Glenn Barratt, executive chef at Wild Canary, Brisbane, Australia, breaks down the food loop, explains the benefits of a kitchen garden, and tells us why producer relationships are so important.
Tell us about Wild Canary’s food philosophy. We focus on supporting, and building relationships with, ethical farmers and producers. We have a love for the environment and value and support local businesses and farmers whose practices improve soil, are sustainable and ethical, and reduce the environmental impact. Many of our suppliers are part of the regenerative agriculture movement.
We also have a nose-to-tail, leaf-to-root philosophy. We value the sharing of knowledge and open communications, and work with our producers to reduce logistics. This connection generates a respect for the produce, that flows through the kitchen and back to the people that put their lives into the land. Recently out at Loop Growers in the Samford Valley, I noticed they were pinching off pumpkin tendrils. We now use these in the kitchen, frying them off until the leaves go crispy. Instead of going into the compost, this part of the pumpkin is used. Kay Tommerup (of Tommerup’s Dairy Farm) supplies us with pasture-raised pigs fed on pumpkin and milk from the dairy. We roll with what Tommerup provides, giving them the freedom to produce. We accommodate changes and variances in produce with pleasure.
In your TL&CC profile, you note that produce and people are of the utmost importance. Can you expand on this? The people are as important as the produce. At our producer-driven events, like the Producers Dinner, or Tommerup Dairy Farm Tour & Lunch, we give the farmers a chance to tell the story of how their pigs are raised, or the importance of healthy, vibrant soil. The trips to see farmers and producers are such an important part of who we are. It gives us such pleasure knowing where the boxes of mushrooms or golden beetroots that turn up at the kitchen door come from, and who grew them.
Recently I took apprentices down to Byron Bay on a produce-finding mission for our upcoming Producers Dinner. This is a fabulous opportunity for them to visit the growing region we will be showcasing at the dinner, and it fuels their excitement and creativity in the kitchen, as they understand the story behind the produce we use. Byron Grass Fed Beef are coming to talk about their journey at this event, on 1 March.
Wild Canary is located in the gardens of Brisbane’s Brookfield Garden Centre. Does this location have an impact on the menu? Absolutely. We are lucky enough to have a huge kitchen garden. We work closely with the nursery gardener to showcase seasonal and locally-grown produce, including leafy greens, herbs and vegetables. Garnishes are freshly picked leading into each service and as required for recipes. Market fish and specials are heavily influenced by what is ready to use in the garden. The colour and varieties of edible flowers feature daily on the menu and on our famous cakes. It’s a natural fit for us being a botanical bistro, based in the gardens of the garden centre and alongside plants and gardening. We get a lot of happy, relaxed gardeners as regulars.
Speaking of the menu, what are some of your favourite current dishes? Our Loop Bowl using vegetables from the kitchen garden, Loop Growers and The Falls Farm. The Farmer's Board, a vegetarian take on the classic ploughman’s lunch. And Persian camel feta has been on the menu ever since Summer Land Camels (in Queensland, Australia) started producing. Our market fish is influenced by what’s growing in the kitchen garden daily, so that’s always exciting to pick in the morning. I love going out to garden and picking flowers to match a particular cake. For example, with carrot cake I’d choose orange, yellow and golden flowers.
You work with Australian organization Loop Growers. What does this entail? Once a week we take all of our eggshells and green resources to the Loop Growers farm, where it is composted and worked into the soil, creating the ideal conditions to produce healthy, nutrient-dense produce. Different bins placed throughout the kitchen ensure the correct management of waste, resources and recycling. Produce is picked up on these weekly runs and prepared in the kitchen to share with guests, completing the loop. This also gives me a chance to talk to Alice or Phil (of Loop Growers) and see what produce is coming in. I have a deep understanding of what’s growing.
How can diners take part in this process? Ordering the Loop Bowl from our menu gets you directly involved in this beautiful cycle of nurturing. Phil and Alice also hold workshops and farm tours, and organize collaborative feasts with the restaurants they work with. Supporting venues that use Loop Growers produce is another way to support them.
You have a number of exciting events coming up. What should we look out for? The Mushroom Masterclass with Little Acre Gourmet Mushrooms, who grow their mushrooms in a shipping container in West End, Brisbane. We can’t wait to hold this lunch and hear their beautiful story of initiative and passion. And everyone get to take home a mushroom growing kit, plus enjoy their mushrooms over lunch! We’ve got loads of other events in March, and it’s going to be an exciting year for us. We will again be involved in the Scenic Rim Eat Local Week with a Producers Dinner at Wild Canary.
Your Tommerup Dairy Farm Tour & Lunch was very successful last year. Will you be doing a follow-up event? Yes, it was a highlight for us last year. Kay and Dave Tommerup are so generous opening their farm to us for this special event. It is a truly immersive experience of farm and food. The 2019 event will take place on 25 May. See here for more.
Is there anything else you would like to add? If it wasn't for the beautiful produce lovingly grown by our friends and producers, and the support through patronage to the restaurant, our work would not be the joy and pleasure that it is. What we’ve created is the ultimate environment for a chef, especially younger chefs, to experience the way kitchens used to operate with the utilization and management of whole ingredients, and a connection and relationship with farmers. The respect and understanding that comes from this shows in the love that is put into each dish, and is completed by the customer enjoying their meal.
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