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Food

Matthew Evans: Creating Community

Matthew Evans is peering intently at a shiny lime green spear of asparagus. It’s freshly watered, so it glistens in the sun. He bends it, and there’s a clear, sharp snap. He looks up at the group gathered in his top paddock and breaks into that ever-enthusiastic grin often seen on The Gourmet Farmer.

“Why does one spear of asparagus taste so different to another?” Matthew asks. There’s a few raised eyebrows, some murmurs and the shuffling of shoes, but no one is sure enough to vocalise their opinion. “It’s the grower that makes the difference,” says Matthew. “Whether it’s carrots, apples or berries. It’s what the producer puts into it – how they grow it. That’s the difference. No two farmers’ spears of asparagus will taste exactly the same. Just like wine-making. It’s how the grapes are treated that leads to the end result – to the taste of the wine. Cheese? Bread? It’s what someone puts into it. That’s the difference.”

There are lots of nods as the group trails behind as Matthew ambles through some higgledy piggledy rows of fruit trees. “We didn’t put them in straight rows,” he says. “Apricots, plums, peaches and nectarines. Not the season right now, but you can see the blossoms.”

We can indeed – there are hundreds. He plucks off pieces of this or that, ducks down to nip some coriander and basil leaves, tastes some of the tips and moves on. Every now and then he offers someone a bite of something, and there’s plenty of smiles as the fresh tastiness hits taste-buds.

Critic to community

Matthew has long been sampling and commenting on food, but in the first chapter of his career in the big smoke, it wasn’t like this; he didn’t live in well-worn Blundstones and a faded farmer’s shirt.

Over a decade ago, Matthew was a major Australian food critic, trying, tasting and judging the dishes that chefs and nervous waiters placed in front of him, with the power to make or break a restaurant via his well-worded opinions in top newspapers and magazines.

He enjoyed that life at the time, but now he’s truly in his element, as a farmer. It’s a laborious but glorious life lived largely outdoors on his Fat Pig Farm, with his partner Sadie and their son Hedley.

“This is where we’re supposed to be,” he says. “People ask if we ever regret the tree-change and we laugh. This is what we love doing. It’s a lifestyle we’ve chosen with care.”

And despite being city slickers with a TV profile, the community has embraced Matthew and his little tribe.

“I often thought we’d be considered outsiders because of our city background,” says Matthew. “But if you embrace those around you, and ask for help when you need it, and offer it when you think your community needs it, then doors open.

“We’ve been blessed with so much support. We couldn’t ask for a better place to live and work, culturally, environmentally, socially and geographically.”

Pig-spiration

While Matthew mainly works on the land and in the kitchen, Sadie runs the business they’ve created: an enormous shed-like restaurant sitting halfway down a hillside surrounded by glorious folds of the Huon Valley, in Australia's southernmost shire. It’s called Fat Pig Farm after some ‘girls’ that Matthew wants us to meet.

“There’s Audrey, Jackie and Denise,” Matthew points to the rotund Wessex Saddlebacks munching on piles of food scraps. Seeing their dad, they snuffle on over to check everyone out. They snort and shuffle about the rows of legs, raising their black and white hairy snouts in undisguised, cartoon-like expectation.

“They want mushed apples,” says Matthew. There’s no apples on offer, and so after a thorough inspection of pockets and bags, off they all potter.

We then potter up to the restaurant where a five-course degustation is primed to begin. Inside, it feels like a friend’s very large dining room made to comfortably seat 46. Sadie greets guests as they wander in from the deck, where they’ve been nibbling on bread fried in pork fat topped with seared beef. The treat has been matched with Bill McHenry’s locally produced gin, mixed with a homemade strawberry and rhubarb shrub.

Everyone takes a seat and finds a bulb of white Japanese hakurei turnip gracing a deep blue napkin – perfect fodder for a still-life painting. Matthew explains it’s a welcome turnip; an offering to represent what the land is producing right now.

In the kitchen, there’s more where that came from, as the staff are bustling about cooking up a storm.

“We’re not trying to serve the best food in Tassie,” says Matthew. “We serve the food we love, from the land we love.”

