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.
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.”
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.”
"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.