From pad­dock to plate

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - FRONT PAGE -

STAND­ING in the mid­dle of a pad­dock, knee deep in fresh spring growth, Wayne Sullivan’s phone rings.

One pad­dock over, a small mob of Dor­per ewes lift their heads at the noise.

Be­hind them, cock­a­toos rise sharply into the sky.

Half a world away, Peter Mc­Cor­mack is stand­ing in the kitchen at the Rail­way Ho­tel in Wind­sor.

Strain­ing to hear over the sounds of cook­ing, he can vaguely make out the bird­song through the phone – with their call, he knows his fa­ther-in-law is on the other end of the line.

“Wayne, I think we might need more mush­rooms for the menu this week,” Peter says.

“How far away are the pigs from be­ing ready to butcher?”

It is an idyl­lic sit­u­a­tion, and one that is al­most cer­tainly unique in this part of the world.

Wayne, a ho­tel vet­eran of 40 some­thing years, has spent al­most two decades de­vel­op­ing his coun­try prop­erty, Oak Val­ley, at Euroa.

In Mel­bourne, his son-in­law, Peter, runs the em­i­nently suc­cess­ful Rail­way Ho­tel in Wind­sor.

To­gether, they have helped cre­ate a gen­uine pad­dock to plate ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It was a col­lec­tive idea, but it de­pends on the day,” Peter said.

“When we are hav­ing a good week, when the cat­tle are grow­ing how they should and the veg­gies are pro­duc­ing, then we all like to claim the en­ter­prise.

“But,” Peter joked, “when things don’t go smoothly – when the birds eat out the or­chard and we have to change the menu in a hurry - then things are a lit­tle less rosy.”

Peter has been man­ag­ing the Rail­way Ho­tel for three years.

Be­fore that, he worked in the meat and live­stock in­dus­try – giv­ing him an in­side ad­van­tage when it comes to de­cid­ing when and what to butcher.

“I ring the boys on the farm, and they will tell me what’s best to use – I try to or­gan­ise the menu to com­pli­ment what’s avail­able sea­son­ally,” he said.

In the last 12 months, the suc­cess of the Rail­way Ho­tel’s din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence – called High­line Restau­rant – has sky­rock­eted.

Cus­tomers are not only charmed by the idyl­lic vi­sion cre­ated by pad­dock to plate din­ing, they can­not get enough of the peo­ple be­hind the menu.

“A lot of it comes down to tim­ing, and we just use what we have avail­able,” Peter said.

“The qual­ity of the food and the ser­vice we pro­vide is ev­ery bit as im­por­tant as what is on the plate.”

No doubt, the com­bi­na­tion is what has earned High­line Restau­rant its long list of awards: a cov­eted Chefs Hat from The Good Food Guide in 2017 and 2018, Aus­tralian Ho­tels As­so­ci­a­tion Na­tional Award for Best Restau­rant 2016, The Age Good Food Guide top ten de­gus­ta­tion menus in Mel­bourne 2016 and a Chef’s Hat three years run­ning from the Aus­tralian Good Food and Travel Guide.

“It is a very idyl­lic sit­u­a­tion, and peo­ple re­ally like that,” Peter said.

“But there are a lot of vari­ables in pro­duc­ing a menu like this.”

Back in the pad­dock, Wayne Sullivan knows all about vari­ables.

So far, spring 2017 has been good to Oak Val­ley – the grass is grow­ing, lambs have been born and the spring drop calves look good.

“There is a lot to do with an op­er­a­tion like this, but I have al­ways main­tained that you may as well do the best job you can,” Wayne said.

Al­though Oak Val­ley is not a stud, Wayne and his team run just shy of 300 An­gus breed­ers – crossed an­nu­ally to a Charo­lais bull for hy­brid vigour.

Around 40 of the best pro­duc­ing cows are ar­ti­fi­cially in­sem­i­nated with im­ported ge­net­ics – be­cause, in Wayne’s words, “you don’t have to be a stud to want to pro­duce the best cat­tle you can”.

Run across 2000 acres, Oak Val­ley farms more than just beef.

There are Dor­pers, Berk­shire pigs, free range poul­try and a veg­etable gar­den Stephanie Alexan­der would be proud of – in­clud­ing trees for truf­fle hunt­ing, mush­rooms and a small plan­ta­tion of macadamias and av­o­ca­dos.

“There’s noth­ing we can’t pro­duce here,” Wayne said.

“It’s a very fer­tile patch of land.”

Once he has fin­ished work in the pad­dock, Wayne will slowly make his way back up to the Oak Val­ley homestead, in search of a cup of tea.

Along the way he will pass the large chook run – where High­line Restau­rant’s weekly de­liv­ery of 30 dozen eggs orig­i­nates from.

Not far from the main kitchen is the ex­ten­sive herb gar­den, and fur­ther on still is the or­chard – with the pomegranates, plums, pears and nec­tarines all just com­ing into flower.

Fur­ther on from the homestead is the horse yards – com­plete with a thor­ough­bred mare and her new­born foal.

Horses are an­other of Wayne’s pas­sions – and one he has been able to in­cor­po­rate into the farm’s pas­ture im­prove­ment pro­gram.

Al­ready this sea­son, Wayne has bought in three truck­loads of ma­nure from David Hayes’ rac­ing sta­ble.

At 300 square me­tres each load, there is a lot of ni­tro­gen rich fer­tiliser wait­ing for at­ten­tion.

The horse ma­nure will be added to a chicken ma­nure mix, at which point Wayne will let it sit un­til next win­ter – slowly de­com­pos­ing un­til it is ready to spread on his pad­docks.

“You get an in­stant ef­fect from chook ma­nure, but if you mix it with com­post you get a long term re­sult – that’s what the lat­est re­search sug­gests, and it’s work­ing for us,” Wayne said.

Farm­ing is more than just a life­style choice for Wayne, and his meth­ods in the pad­dock are con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing.

It is fur­ther proof that Oak Val­ley is more to the Sullivan fam­ily than a profit and loss state­ment.

The farm­house, set in eight acres of gar­dens, is a show-stop­per – a glimpse back into a way of life that has all but been for­got­ten.

“You have to take pride in what you have achieved, and what you are try­ing to do,” Wayne said.

“There is so much we can pro­duce our­selves, and Oak Val­ley is an ex­am­ple of that.”

If you would like to know more, visit the High­line Restau­rant web­site at www.high­liner­estau­rant.com.au.

There is so much we can pro­duce our­selves, and Oak Val­ley is an ex­am­ple of that.”

THINK­ING AHEAD: Wayne Sullivan and his son-in-law, Peter Mc­Cor­mack, run one of the coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful pad­dock to plate en­ter­prises. Wayne (pic­tured left) runs Oak Val­ley, a 2000 plus acre farm in Euroa. Each week, he sends fresh pro­duce – ev­ery­thing from beef to cit­rus – to Peter, who runs the highly suc­cess­ful fam­ily-owned busi­ness, the Rail­way Ho­tel in Wind­sor.

READY: Wayne Sullivan is proud of many things – his fam­ily, his busi­ness and his beau­ti­ful prop­erty, Oak Val­ley in Euroa, to name a few.

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