This is a major part of what Fat Pig Farm offers – a genuine taste of a small region of Tasmania. Matthew sources olive oil from their local Uber driver, who lives about 500 metres down the river.

“We do buy in cheese, because we have friends in the trade who make it better than we can,” says Matthew with a laugh.

“Our fruit and nut trees are immature, so apart from the apples, which we grow hundreds of kilos of, we source walnuts from Coaldale and peaches from the Cane family across the river. We are blessed to live in a state where growing a huge variety of things is part of its history. Tasmanians often have a connection to the soil, and for many, it’s in the growing of food.”

Time to dine

The much-anticipated entrée is an artfully presented picking plate of Fat Pig prosciutto, pancetta, olives, kimchi and buttered radishes. And then out rolls something we’ve all caught whiffs of – a crisp-pastry pie filled with ricotta and spinach, nettle and rocket. It’s been baking in the outdoor wood-burning oven, filling the air with an intoxicating scent.

Wood-fired sourdough rye bread with creamy cultured butter (two of the things Matthew loves making daily) are also laid upon the table. There’s a beet and goat’s curd lentil salad and roasted, shredded pig, a salad of spring flowers, and spicy Asian-style sausages that make the tongue tingle.

This is followed by a smooth rice dish with purple sprouting broccoli, wood-roasted carrots, spigarello and snow peas, sprinkled with the neighbour’s olive oil.

For dessert, the beautifully rustic apricot cobbler with thyme ice-cream matched with a Home Hill Pinot Noir is as warming as an old friend’s hug.

Soil agenda

Matthew and Sadie drift around the room, greeting people and chatting to them about life, food, science, and other items that are raised in an environment nurtured to spark conversation around food and farming. Matthew explains that every piece of produce, if not grown on Fat Pig Farm, comes from as nearby as possible, and the grower is always known to he and Sadie. This whole exercise is as much about honouring the land and community as it is about lauding the food.

“We are custodians of this farm, where the Melukerdee Indigenous Australians lived for 35,000, possibly 45,000 years,” he says. “Our aim is to leave this parcel of land in a better condition than when we arrived, so that future generations can enjoy it, like we have today.”

Try Matthew Evans' recipes at home: 

Spinach and ricotta pie

White wine steamed cauliflower

Golden syrup dumplings

 

