Garlic Degustation (9 Feb)

Saturday’s event was sensational – Thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of it.

A Grand Garlic Gustation
Article by Kesh Cohen
Photos by Cecily Lenton

Garlic Degustation DishFor many, the idea of gathering ingredients from the backyard is incomprehensible, though Margan Wines and Restaurant has well and truly turned this into a reality. Their expansive orchard and garden supply the kitchen with 90 per cent of all ingredients for the restaurant’s menu. Though it has not been without its challenges,12 years on and the kitchen garden is truly flourishing,

Stepping into the cellar door, the robust aroma of garlic saturated the air. Not known for its discretion, this pungent vegetable was the reason for my visit. Slow Food Hunter Valley hosted a four-course feast in honour of the local garlic crop, and the artesian growing efforts. Food lovers spanning the Valley gathered to share an obsession for local, seasonal and sustainably-sourced food.

Lunch commenced under the tutelage of the knowledgeable Jocelyn Colleran, a pivotal figure within the garlic growing community. Jocelyn spoke passionately of how this humble vegetable established itself across the globe. This reach extended to Australia, when a post-war surge in migration, saw new flavours and ingredients introduced to the Australian palate. The history of garlic is such an uplifting and progressive story, similar to the infusion of cultures that shaped Australia’s food identity, as it is today. Jocelyn despondently spoke of the demise of Australia’s garlic production in the late 1990’s; due to international competition. Despite these losses, the number of local producers is now on the rise.

Initiation began with a tasting of three local varieties of garlic, providing a sneak-peek into the afternoon’s degustation delights. The front-of-house team moved about the tables with the grace and timing of dancers, and the meal began with veal tartare and garlic three ways – pickled, confit and emulsion. The garlic flavour was subtle and understated, flawlessly balancing the dish. Second course consisted of scallops with garlic potato butter and crisps. The dish brimmed with nostalgia – scallops that tasted of the sea, swimming in a rich potato butter, topped with delicate, salty crisps. It was divinity-in-a-bowl. Pork belly with roast garlic, onion and carrot followed. Cooked to perfection, the pork belly was succulent and tender and perfectly paired with a caramelised roast garlic and onion puree. For dessert, dark chocolate mousse accompanied black garlic ice cream. The intensity from the dark chocolate was complimented by the subtle sweet and syrupy notes of the black garlic.

The talented chef that orchestrated the entire event was Margan Head Chef, Thomas Boyd. Chef Boyd’s cooking, whilst relaxed and honest, was underpinned by complex and labour-intensive cookery methods and techniques. His insight into the meticulous care and preparation of the ingredients for this menu, demonstrated his devotion to cooking and food. His philosophy, pride in the “not-so-perfect” produce grown in the garden, exhibits Boyd’s adaptability, ingenuity and pure skill. This is an individual who clearly thrives on challenges and is driven by a desire to be the best. For a chef that has already achieved so much, he has big plans to further contribute to the local and international food scenes. From forming an Australia-wide Chefs Alliance, to inspiring kitchen gardens in backyards everywhere. His passion for the garden and locally, ethically and sustainably-sourced ingredients is undeniable.

With the passion exhibited by Chef Boyd and his team, the dedication displayed by our local food producers, and the inspiring holistic work conducted by Slow Food Hunter Valley, it is difficult not to be optimistic for the Hunter Valley’s future gastronomy.