Meeting the Producers

… pragmatic environmentalism and connecting with the land…

In 1997 I had my first shot at running a kitchen in Mount Maunganui, my adopted surfing hometown in Kiwiland. In that kitchen we got all of our produce sent directly, dirty and fresh, from several organic market gardeners I knew. It was something I had wanted to do for some time, and I finally had the opportunity with this new job. The menu was eclectic (very 90’s), and ‘pescetarian’; perhaps that concept was ahead of time… (see picture of menu below. :-)) And those ingredients were just awesome.

A very 90's menu using organic, local ingredients

During the first five years at our bistro in Redfern I didn’t have time to scratch myself, let alone try to source organic produce. We had our first child, William, in 2014 (our second year in business), and we did breakfast, lunch and dinner for the first year, so it was hectic. Slowly we trimmed the business into shape and brought the work week under 70 hours for the first time last year, when Zoe, our daughter, arrived. So in the last 18 months it has been a great pleasure to connect with some growers and sustainable providores.

It has always been my feeling that as a small food business retailer/producer, we should be championing the people on the land doing it the 'old school' way. By old school, I mean without chemicals and enhancers, getting balance in the soil, considering the health and sustainability of the environment where food is grown, or the cattle is reared, or the grapes are grown. Choosing sustainable produce is clearly a real way for all of us city dwellers to support our environment, and as a non-incidental aside, the food and wine tastes better.

Dry-aged heritage beef at Feather and Bone Providore, one of our meat suppliers

These principles also sum up a lot of the knowledge in the French idea of terroir, developed over long periods of time: understanding what grapes grow best, where and why. I will talk about terroir in French winemaking in future posts.

Supporting these growers also does something that is nearly too obvious to mention, but not mentioned 'nearly' enough. That is the idea of supporting local produce. It might come as a very big surprise just how much of the 'fresh' fruit and veg you can buy in a local supermarket comes from China or other far-flung regions. Recently talking to Greg at Block 11 Organics, he said that these international markets play havoc with local production. We use it or lose it, right? This is a guy you will find down at Eveleigh Markets every Saturday morning, pulling a 20-hour day to bring us the good stuff from his three farms (he's originally from Orange). Guys like these are the real heroes in our food chain. It may take a little more time to go down to the market than go to one of the food duopolies to do a weekly meat and veg shop, but I know where I prefer to put my money. I also know what is a more enjoyable shopping experience. :) And, I guess importantly, the food is great!