The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

QUALIA’s ex­ec­u­tive chef Stephane Rio de­scribes his food as Aus­tralian with a French twist. The ex­pa­tri­ate French­man grew up on a farm in Brit­tany and says he learned ‘‘ re­spect for fresh pro­duce’’ from about the age of four when he started help­ing his par­ents pick beans and fruit, and make jam and pre­serves. He will ‘‘ never take food for granted’’.

Rio’s new job places him square cen­tre ‘‘ in a French­man’s par­adise’’. As we chat, spread out on cush­ioned so­fas in the re­sort’s lofty Long Pavil­ion, he ges­tures to­wards the seem­ingly lim­it­less blue of the sea. ‘‘ We are sur­rounded by wa­ter,’’ he says, ‘‘ and once guests have set­tled in and got over the dra­matic view, they start think­ing about what seafood might be on the menu.’’

The seas around Bowen, an hour north of the is­land, are a rich source of coral trout, sweet­lip and snap­per; Rio brings in bugs from More­ton Bay, sweet scal­lops from nearby Her­vey Bay, black mar­rons from West­ern Aus­tralia and, from south­east Tas­ma­nia, his favourite variety of oys­ters, Pipe Clay La­goon. He plans his menus about a week in ad­vance but ad­mits that the va­garies of is­land life and its de­pen­dence on freight can mean last­minute changes.

Rio is no stranger to is­land liv­ing. He has cooked at La Fon­taine, the sig­na­ture din­ing room on nearby Hay­man Is­land, and the restau­rant at Hamil­ton Is­land’s Beach Club, the main re­sort’s top-tier ac­com­mo­da­tion. He’s also worked in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, where he tells me he par­tic­u­larly en­joyed learn­ing about in­dige­nous herbs and heal­ing plants.

Aside from his a la carte and sev­en­course de­gus­ta­tion menus at Qualia’s Long Pavil­ion, Rio of­fers a mixed grill on Thurs­day nights (ex­pect kan­ga­roo loin with na­tive pep­pers amid the stan­dard mix) at the wa­ter­side Peb­ble Beach din­ing pav- il­ion and a seafood bar­be­cue on Sun­days.

Rio be­lieves in one main flavour for ev­ery dish but likes to ex­per­i­ment, es­pe­cially with herbs. Pep­pery Asian mint, pineap­ple sage and lemon myr­tle are cur­rent favourites; lemon ver­bena even ap­pears in a dessert soup.

And he clearly loves to spring the un­ex­pected, such as fresh ly­chees sprin­kled through sal­ads. Palate cleansers be­tween cour­ses are of the ilk of Viet­namese mint sor­bet with blood orange essence. Coral trout ap­pears with crispy skin, cray­fish can­nel­loni and shi­itake mush­room broth; one of the most pop­u­lar lunchtime dishes at Peb­ble Beach is a cher­moula-spiced tiger prawn salad. It’s cui­sine of the sun: light, bright and fresh. Tres­deli­cieuse . Susan Kuro­sawa

Ex­otic mix: Ex­ec­u­tive chef Stephane Rio

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