Great chefs have to know more than how to cook. They have to get to know their sup­pli­ers, too

The Weekend Australian - Life - - FOOD & WINE - STORY HI­LARY McNEVIN

Who’s that stand­ing be­hind ev­ery great chef? A great sup­plier. Be­lat­edly, we’re all start­ing to re­alise that when a chef bangs on about sea­sonal, eth­i­cal and lo­cal pro­duce, it’s all rather mean­ing­less un­less they have strong work­ing re­la­tion­ships with the pro­duc­ers.

In the best of th­ese re­la­tion­ships, a cer­tain flex­i­bil­ity is a given; a recog­ni­tion that ul­ti­mately, in the pur­suit of per­fec­tion on the plate, the real boss is Mother Na­ture, and what a capri­cious beast she is.

We found some chefs and sup­pli­ers who make th­ese tee­ter­ing trans­ac­tions work well and of­ten. Chef David Moyle and pig farmer Ross O’Meara, Ho­bart and Bruny Is­land, Tas­ma­nia David Moyle of Ho­bart’s Franklin restau­rant and pig farmer Ross O’Meara found each other when Moyle moved to the Ap­ple Isle in 2011.

“Ini­tially, Ross had linked me to a pi­geon pro­ducer in Broad­marsh when I first came to Tas­ma­nia,” says Moyle, “and when I was look­ing for a pig farmer he was my first choice.”

For Moyle, find­ing the right pro­duc­ers was part of ful­fill­ing his mis­sion state­ment. “The most im­por­tant thing for me when sourc­ing any meat prod­uct is an­i­mal ethics, and mov­ing to Tas­ma­nia was a de­ci­sion pre­dom­i­nantly based on be­ing able to en­gage with pro­duc­ers so that I could be part of the en­tire process, not just re­ceive a com­mod­ity at the end.”

Five years on and Moyle and O’Meara are a solid team. Pro­fes­sion­ally, they have reached the level of be­ing able to an­tic­i­pate what the other wants and what’s pos­si­ble, and they work con­sis­tently to make it good for both par­ties and, ul­ti­mately, Moyle’s restau­rant cus­tomers.

O’Meara’s back­ground in pro­fes­sional cook­ing helps nur­ture the con­nec­tion but it’s im­por­tant, he says, that Moyle un­der­stands the quirks of O’Meara’s work. “My back­ground made deal­ing with Dave’s needs eas­ier, in a way, but you need a chef who un­der­stands the prod­uct you’re sell­ing. You’re talk­ing about high-end prod­uct of limited sup­ply so you re­ally need a chef that is very flex­i­ble with their menu.

“Dave un­der­stands that he can’t have (my prod­uct) on his menu all the time.”

For din­ers, there’s an added fris­son in know­ing that dishes such as poached and wood-roasted neck of pork with turnip, yo­ghurt and lo­vage, or a hay and cider­braised pork shoul­der with toasted radic­chio and gar­lic buds, are not al­ways avail­able.

For Moyle, the big­gest is­sues are lo­gis­tics and scale. “Scale be­cause it is un­rea­son­able for me to say I only want to take the neck cut of the an­i­mal, re­quir­ing the death of 20 an­i­mals to pro­vide my weekly needs.”

Moyle says lo­gis­tics cause headaches when a smallscale prod­uct with a de­fined shelf-life post-mortem has to be pro­cessed ef­fi­ciently, but the pair co-or­di­nate and col­lab­o­rate to get it right.

At the end of the day, there is the odd beer shared. “I would con­sider us mates,” says O’Meara. “If I lived in town and not on an is­land with young kids, I think we would catch up a bit more. As busy as we both are, we still man­aged to have a beer just the other week.”

