While cooking methods and advances in equipment have enabled Chefs to create amazing dishes, more often than not they eventually return to their roots. ‘Keep it simple’ is the latest catch-cry of all savvy Chefs with some of the best fresh dishes only using four or five seasonal ingredients. Why? Because it just tastes better.
While Chefs are developing stronger relationships with local suppliers, and make more frequent trips to the markets, some are lucky enough to cultivate their own kitchen gardens.
Chef Simon Sandall has reclaimed a piece of the car park at Boronia Kitchen in Gladesville where, at this time of year, he harvests the tips of broccoli that have gone to seed to use in his veggie recipes and the salad he serves for lunch.
Fairfield RSL, in Sydney’s West, has a substantial rooftop garden which includes 30 varieties of herbs, fruits and vegetables, watered daily by Chefs, plus a 300,000-bee apiary.
Or take a look at the gardens of Melbourne’s Attica, which occupy about 1500sqm at the Glenhuntly Road restaurant in Ripponlea, with kitchen staff beginning their shift picking fresh seasonal ingredients for their recipes.
Some clever Chefs even appeal to locals and neighbours to donate backyard produce in exchange for dinner. It could be eggs, honey or herbs that can lead to some amazing, pared-back dishes, full of honest, real flavour.
At Cornersmith, in Sydney’s inner west, they encourage neighbours to bring in produce in exchange for meals, with the produce used in dishes on the Cornersmith Chef’s menu. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – or so the saying goes. When patrons appear with a bagful of lemons at Cornersmith, the kitchen cranks out dishes such as brown sugar and lemon roasted pears, with sweet parsnip puree, wattleseed, honey and hazelnuts on sourdough or present citrus-braised fennel and serve it atop some grains sprinkled with feta cheese or use as a side to roast chicken or pork.
Cornersmith owner and preserving master Alex Elliott-Howery also says winter is a time to preserve as she pickles and preserves lemons and turns them into lemon-infused salts or sugars. If it’s not lemons, it could be eggs or honey or mandarins from your neighbours – all simple seasonal ingredients that can lead to some amazing, pared-back dishes, full of honest, rustic flavours.
Old cookbooks, grandma’s recipes, and old-fashioned favourites are often an excellent starting point for a back-to-basics philosophy where ingredients can often be counted on the fingers of one hand. Take Chiswick’s Moran family lamb shoulder, served at both the Woollahra restaurant and at Chiswick at the Art Gallery of NSW. This simple signature dish of brined and slow-cooked shoulder smeared with chermoula features just a few seasonal ingredients, yet is one of the most popular dishes on the restaurants’ menus.
Old school food recipes rely on the abundance of seasonal ingredients, so get your brain ticking over while mulling over a box of seasonal veggies, be it market-bought winter cabbage – red and green – slathered with a sriracha mayo dressing. Or be inspired by a ramped up version of a simple family favourite, say a bar snack of herbed zucchini fritters with mustard mayo.
Food trends like the toastie, a winter fave, is hot right now. A great example is the mi goreng toastie from Sydney’s Dutch Smuggler – a bed of seasoned instant noodles mixed with spicy mayo, egg yolk and melted cheddar cheese. Or you could up the ante with an inspired sandwich, such as those served by Sydney’s Sando Bar. Their pork katsu is deep-fried pork loin sandwiched between crustless white bread and finished off with shaved seasonal apple and fennel, moistened by a trio of mayo, mustard and tonkatsu sauce.
Wherever you seek your inspiration, where you source your seasonal ingredients and how you put them on a plate, know that if you go back to the basic principles of fresh and simple dishes, your patrons will always keep coming back for more. Familiar food, if executed well, is like a warm embrace on a cold winter’s day.