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 theredvelvetlounge.com.au