How local produce changed the game in Brisbane eateries
Chefs across Brisbane have taken on a local plate of mind when it comes to the produce that makes it on to their menus, writes Natascha Mirosch
Chef Brent Farrell's confit potatoes with local bottarga. Farrell says local produce brings out the best in his menu.
THE descriptor “imported”– once considered a badge of quality – has pretty much disappeared from use on the Australian menu, increasingly replaced by the word “local”.
“I think it’s something that has been slowly changing for some time, but it’s only in the last couple of years that it has really gained momentum,” says Aria Restaurant Executive Chef Ben Russell.
“If you look at the chefs who were running Australia’s top fine-dining restaurants through the '70s, '80s and even the '90s, especially in the capital cities, they were all classically trained from Europe,” Ben says.
Aria Executive Chef Ben Russell.
“I think it’s fair to say that the produce available to them was far more limited and compromised than it is today. As a country with no existing food culture, it stands to reason that they tried to recreate the food they had cooked in Europe.”
Building their menus around local produce is a no-brainer for Ben and another two of Brisbane’s most highly regarded chefs – Brent Farrell of 85 Miskin Street and Wild Canary’s Glen Barrett.
Not only is there a wider range of local produce available than ever before, but people want to know the provenance of their food and, increasingly, how environmentally friendly it is.
Food miles and carbon footprint are shifting from abstract concepts to issues of importance for many diners. More pragmatically, there is the question of quality inherent in transporting produce long distances.
“We are getting product fresher because it’s not been sitting in transit for days or weeks at a time,” Brent says. “Secondly, buying local produce supports small businesses, as I know a lot of locals support me and what I do. Thirdly, it's most often cheaper.”
85 Miskin St Chef Brent Farrell.
Brent nominates the bottarga (dried mullet fish roe) made by Karasumi Australia as his current favourite product, but confesses that initially he had no idea it was made just a couple of kilometres from the city centre.
“I get the smoked one and was shocked to find out it was produced here in Eagle Farm. Not too many diners who come into the restaurant know what it is and always ask. I relate the smoked bottarga to being bacon of the ocean – it adds a nice saltiness to dishes.”
Wild Canary’s Glen Barrett says he has always been a locavore.
“At Chevaliers and Tables of Toowong, farmers would supply to the back door of the kitchen with locally grown seasonal produce.”
These days, he only has to step outside his own kitchen door to source a lot of his menu, with an extensive garden planted with organic produce grown using permaculture and biodynamic principles. When his own garden is low, leafy greens and flowers are sourced from the Lockyer Valley’s Ghost Gully Produce.
“Harvested Tuesday and Friday morning, they are in the restaurant within six hours or harvesting,” he says. “The money also goes to the farmers rather to middle men at the market.”
Wild Canary chef Glen Barrett.
Glen is a fan of “pretty much everything” from the rich soil of the Lockyer Valley, and Ben Russell agrees that our local fruit and veg has chefs spoilt for choice.
“Our menus write themselves, I talk to our suppliers, see what’s coming in and then we get to work,” Ben says.
The Aria kitchen also uses local red claw yabbies, buffalo haloumi, tuna, bugs, crab, oysters, wagyu beef and much more.
Ben also supports Scenic Rim dairy farmer Greg Dennis from Scenic Rim 4Real Milk, using it in the restaurant’s desserts. With so many farmers contracted to supplying just a handful of manufacturers, until recently the notion of being able to buy local milk directly from the farmer was a pipe dream.
“Greg took charge of the entire process himself from milking to processing and packing,” Ben says. “He delivers within 48 hours, so the decision to start using it was fairly easy. But then it was like ‘ok using it in coffee is good, but we can make a dish out of it’.”
Aria's honey cake, featuring milk from the Scenic Rim's 4Real Milk.
Glen Barrett is optimistic that supporting local will help to keep local producers in business.
“The increase in sales within local dairies is a promising thing. I’ve just put cheese sourced within 100km on the menu, using Towri, Emmo's Fine Foods and White Gold Creamery – three different varieties from each producer as a tasting plate to showcase their unique products,” he says. “It shows you don’t have to go far from the local area to source everything you need.”
Wild Canary's Lockyer Valley pumpkin & goat's curd soufflé.
And what about the future – will the call to arms to “use local” get louder?
Surprisingly, Ben Russell says not: “I just think there will be less of a need to talk about it and it will be second nature, what people expect.”
Just as “imported” disappeared from our menus, so it seems will “local”, although for completely different reasons.