Chefs value a close relationship with local producers because they can maximise quality and reduce food miles. But it’s their customers who benefit the most.
Glenn Barratt, head chef of Wild Canary outside of Brisbane, credits the increased public interest in local food to television cooking shows including MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. But it’s been his way of running his kitchen since Wild Canary opened in 2014. “We know all the farmers who supply our restaurant,” he says. “We know all the ingredients on every plate.” Great ingredients matter, he says, more than anything else.
It’s this return to simplicity, Barratt claims, that signals the end of tricked-up food. “We used to do stupid things with carrots,” he says. “Now they’re washed and cooked and we turn the top into a pesto. It’s a better way of showcasing the carrot, it retains its nutritional value and looks better on the plate.”
Breakfast at Wild Canary – Cauliflower, asparagus, mushroom medley, soft poached egg, Summer Land Camel Dairy Persian feta, walnut rye, watercress, dukkha. Photo credit: @wildcanaryeat
Nutrition and taste are priceless ingredients. Justin Zammit, executive chef at Pullman Hotel group at Brisbane airport, operates several restaurants and room service menus and is impressed by the quality and taste of Summer Land Camels’ camel milk products. “We’re using the feta,” he says. “I was really surprised – I thought it would taste more like goats’ cheese, but it doesn’t. The milk has a beautiful mineral quality to it, at the back of the palate. It’s quite different.” Zammit also uses ice creams from the Summer Land Camel Dairy range. A close relationship with the farmers strengthens Zammit’s connection with the products. “Summer Land has a great ethic about how they do things,” says Zammit, “And that shows through with the quality of the product at the end of the day.”
Justin and his team at The Pullman Brisbane Airport Hotel. Photo credit: @chefjustinzammit
Barratt regularly visits nearby farms and his menu reflects what’s locally available and in season. “It means there’s a palate that’s continually changing and adapting to the seasons, rather than something that’s consistent 12 months of the year,” he says. “And for us, it’s an exciting way not only to source ingredients but to have contact with local farms.” This knowledge has proven to be an effective way to reduce food waste as well as food miles.
“There’s a lime farm outside of Gympie that does lime juice for eight dollars a litre year-round,” Barratt says. “When we visited, I noticed that they threw away the lime pulp. I told them I could add sugar to it, make lime jam and put it on the menu, as well as sell it to customers in jars.” The popular product is the result of a boots on the ground approach, getting to know suppliers personally. And it’s not only fruit and vegetables that he approaches in this way.
Wild Canary’s source of veal and pork is a Southeast Queensland farm Barratt has visited. “The pigs are fed pumpkins grown on the property, and whey that’s the by-product from a local cheesemaker,” says Barratt. “The pigs all have names and get tummy rubs. They socialise with other animals and people on the farm. They’ve had a happy life and they’re respected. I’d far prefer these animals end up on our plates,” Barratt explains. “We don’t believe in lot-fed animals.”
Fresh is best. Local seafood on the menu at The Pullman Brisbane Airport Hotel. Photo credit: @chefjustinzammit
Zammit enjoys the closed feedback loop and rapid response times he can leverage from a close relationship with his producers. He’s working with Summer Land Camels to perfect the cooking of camel meat for his menu. Because Summer Land Camels feeds its herd with a secret formula, there’s the opportunity to tweak the camels’ diet for optimum taste. “That sort of touch is rare these days,” he adds. “With the big food companies, you can’t really have access to things being changed straight away, or questions answered quickly. And that’s important to me as a chef.”
Wild Canary Summer Land Camel Milk chia and Mixed Berry sorbet with summer fruits. Photo credit: @scrumdiddliumtious_catering
Glenn Barratt’s local curiosity also led him to the door of Summer Land, where he noticed a respectful approach to the treatment of the animals. “Paul Martin and Margie Bale, the vet on the property, have built a good relationship with the camels,” says Barratt. “The camels are happy. Even being tagged, they weren’t stressed.” He believes this contributes to the unique taste and quality of the Camel milk and milk-derived products. “The ice creams are amazing. With a fat content that’s less than cows’ milk, it is deliciously light,” Barratt says. “And the Persian feta is as good as any feta I’ve ever tasted. It’s luxurious, it melts in the mouth. It’s unlike goats’ and sheeps’ feta, which can fluctuate in flavour through the seasons.”
Barratt feels lucky to work near such an abundance of quality produce. He muses “As a chef you feel like you’re cheating, because the produce is so good”.
Straight from the garden. Summer fresh salad at The Pullman. Photo credit: @chefjustinzammit Photo Credit: visitbrisbane.com.au