Man of the sea


Steve Cumper gets cre­ative with Tas­ma­nian seafood.

Steve Cumper flexes his cre­ative mussels with Tas­ma­nian seafood.

Many peo­ple know Tas­ma­nia as an is­land of plenty and the seafood pro­duced here must take much of the credit for that rep­u­ta­tion. When my fam­ily moved from Mel­bourne to Cygnet in 2003, I couldn’t be­lieve how ac­ces­si­ble great seafood was. My first job in Tassie was ex­ec­u­tive chef of a brand new devel­op­ment in Wood­bridge, a vil­lage on the shore of the D’en­tre­casteaux Chan­nel. Once a week, fish­ing boats would dock at Wood­bridge pier and un­load their catch into wait­ing vans. I quickly learnt that a slab of Cas­cade and a wad of cash could se­cure some mighty king crabs, which would fea­ture on the lunch spe­cials list. An­other rev­e­la­tion oc­curred at a lunch with friends at Cockle Creek, a tiny set­tle­ment in the state’s far south, where freshly caught flat­head, for­aged mussels and just-dug clams were tossed into an im­promptu paella and cooked over a fire on the beach — a sub­lime ex­pe­ri­ence. But what I find most ex­cep­tional is the won­der­ful bar­ter­ing sys­tem that many of my neigh­bours op­er­ate, whereby peo­ple ex­change a cou­ple of cray­fish for a ser­vice ren­dered, swap a few large scal­lops for some flow­ers, or some fish fil­lets for steaks. It seems that the nat­u­ral bounty of seafood avail­able in this state is able to tra­verse gen­er­a­tions and per­haps, most sig­nif­i­cantly, dif­fer­ent so­cio-eco­nomic re­al­i­ties. If you want a feed of fish, you can go out there and get it, ir­re­spec­tive of your so­cial sta­tus or pay grade. This egal­i­tar­ian ex­is­tence could ex­plain why Tas­ma­ni­ans are so par­tic­u­lar about the fresh­ness of their seafood — and why they’re so re­luc­tant to pay main­land prices for it! When you think about it, how blessed are we in Australia — not just in Tassie — to be able to drop a line or a cray­pot, or for­age for shell­fish along the shore? But, as for­tu­nate as we are with re­gards to nat­u­ral re­sources, aqua­cul­ture is also nec­es­sary to sat­isfy our ra­pa­cious ap­petite, and ad­dress is­sues of sus­tain­abil­ity and de­ple­tion. Aqua­cul­ture has been thriv­ing in Tas­ma­nia for more than 30 years, and marine farm­ing now ac­counts for 78 per cent of the value of the seafood in­dus­try, with salmon, mussels and oysters among the big­gest ex­ports. To­day even abalone is be­ing farmed and in­roads are be­ing made into breed­ing rock lob­sters in cap­tiv­ity. Pi­o­neers of the in­dus­try — Peter and Frances Ben­der of Huon Aqua­cul­ture, and Phil Lamb from Spring Bay Seafoods — are reg­u­larly ap­plauded for their vi­sion, sus­tain­able prac­tices and their prod­ucts. Huon salmon and Spring Bay mussels are al­ways present on my menus in some form or an­other, and in­spired me to cre­ate this recipe. Give it a try and you, too, will be hooked on the Tas­ma­nian style of seafood. Steve Cumper was the first win­ner of Coun­try Style’s Coun­try Chef of the Year Award. Steve’s Cygnet restau­rant, The Red Vel­vet Lounge, is cur­rently closed due to a fire, but he hopes to re­open soon. For in­for­ma­tion, visit thered­vel­vet­

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