Says Moyle: “We are def­i­nitely mates. I have a lot of re­spect for what he is do­ing and the tough choices and sac­ri­fices you need to make in or­der to do some­thing with in­tegrity. Just don’t tell him that.” franklin­ho­; brun­y­is­land­ Rosa Mitchell, chef and co-owner of Rosa’s Kitchen and Rosa’s Can­teen, Mel­bourne, and Paul Righetti, Real Eggs, Yan­doit Rosa Mitchell and her hus­band, Colin, own a prop­erty in Yan­doit in Vic­to­ria’s north­west and are neigh­bours with Paul Righetti, a sheep farmer. When she heard Righetti was branch­ing out into eggs, it was an easy de­ci­sion. Mitchell’s busi­ness prac­tices and menu ethos have been built on lo­cal, eth­i­cal and qual­ity pro­duce, so sourc­ing gen­uine free-range eggs was piv­otal to her restau­rants’ of­fer­ing. For Righetti it was a good boost to his bur­geon­ing egg busi­ness. “Rosa was the first restau­rant to sup­port us, fol­lowed closely by the Lake House (Dayles­ford),” he says.

In Mitchell’s opin­ion, the eggs stand out be­cause “the chick­ens have a great liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment, the qual­ity is great and they taste like real eggs! I ac­tu­ally drive past the chick­ens ev­ery week­end and see how happy they are”.

The eggs are from Isa Brown chooks (quiet tem­per­a­ment and they lay qual­ity eggs) and Righetti refers to his method of farm­ing as open range, as op­posed to free range (the lat­ter is mea­sured by space per bird and can be up to 10,000 to 15,000 birds to the hectare). Righetti’s open-range method and his ex­panse of land means he has just 10 birds to the hectare. The chick­ens graze through open pas­tures and have mo­bile hous­ing, giv­ing them ac­cess to fresh pas­ture ev­ery two days.

Happy chooks lay­ing good eggs of­ten can mean higher cost and Mitchell is fine with that. “We do pay more for the eggs and we in­cor­po­rate that into our costs. At Rosa’s we have very lit­tle waste be­cause we use the whole veg­etable or the whole chicken so wastage is at a min­i­mum,” she says.

Righetti sees the is­sue of cost be­ing ad­dressed through ed­u­cat­ing the cus­tomer. “Once con­sumers un­der­stand how much bet­ter a pas­ture-fed, open­range egg is and how we farm, they are to­tally on board.” This neigh­bourly chef-sup­ply re­la­tion­ship has fos­tered col­lab­o­ra­tions; Mitchell has cooked for Righetti at Real Eggs’ an­nual open days at the farm. Mitchell says there’s a great friend­ship de­vel­op­ing. “We have known each other for a while but the eggs have made us get to know each other bet­ter,” she says.

“We are both pas­sion­ate in our be­liefs about the en­vi­ron­ment, qual­ity of prod­ucts, fam­ily and lo­cal his­tory. And we don’t mind a lit­tle glass of wine.”; rea­

Amanda Hinds and the Grunske fam­ily, Bund­aberg, Queens­land

Amanda Hinds, chef and co-owner of In­dulge Cafe in Queens­land’s Bund­aberg, has been buy­ing her seafood from the Grunske fam­ily — own­ers of restau­rant and re­tail shop Grunske’s by the River — for more than a decade. Hinds and fam­ily ma­tri­arch Beryl Grunske found each other about 13 years ago through a mu­tual love of seafood.

It was the Grunskes’ high stan­dards, “backed up with in­fec­tious knowl­edge”, says Hinds, that sparked the con­ver­sa­tions and the con­nec­tion be­tween the two. Their shared cu­rios­ity about dif­fer­ent, not-too-com­mon fish species kept the con­nec­tion go­ing.

