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Australia: Meet the producers

Incredible natural produce, world-class wines, inventive chefs — Australia is renowned for its culinary prowess. We talk to some of the country’s top gastronomic innovators

Australia: Meet the producers
Gill Fisheries

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The fish wholesaler: Amanda Wheeler

At Gill Fisheries, a family-owned wholesaler based in the tiny fishing town of Port Victoria on the Yorke Peninsula, Amanda (nee Gill) is joint managing director. The business supplies prized ‘scale fish’ to restaurants across Australia

“Yep, fish have gills and Gills have fish! Gill Fisheries has been selling fish in Port Victoria since 1946, but the difference is we also catch the fish, so we’re boat-to-plate. My grandfathers fished, Mum and Dad are fishers and my husband’s [into] fishing. If our kids follow us into the business, they’ll be the fourth generation.

“Our main catches are King George whiting, garfish, Tommy Ruff [herring], southern calamari and snapper. King George whiting is still the most highly prized fish in South Australia, both to eat and to catch. Fishermen come from all over Australia to hook whiting off Port Victoria. And it’s an expensive fish: currently, you’ll pay $53 a kilo. Most of our large whiting is sent to the top restaurants in Sydney.

“We fish in the Spencer Gulf, which is an ‘inverse estuary’, meaning the waters are low in sediment and rich in oxygen, so they’re pristine and clean. Consumers like to know that they’re eating local and they’re increasingly conscious of whether their fish is wild-caught or farmed.

“Our policy is to use 100% of the fish we catch. For instance, the whiting that’s not Sydney restaurant-size gets sold to locals at $13 for four fillets.

Fish heads are sold to local fishermen as bait for their crab pots. And the ‘frames’ — the skeletons — and guts are minced up to make berley, the stuff fishermen throw out with their lines to attract fish. The berley is actually made to food-grade standards. So even that is super-fresh.”

The wine producer: Wendy Allan

Wendy is a viticulturalist and co-owner of Pindarie, a boutique wine producer in the Barossa Valley. An early adopter of Tempranillo, a Spanish grape that’s enjoying huge popularity nationwide, Pindarie also has a cellar door tasting room set in an 1860 stone stables

“Being in the Barossa, of course we grow shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. But in 2001, we planted our first tempranillo vines. My husband Tony [Brooks] and I were only the second producer in the Barossa to plant it.

“It was a big gamble. In fact, we called one of our single vineyard tempranillos the ‘Risk Taker’. Up until six years ago, punters hadn’t heard of it in Australia, then three years ago it started taking off. We’ve now got 15-year-old vines — among the oldest in the region.

“Local growers can’t get the vines to grow well. We’ve made it work here on the western ridge of the Barossa where we have a strip of ‘terra rossa’ soil, a red-brown earth over limestone usually associated with the Coonawarra region. It’s perfect. We produce 1,700 tempranillo out of 5,500 cases of wine every year. We sell it to restaurants across the country and are about to sell it in Japan.

“The idea of the Japanese enjoying a Spanish style of wine that’s made in Australia is essentially the story of our wine industry. And just to mix up things further, Barossa heritage is mostly Germanic!”

Chef Wayne Brown

Chef Wayne Brown

The chef: Wayne Brown

In July 2016, after stints at Quay in Sydney and Tetsuya’s in Singapore, Wayne Brown accepted the role of head chef at Hardy’s Verandah Restaurant. The new eatery is part of Mount Lofty House, a five-star hotel overlooking the Piccadilly Valley in the Adelaide Hills

“I first visited the region in January, and after a career spent in big city restaurants, I must admit I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t believe I was just 20 minutes from Adelaide in the heart of a leading food-producing region, with a culinary lifestyle you only associate with the country.

“There’s produce quite literally growing on the walking trails, waterways and roadsides: edible native flowers, watercress, nasturtiums, blackberries, bush cherries and pine mushrooms.

“My team and I will go out foraging, only taking what we need in the restaurant that day. The wild produce is seasonal and may be gone in a matter of days, but I believe with every season passing, our team and our dishes serve to highlight the beauty of the Adelaide Hills.

“As a newcomer, I was impressed with how people in Adelaide and South Australia have an appreciation for wine. This is wine country, so it’s culturally ingrained. I was always of the view that you match drinks to food, but the locals in the Hills see it as matching food to the wine, to best showcase the wine.

“I believe the world is only just waking up to what’s here in South Australia. We have direct access to amazing food, wine and every kind of produce. Regions such as the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, Eyre Peninsula, Southern Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island are all on our doorstep. As a chef you might have one or two food-producing regions to draw from, but to have a direct connection to so many world-class regions? That’s special.”

The dried jerky producer: Norm Bickford

From his small farm 28 miles out of Darwin, Norm produces five varieties of traditional dried jerky. During the dry season (May to October), he’s one of 250 stallholders at iconic Mindil Beach Sunset Markets where he sells his Top End Jerky

“All my meats are Australian and 90% of them come out of the Northern Territory. I make and sell beef, buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile and camel jerky.

“Mindil Beach Markets have been around for 30 years and I’ve been there 15. They have a real carnival atmosphere, especially on the beach when the sun sets – that’s when you see people playing football, twirling fire sticks and clapping along to music. We get 10,000 people through on a single night, many of them tourists.

“It’s quite an exotic experience — soaking up the tropical night air, sitting back with a cold beer and a fragrant laksa or spicy curry from one of the stalls, checking out the street entertainers and exploring the local art and craft sellers.”

The tastemakers

Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor is an Arrente man and a chef who offers a dining experience that’s been thousands of years in the making. Gathering people around a fire pit to watch, listen and savour, Bob works with native bushtucker and local produce to create dinner under the stars. Taking place at the foot of the MacDonnell Ranges, the meal evokes the connection that the Arrente people maintain with the land, their ancestors and traditional law. As Bob says, it’s important for visitors to learn about Aboriginal culture from Aboriginal people. “We’ve lived it and we live it,” he says. rttoursaustralia.com.au

Jimmy Shu
Jimmy Shu opened his famous Hanuman restaurant in Darwin in 1992 and, over the past 25 years, has introduced chefs and cuisines from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, India and Indonesia — countries that have influenced the culture and demography of Darwin. Born in Sri Lanka to Chinese parents, Shu was drawn to Darwin from Melbourne by its seafood and is a great exponent of the city. “Darwin has the perfect climate for this tropical produce. It’s all on our doorstep,” he says. The chef is also a regular at the city’s Rapid Creek markets, sourcing Asian greens and herbs. hanuman.com.au

Published in the Australia 2017 guide, distributed with the May 2017 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).