Rupert Bates Winter 2022
Australia is our second home; it is where my wife Kelly, co-owner of BBQ magazine, and her family are from, south of Melbourne on the Mornington PeninsulaVictoria’s food scene is as big as it is wide, an eclectic mix of cooking and cultures; we wanted to head towards the fire and were drawn to Farmer’s Daughters restaurant across three floors in Melbourne’s Collins Stree with its ‘unique approach to provenance-based cuisine, combining retail, dining and grazing.’
That provenance is Gippsland, the food bowl of Victoria, with the restaurant sourcing direct from local farmers, artisan producers, winemakers, brewers and distillers.
We head for the open campfire kitchen fuelled by charcoal and wood – there is a deli below and a rooftop bar above – and naturally choose the Gippsland Getaway menu, with the fire tended to with respect and affection by the chefs right in front of you. Elemental cooking meets fine dining.
Smoked Terramirra Park venison, washed down by The Wine Farm Rose was followed by baked Baw Baw Alpine trout with a Gippsland white from Entropy Wines. It was on to Lakes Entrance Dory, grilled rabbit, dry age O’Connor scotch fillet and more local wines including a Bass Phillip Estate Chardonnay and a Purple Hen Shiraz.
The man at the epicentre of this epicurean delight is Farmer’s Daughters executive chef Alejandro Saravia, with his culinary DNA a fusion of his native country of Peru in South America and the produce of his home state of Victoria.
Saravia opened Farmer’s Daughters just under two years ago. He has explored the breadth of Victoria, spending time with farmers, growers, producers and makers absorbing their passion and knowledge; their personalities in the produce.
The wizard of the fire in front of us as the tasting menu unfolded was head chef David Boyle from Dublin in Ireland. Corrigan’s in London’s Mayfair and Pichet in his native Dublin are on Boyle’s CV, before moving to Melbourne to join Matt Germanchis at Pei Modern. Other Australian restaurants followed, before Boyle became head chef at Farmer’s Daughters.
The Irishman clearly shares Saravia’s culinary philosophy of fresh seasonal produce inspired by Victoria, with the food telling the stories of its people and its seasons.
Saravia started at culinary school in Peru aged 16, followed by a traineeship in New York and on to stints in Barcelona, Paris, London and Sydney, working with some of the best, including Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck.
“My love for food comes from joining my grandmother to do market runs when I was a kid growing up in Peru, and my love for cooking over fire once I started discovering and exploring Gippsland and understanding the tradition and ceremony of a campfire cooking,” says Saravia, who earlier this year took up the members’ dining residency in the MCC Long Room at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
“My Peruvian background has a strong influence in my cooking, but with Farmer’s Daughters our focus is more on the ingredients and how they are sourced and not on a particular cultural approach. Choosing the right cooking techniques to elevate the ingredients is where our expertise as chefs is important.”
It was while visiting the lush farmlands of Gippsland that Saravia, now a food ambassador for the region, had “an epiphany”, transported back to the highlands of Peru; striking landscapes, fertile land, livestock, the smell of wet grass and “the beautiful produce which inspired me to change the way I thought about food and how I went about cooking”.
Saravia, despite his expertise, is learning every day. “There is no secret to live-fire cooking. Every time you cook you need to assess where you are and the different elements that will affect the way the wood burns.”
When it comes to cooking outside, Saravia works with not against, the wind, rain and humidity and how they affect the end product.
At home he cooks on an Argentine style charcoal grill, with its V-shape allowing any fat to drip into a tray, so the meats or vegetables are cooked with the heat provided by the coals and not the flames, allowing “a better caramelisation, delicious crust and clean charred flavour”.
“I love slow cooking over fire, especially fish and seafood, bringing completely different experiences to the tastes and textures.”
We finished – all Victorian produce of course – with Mirboo blueberries and Cuvee white chocolate, paired with Cannibal Creek Blanc de Blancs and Hellyers Road whisky cream (for this liqueur we were happy to stray across the Bass Strait to Tasmania) and left sated and wedded to the purest form of farm to fork live-fire cooking.
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