Bon Vi­vant

Fol­low­ing the re­cent launch of his cook­book Brae: Recipes and Sto­ries from the Restau­rant, the lauded Aus­tralian chef tells Don Men­doza why farm-to-ta­ble cooking is de­li­ciously hard

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Contents -

Chef Dan Hunter gets can­did about the hard­earned re­wards of farm-to-ta­ble cooking

If a chef ever needs re­mind­ing that cooking with a con­science is a choice and a bless­ing, they only need to look at the re­cent suc­cess that for­mer Mu­garitz head chef Dan Hunter’s been hav­ing. Hunter made the de­ci­sion to move back to Aus­tralia and even­tu­ally opened his own restau­rant, Brae, in 2013—though not in the food cap­i­tal that is Mel­bourne, but on a 30-acre farm lo­cated 135km south­west of the city, in Bir­re­gurra.

In his de­but cook­book, Brae: Recipes and Sto­ries from the Restau­rant, he shares how he felt like he “had gone away to travel and party”—lead­ing to an im­por­tant de­ci­sion about what he wanted to do. His move was far more than a sen­tient push to source more sus­tain­ably; it was a deep-rooted com­mit­ment to cul­ti­vat­ing a per­sonal style of cuisine that’s both pro­gres­sive and sin­cere.

To be sure, nat­u­ral, mod­ern, cross-cul­tural cooking and the seem­ingly ide­al­is­tic no­tion of sus­tain­able con­sump­tion have taken over the won­der­ment of molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy in in­spir­ing to­day’s best places to dine. But hav­ing your own farm and work­ing within your ge­o­graph­i­cal means is far from a glam­orous no­tion.

“It’s all a choice,” posits Hunter. “Peo­ple of­ten say to me, ‘Oh, you are so lucky!’ Well, there’s no luck in­volved. I made a de­ci­sion

many years ago that I wanted to work in this way. Is it a chef ’s dream? Is it a chef ’s dream to have to worry if it’s go­ing to rain next week, be­cause your veg­eta­bles are go­ing to die? Is it a chef ’s dream to have to mow the lawn be­fore din­ner service be­cause the guys who were meant to do it didn’t turn up?”

It’s not a per­fect world, he adds. “In the big­ger scheme of things, I think it’s dis­gust­ing—the way that many restau­rants around the world op­er­ate, that many peo­ple buy shit food and that su­per­mar­kets waste food. But I didn’t re­ally set out with all of that in mind at the start. It’s some­thing that I’ve al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated—to work in a way that is gen­tle to your en­vi­ron­ment. And cooking from your lo­cal sur­rounds is not re­ally that far an ex­ten­sion from that ethos.”

So it’s the utopian propo­si­tion for ev­ery chef, cer­tainly, but also a re­minder that we all have a part to play in this del­i­cate ecosys­tem. Hunter tells us more:

A lot has been said about how the food at Brae is rooted in sea­son­al­ity and what’s grown on the prop­erty, backed by a fo­cus on pu­rity. How would you de­scribe your cooking style?

It’s a dif­fi­cult con­cept to elab­o­rate on—es­sen­tially, we grow food and let it speak [in the dish]. In a funny sense, it’s not about try­ing to dom­i­nate the in­gre­di­ents; I think pro­fes­sional cooking was al­ways about how a cook most dom­i­nates his in­gre­di­ents. But we try to pair things to­gether that have big flavours but are lighter in body—i think our food is quite del­i­cate at times.

Some dishes, though, like the snack of prawn tartare, have a bit of an Asian touch through the use of fish sauce and tamarind.

But tamarind grows in Aus­tralia—and fish sauce is true to Si­cily. I think cul­tures of­ten claim foods as their own. And it’s funny, be­cause there are re­gions in Aus­tralia that are iden­ti­cal to cli­mates in this part of the world [South­east Asia].

You’ve shared in your cook­book how you liked that peo­ple were “re­fresh­ingly” be­ing them­selves when you first worked in a kitchen as a dish­washer. How much of your­self to­day is ev­i­dent in the dishes you cre­ate?

Very much. In this en­vi­ron­ment, it might be hard to con­vey that, but if you see me in my house, it’s much eas­ier. I think I’m a very open, trans­par­ent per­son and our busi­ness is very much like that as well.

When did the kid who “didn’t par­tic­u­larly like veg­eta­bles” fall in love with them?

When I started grow­ing them about 12 years ago! When you’re a child, your taste buds change from day to day. I’ve got a six-year-old daugh­ter— yes­ter­day she loved broc­coli and to­mor­row she hates it. But, re­ally, my love for the plant world and things that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily pro­tein-driven, it come from an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of grow­ing them and the way you can work as a cook when you work closely with a gar­den—the types of dishes you’re able to con­struct when your gar­den is just there. It’s a very ex­cit­ing and dy­namic way to work.

But cooking at this level also en­tails a high level of pre­ci­sion and ded­i­ca­tion.

I think one of my pos­i­tive at­tributes is that I can main­tain that level of con­cen­tra­tion and mul­ti­task. I think it’s com­mon to many peo­ple who work in this pro­fes­sion at a cer­tain level. It’s not that you find it easy, be­cause I have to work on it as well. All of us con­tinue to re­fine what we do and we find it dif­fi­cult, but we en­joy it. I’ve been in this for 20plus years and I still find it hard, but I en­joy that fact. I get some stim­u­la­tion from that.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.