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Food

Frank Fawkner - A New EXP.erience

Frank Fawkner is one of the bold young chefs leading a new guard of culinary delights in the Hunter Valley.

In the tranquil surrounds of Oakvale Winery, just off Broke Road in Pokolbin’s Hunter Valley, a group of diners sit down at a nondescript sawn-log table. Moments later, a chef brings out a mortar with thick clouds billowing over the sides like a rushing steam train. Inside is a selection of freshly picked herbs, frozen to minus 82ºC by liquid nitrogen. He gives the guests a pestle and instructs them to start crushing the herbs because they are to make their own starter – herb butter to be spread upon a house-made sourdough. They readily accept the challenge, taking to the task with glee. Welcome to EXP.

“EXP. is short for experience, experimenting, expertise, exposure – all of these ideas in one and it really is the backbone to the restaurant,” explains EXP. head chef and owner, Frank Fawkner. Frank is part of a new guard of chefs who are creating a culinary buzz in the Hunter Valley.

THE ROAD TO EXP.ERIENCE

Frank Fawkner, 28, has been immersed in the Hunter Valley food scene since leaving his home on the NSW North Coast and starting an apprenticeship at a small café in the upper Hunter.

Stints at the Crowne Plaza and an enlightening 18 months slaving away in a London restaurant set him on an upward trajectory in the culinary world. His career really ignited when he joined the team at Troy Rhoades-Brown’s acclaimed Muse Restaurant in Pokolbin. Working his way through the ranks, Frank became head chef and helped steer Muse to two hat status in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide.

THANKFUL EXP.OSURE

The accolades may have been enough for many chefs, but Frank has always been ambitious. Two years ago, he heard Oakvale wanted to open a restaurant. He and his wife Emma took the plunge and opened EXP. It has become one of the most talked about venues in the Hunter. For this, Frank gives a lot of the credit to the mentorship he received at Muse.

“I spent four great years with Megan and Troy. They are great bosses and what they’ve done with their business is amazing,” says Frank. “To be there as it grew and flourished was great.

“I was always open with them about wanting to open my own restaurant. And they helped me. When I was looking for a venue, Troy was there for advice. He also helped me with the lease and wages – all the things you don’t get taught as a chef, but need to know when trying to transition to a restaurateur.”

A NEW EXP.ERIMENT

While Frank echoes the mantra of great chefs of ‘designing dishes around fresh, local, seasonal produce’, what he feels sets EXP. apart is the dining experience.

“It’s meant to be fun and energetic, while at the same time exhibit the quality of the top fine dining restaurants,” explains Frank.

“The chefs will serve every course rather than the wait staff. Because the chefs are in the kitchen all day working with the food, we should get out there and explain each dish. And it really works with creating something special. People really feel that ‘food’ connection.

“At the end of the night we give every guest a little gift – a choc chip cookie made with a chocolate ganache that has been infused with my own black garlic.”

CULINARY EXP.LORATION

It is this black garlic that has seen the latest career progression for Frank – food producer. He has just launched Fawk Foods. His first product: Black Garlic.

“It’s pretty much caramelised aged garlic that has three times the amount of sugar than you have in usual garlic,” says Frank. “So you can use it in sweet dishes, and because of its unique umami kind of flavour, you can use it with anything you’d normally use garlic – chicken, fish, beef, it even makes great mayonnaise.”

With such an amazing culinary pedigree, it is a wonder a rich restaurateur hasn’t tried to lure Frank to the big smoke. Not that he’d go.

“I’ve never wanted a restaurant anywhere else than the Hunter,” he says. “It’s the perfect spot. We’ve got amazing produce, great wine and a really creative food scene. We have a lot to give now and, I think, even more in the future.”

Frank Fawkner's Wagyu Scotch Fillet with Black Garlic Emulsion Recipe

"We use this wagyu at EXP and it is amazing. Broccolini and radish are great together and this black garlic sauce ties it all together." Get the full recipe here

This Hunter Valley culinary creation would be perfect with a savoury Hunter Shiraz. But take it to the next level with the De Iuliis LDR Vineyard Shiraz Touriga 2015. Bright and clean with spicy red and black cherry aromas, it has an earthy palate that will work perfectly with this dish - dark fruits with notes of brown spice and violets held in place with a firm backbone of tannins and beautiful acidity.

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The Sweet Life with Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 20 Nov 2017
When Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh met, it was a culinary match made in sweet-filled heaven.  Yotam Ottolenghi wasn’t supposed to be a chef. He was supposed to be an academic like his father and grandfather before him. He certainly has the intellect, having written a masters thesis in philosophy and comparative literature.  But Yotam’s take on creating ‘the good life’ was fed by his lifelong passion for food and eventually he couldn’t resist his kitchen calling. After training at Le Cordon Bleu in London in 1997 and working as a pastry chef at the Michelin-starred The Capital Restaurant, two years later he became head pastry chef at Chelsea’s Baker and Spice. Another three years after that, he opened the first Ottolenghi deli in Notting Hill. Today, there are three more Ottolenghi delis in London, as well as a restaurant, NOPi. He has a regular column in The Guardian, and has written six cookbooks.  How sweet it is
The most recent of his books, Sweet, a baking tome filled with biscuits, cakes, tarts, pies, desserts and confectionary, Yotam co-authored with Malaysian-born Australian-raised pastry chef, Helen Goh. While the book is a recent release, their culinary collaboration goes back over 10 years to when Helen moved to London. At the urging of a friend to check out the Ottolenghi deli, Helen fired off an email to Yotam, they met, and a wonderful partnership began.   Helen became product developer and Yotam recalls how she would walk through his door on a Sunday afternoon, “like a gust of wind or, rather, an over-zealous dusting of icing sugar, carrying more brown carton boxes than humanly possible.” A slew of apologies would follow for how many of her cakes had failed (Helen is a perfectionist) before they would settle into a session of ‘Ottolenghifying’ her creations.   This unique process involves taking a traditional product and giving it a taste twist. As Yotam explains, “We do a lot of stuff that some might consider irreverent, but it’s just adding our traditions, a little bit of Middle East from me and a little bit of South East Asia from Helen.”  So, in Sweet, you’ll find halva and tahini in the brownies, spiced pineapple in the cheesecake and mixed spices in the pound cake. But that’s not to say the recipes veer too far from tradition. As Helen explains, “In baking, I think people still seek the comfortable and the familiar, but they want a little surprise and I think Yotam and I deliver that!”  Aussie inspiration Another thing you’ll find in Sweet is a fair dose of Australia. Having done her training and enjoyed success as a pastry chef here, Helen has been inspired by some of our greats. There are cakes based on creations by Stephanie Alexander and Belinda Jeffrey, not to mention versions of yo-yo and Anzac biscuits.  Yotam, too, owes a lot to baking Down Under. Known as the ‘king of meringue’, he says, “I’m indebted to Antipodean pavlova because it’s so easy to make and you can do whatever you like with it. It takes anything from chocolate and praline to fresh or dried fruit, the options are endless.” 
Featured image: Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's cinnamon pavlova, praline cream and fresh figs recipe Recipes and images from  Sweet  by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh ( Penguin Random House, $55 )
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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