospitality industry by supporting and promoting the work of young chefs, waiters and, since 2009, restaurateurs. Among the fantastic prizes and opportunities available on offer, the winning chef and waiter go on to compete at the San’Pellegrino Cooking Cup in Venice, where the poor souls are confined to quarters on a luxury racing yacht, cooking and waiting against an international selection of their industry peers. This year’s judging panel includes Peter Gilmore, Peter Doyle and Christine Manfield and Mark Best, and the 2012 young restaurateur of the year, Katrina Birchmeier, of Hobart’s wonderful Garagistes. Among the cook-offs, masterclasses and regional tours contestants take part in, there are two events open to the public, called Whet Your Appetite. The first of these, featuring former winners from Adelaide and further afield, is in Adelaide in late April, at brand-spanking-new Public in the CBD, where last year’s young chef of the year, Stewart Wesson, is now manning the stoves. The second will be at a so-far-unconfirmed hotspot in Brisbane later this year. Entrants must nominate themselves, so if you know any talented young ‘uns in the industry who you think deserve recognition, badger them to go online and enter. Applications open 4 February and close 14 April. Check it all out at www.appetiteforexcellence.com.
And finally… a subject very close to my heart…
Meat Free Week
Factory farming is anathema. And yes, I know we’re guilty of standing on our well-fed, rarefied, First World pedestals as we rail against the mass-production of cheap food. But there’s a cost – not just to the millions of animals that suffer untold (and told, thanks to the likes of Lyn White of Animals Australia and Voiceless) horrors in the name of affordable protein, but to us, both in terms of our own short-term health and the long-term health of this planet. Whether you’re rethinking your meat consumption for health, budgetary or ethical reasons, Australia’s first Meat Free Week campaign, 18 – 24 March, is an engaging, inclusive, non-confrontational way of considering the options. The website is a mine of information on the subject, and the women behind it: Melissa Dixon, Helen Lear, Lainie Bracher and Shonagh Walker, are enthusiastic, unbombastic (yeah, I know – no such word) exponents of the cause. Their initiative has been embraced by chefs such as Simon Bryant and Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander and Bill Granger, who are sharing vegie recipes to ease the meat-free pain. And the pic? That’s one of my own modest meat-free efforts – and, if I may say so myself, absolutely delicious. If you want the recipe, email me at email@example.com. Otherwise, go to www.meatfreeweek.com and indulge your First World conscience.