THIS LITTLE PIGGY
OFF-GRID AND FULLY SUSTAINABLE, ARIMIA OFFERS SOME OF THE FRESHEST AND MOST CREATIVE FOOD IN MARGARET RIVER.
Paddock to plate is a phrase bandied around a lot these days, but it actually means something at Arimia Winery and Restaurant in Margaret River. Head chef Evan Hayter aspires to do as much as he can on the site of the 55-hectare property, which is self-sustaining and entirely off the grid. He plants and tends to the kitchen garden, feeds his pigs each day (they serve the dual purpose of clearing weeds and later being delicious served up on a plate), keeps an eye on the marron in Arimia’s dam and even helps pick the olives from the 250 trees on site.
“It is extremely rewarding,” says the Perth-born chef. “It is hard. It is very demanding – lucky I absolutely love it and I have a good team backing me up as well. But there is nothing better than pulling something out of the ground and serving it 10 minutes later; it doesn’t get any fresher than that and it doesn’t get any tastier than that.”
Taste is what led Hayter to this approach in the first place. He came down from Perth to work at Margaret River Hotel, hoping it would turn into a gastro-pub like the Subiaco Hotel in Perth, where he had done part of his apprenticeship. But after two years he decided it was time to venture elsewhere. At the same time, Hayter’s mate Cameron Haskell, the wine manager at Arimia, kept asking him to come on board as chef.
Arimia was set up in 1999 by Ann Spencer, who wanted to establish a winery that not only stood out from the crowd but also used sustainable farming practices. It is very much off the beaten track, 2km down a dirt road, without mains electricity or water – power comes from solar panels and all water is collected on site.
“Ann personally called me and said, ‘we want you to come and see the place, we think you would like it’,” Hayter says. “I came out and it evolved from there.” A kitchen garden had already been planted but Hayter expanded it and came up with other things to grow and raise onsite. “I am pretty lucky as I have 55ha to play with and a 7ha vineyard,” he says. “I just started having crazy ideas and I was lucky enough that my boss said, ‘yeah, that sounds like a good idea, so you can do it’. Then you start making money so you just keep going.”
When Hayter arrived, Arimia had a small café that served more casual food, such as wood-fired pizza. Since he has been there, the menu has evolved dramatically. He now offers four-course tasting menus with wine pairings that feature the best produce Arimia and Margaret River have to offer. On the day that WISH visited, this meant tempura whiting from nearby Augusta and kangaroo with native plum jam and chilli jam. As we ate on the verandah, we could see in the distance Hayter’s piglets doing their duty and clearing the land of weeds (so Hayter could plant another veggie patch) while being ridiculously cute.
“They are cute now but wait until they are 65kg and biting you on the ankles because they want the bucket of feed you are holding,” Hayter says. “I do absolutely love my pigs. They are characters, they are very funny.”
So is it hard when it comes to the business end? “Yes,” Hayter admits. “It is hard. If everyone farmed pigs or other animals and had to send them off to slaughter, we would eat far less meat and we would live in a better world. That is ultimately where I am heading.”