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Food
Peter Gilmore
Words by Mark Hughes on 14 Sep 2018
If there was one restaurant whose identity is quintessentially Australian, Quay would have to be it. Perched over Sydney Harbour, you look across to the iconic Sydney Opera House while dining on the acclaimed contemporary cuisine of Peter Gilmore.  For almost two decades, Peter has been in the upper echelon of the world’s best chefs, so he’s perfectly placed to define Australia’s food identity. He’s narrowed it down to one word: freedom. “Apart from our Indigenous history, Australia doesn’t have a long standing food history compared to countries like France or Japan,” says Peter.  “If I was a chef in France, I would have been born with a really strong French identity, but being an Australian chef, I have been exposed to so many different cuisines. So our identity is that sense of freedom and our willingness to open our palates to all different types of cuisines from around the world. “The other thing is, we can grow all the ingredients for all those cuisines somewhere in our country from the tropics right down to the cool climate areas of Victoria and Tasmania, so we have access to incredible fresh produce, so I think that has a huge influence.” From the earth Diverse produce is a certainly a key component of Peter’s cuisine and a topic he explores in his recently released book, From the Earth. Throughout its beautifully photographed pages, Peter catalogues an extensive list of rare vegetables, detailing their history and flavour profiles as well as showcasing the boutique farmers who grow them for him at Quay. “When I started growing vegetables in my own backyard 11 years ago, I realised how many unusual fruits and vegetables there are that are not in the mainstream market,” says Peter.  “Their difference is their thing. They have different profiles, looks, colours, flavours. As a chef, that is really interesting. It gives me a bigger palette to work from.” Key to a new Quay These heirloom vegetables play a key role in the new identity at Quay. For the first time in 16 years, the restaurant recently underwent a multi-million dollar face lift. The kitchen is bigger, the dining spaces more intimate. Gone too is the old menu, including the dish most people identify with Peter, his snow egg dessert.  “When we decided to renovate Quay,  I knew I had to let go of some of the signature dishes and the snow egg was one of those,” says Peter.  “I am very proud that I created an iconic dish that people love. But you have to let go of things if you want to be creative and renew. So it wasn’t that hard for me to say goodbye.” Of course, there is a new dessert, white coral – chocolate ganache that is aerated, put in liquid nitrogen and served on ice-cream. And while Peter admits it will probably be referred to as the new snow egg, he’s confident it will impress. “It is very fragile and brittle and we ask the guests to tap it with a spoon and it just breaks apart. So there is a little bit of theatre, a bit of fun and that emphasises our new approach to the food at Quay. “We are only doing a tasting menu now, so it’s allowed me a new structure – to take the diner on a holistic journey throughout the meal. It is about interaction without being too kitschy, but still maintaining the integrity of the dishes and ingredients.”
Food
Gourmet Destinations: Vietnam
Words by Jackie Macdonald on 22 Jul 2018
Chef Jerry Mai’s start in hospitality was less than auspicious. She was fired from her first job washing dishes because she broke too many bowls. The thing was, though, being just six, she could only get them into the sink by throwing them. Thankfully, given it was her parents’ restaurant, they let her stay on as chief napkin folder, at which she excelled. This was the 1980s and Jerry’s parents had arrived in Brisbane with their young family from Vietnam via a Thai refugee camp. Like many an immigrant before them, they opened a restaurant serving the food of their homeland. But given Australians had only just got used to the offerings of their local Chinese take-away, Vietnamese restaurateurs played it safe. As Jerry describes, “A lot of the Vietnamese restaurants were just doing stir-fries, you know, ‘here’s 20 sauces and five meats, what would you like with it?’ and the garnish was always broccoli, carrots and capsicum.” Today’s take It’s a very different scene today, Jerry explains, “Fast forward 20, 30 years and nearly everybody has been to Vietnam for a holiday and Australians are eating more Vietnamese food – banh mi, pho, rice paper rolls.” That’s the sort of street fare you’ll find at Jerry’s two Pho Nom eateries in Melbourne. But, she says, just because you have pho every other weekend and banh mi on your lunch break, doesn’t mean you know Vietnamese food. “That’s like saying French food is just escargot and butter”, Jerry explains, “It’s just scraping the surface.” The full repertoire of Vietnamese flavours takes in the influences of its history and surrounds, Jerry relates. “There was a thousand years of Chinese rule, from which comes all the heady spices, beautiful braises and masterstocks. Then the French were there for a hundred years, so you’ve got the baguettes, pate, butter, terrines. And from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia come the headier chillies and lemongrass.” It’s all these influences that Jerry has taken to create the menu for her Melbourne restaurant, Annam. With its funky fitout on Little Collins Street, Annam has a massive open kitchen at its heart, where, Jerry says, “You can come up and chat to us.” You can also watch the team cooking with fire, another aspect of Vietnamese cooking that gets overlooked, she explains. “If you’ve travelled to Vietnam, there’s not a lot of gas cooking, the streets are full of barbeques, little stoves where they grill chicken or pork and have it with some rice or pickles.” So when you have the lemongrass chicken that’s featured here at Annam, they hang it over ironbark in the fire so it becomes, Jerry says, “Nice and smoky.” Jerry talks recipes Grilled lemongrass chicken This is a take on chicken lemongrass, which is normally a little stir-fry, and the paste we use to marinate the chicken is my mum’s recipe that she uses over summer to grill chicken on one of her three different barbeques!  Grilled pork belly, lychee, chilli jam This has a bit of Thai influence with the chilli jam. The marinated pork belly is put over the grill to crisp up the skin and render out the fat. So it’s just this really rich and salty piece of pork through a really smoky jam dressing with refreshing herbs and cucumber, and sweetness from the lychees. Young coconut sorbet I had a trip to Vietnam with my parents about five years ago and my mum wanted to find this stall selling coconuts that people kept telling her about. We found it and the woman just scraped out the flesh of a young coconut, put some corn in it – in Vietnam, corn is a sweet rather than savoury ingredient – and added coconut ice-cream with heaps of crushed peanuts. I found the way it uses every part of the coconut brilliant and I thought, “I just need to have a venue to serve it in.” And now I do!
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