Hinds hits the lo­ca­vore point home. “While we’re talk­ing to you, we’re sit­ting on Beryl’s back veranda and a man is work­ing in the back­ground on the Bur­nett River about 100m away cook­ing river prawns for the Grunskes’ shop,” she says. “They are the sweet­est most de­li­cious prawns you will ever eat and, af­ter hav­ing this kind of seafood, your stan­dard is set very high.” Again, flex­i­bil­ity is key to the re­la­tion­ship’ s suc­cess. Hinds loves the rib­bon fish the fam­ily catches and the baby squid, but they aren’t al­ways avail­able. The menu flexes and bends to ac­com­mo­date fish that is sea­sonal and sus­tain­able. “I trust their (the Grunskes’) rec­om­men­da­tions and they know what I like,” says Hinds.

Threadfin salmon is an­other favourite: Hinds is serv­ing it with an av­o­cado mousse and pick­led ginger (the av­o­cado and ginger are also lo­cally sourced). Mean­while, a new dish — smoked co­bia and potato cakes with lo­cal bot­targa — is also prov­ing a hit.

For her part, Grunske ad­mires Hinds’s ac­com­mo­dat­ing ap­proach. “She’s al­ways open to any­thing new and her nat­u­ral re­spect and cre­ativ­ity with the prod­uct is won­der­ful,” Grunske says. The only down­side is the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the weather and sup­ply.

“Con­sis­tency with sup­ply can change and that is part of sea­son­al­ity,” says Hinds, “but the qual­ity and ser­vice are al­ways su­per re­li­able.” grunskes­; in­dul­ge­

QT Ho­tel chef Paul Eas­son, and the ho­tel group’s for­ager, Ge­orgie Neal, Syd­ney

Ge­orgie Neal was ap­pointed to the newly cre­ated role of for­ager for the QT Ho­tel group in May last year.

As head chef of the ho­tel’s restau­rant Gow­ings Bar & Grill, Eas­son’s work­load was pre­vent­ing him from de­vot­ing suf­fi­cient time to build­ing re­la­tion­ships with pro­duc­ers and grow­ers, hence the need for some­one else to drive up hill and down dale across NSW seek­ing out sea­sonal and eth­i­cal pro­duce.

Eas­son likes where the col­lab­o­ra­tion is head­ing; his menu is more pro­duce-driven than be­fore. Now a monthly list of pro­duc­ers ap­pears on the top-left-hand cor­ner of the Gow­ings menu.

From Karen and David Borg at Wil­low­brae Chevre comes ashed chevre in a salad with salt-baked baby beet­root; Fab­rics Rolando from First Farm Or­gan­ics pro­vides ex­otic plants and herbs such as sun­dew — in this in­stance, served over steamed scal­lops with gar­lic and ginger juice — and olive herb that Eas­son adds to his lush truf­fle mac­a­roni ’n’cheese.

And the ap­ple and quince in the hot pocket turnovers with rasp­berry and turmeric sher­bet are grown by John Reynolds from Nash­dale Fruit Com­pany.

Neal thrives on the con­nec­tion to the pro­duc­ers and the team loves to swap recipe ideas with the chefs. “Turn­ing up with a car­load of amaz­ing pro­duce, it’s hard not to of­fer some sug­ges­tions,” she says.

There are hic­cups at times but that’s just part of deal­ing with na­ture.

“Some­times things we had planned to put on the menu are af­fected by rain or late to come into sea­son, but that’s all part of run­ning a sea­sonal menu,” says Eas­son.

“Ge­orgie cov­ers a lot of miles in her lit­tle car to meet peo­ple and it’s amaz­ing how many boxes of beau­ti­ful pro­duce she man­ages to squeeze in to bring back to the ho­tel.” qtho­tel­san­

I ac­tu­ally drive past the chick­ens ev­ery week­end and see how happy they are

Rosa Mitchell in her Rosa’s Can­teen, Mel­bourne

Clock­wise from top, sup­plier Ross O’Meara, left, of Bruny Is­land Food with David Moyle of Ho­bart restau­rant Franklin; O’Meara at work; the pair with a fin­ished ham PIC­TURES: PETER MATHEW

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