Words by Lisa Holmen. Photography by Rick Liston.
Foraging seems to be on trend in Australia at the moment. It’s not a new concept by any means, but more and more professional chefs and kitchens are now searching far and wide for interesting food and provisions, to provide a unique experience for diners that is a true reflection of location and seasonality.
I would love to try foraging myself one day, but am afraid that I may end up like Christopher from the movie “Into the Wild”, and have a a fatal dose of wild berries. So for now, I will leave it up to the experts, or just pick some strawberries.
Last Friday night, I ventured to Oakridge Wines in the Yarra Valley to try their new concept dinner “The Forager.” The event is the brain child of the talented duo Matt Stone (Oakridge Wines) & Elijan Holland “EJ” (The Powder Keg) who are both passionate about foraging for lesser known ingredients. At just 23, EJ was invited to forage for Noma in Sydney after they discovered his passion for finding wild produce, reflective of the landscape around him, for his own restaurant, The Powder Keg. Matt shares the same passion and has a belief in eating primarily from the region we find ourselves in.
The forager menu is inspired by the boy’s recent week long camping trip. Matt and EJ have searched far and wide throughout the valley; fishing, climbing and turning over leaves to track down the tastiest ingredients to craft the menu.
The dining room at Oakridge Wines was set beautifully with a long communal table, romantically illuminated by candelight. A family-owned estate, Oakridge has been making wine in the Yarra Valley since 1978 and you can really feel the heart and passion behind what they do.
The evening commenced outside under the stars with a delicious range of hors d’oevres by the vines. There was an undeniable winter chill in the air, but guests were kept nice and cosy by the roaring open fire.
A golden buttery Danish pastry was a definite highlight topped with brown trout, lilly pilly and ants gathered from the Indigenous community.
And let’s not forget the roo pies paired with foddder and muntrie. The Muntrie Berry is one of Australia’s oldest bush foods, full of antioxidants and a surprising spicy apple flavour. The starters were paired with the 2016 Oakridge Baton Rose.
We retreated indoors to the dining room for the entrees, starting with a steamed egg custard. Made from whey, the custard had a lovely velvety texture and rested elegantly in a shallow bath of chicken broth. The broth had a great depth of flavour since it was made with chicken bones.
A picture perfect dish of hand harvested wild caviar was also brilliantly assembled resembling a mini edible forest and finished with nasturtium.
Guests definitely went silent when served the bbq bread. Plated on rustic wooden boards, the bread was topped with wattle and garlic crushed with parsley.
And dipped in curd for even more decadence…
The entrees were matched with the 2012 Oakridge 864 Chardonnay and the 2009 Oakridge Lieu-dit Chardonnay which went down a treat.
For the main event, guests enjoyed a sumptuous plate of confit fish caught by the chefs. The fish were filleted, deboned, cooked gently and poached. The result? A beautifully flakey fish which literally fell apart with the slightest of fork nudges.
The fish was served with plenty of sides including forgotten pears fermented in kombucha and brassica, roadside greens (dandelions, nettle, beetroot leaves) and charred wild garlic, miso and smoked yolk. The wine matches were the 2014 Oakridge L VS Pinor Noir and 2012 Oakridge 864 Syrah
My personal favourite was the charred slippery jacks roasted in beef fat and char grilled with black garlic and lemon juice., followed by fiddlehead ferns paired with honey, sheeps sorrel and fermented forest mushrooms.
The evening followed with a beautiful nightwalker washed rind paired with pickled fennel and edible flowers.
The desserts equally didn’t disappoint, starting with a palate cleansing granita of blood lime, lemon balm and lemon myrtle matched with a 2005 Oakridge Chardonnay.
And a medley of macadamia, juniper and cumquat matched with 2016 Oakridge LVS Pinot Gris.
It was lovely to spend an evening with fellow food writers, wine lovers and food enthusiasts and share some stories, and many laughs.
What I loved the most about the evening was its conversational, informative nature. Matt and EJ came to chat with guests after every course, sharing their foraging stories and secrets to their cooking. And you can really tell they love working together and feel the passion for what they do.
I came away with a full belly and a new found passion for foraging. Perhaps I will have a go at it after all!
The next Seasonal Dinner will be held at Oakridge Wines on the 1st July 2016. Don’t miss it!
A 864 Maroondah Hwy, Coldstream VIC 3770
T (03) 9738 9900
I was invited as a guest of Oakridge Wines. All views are honest and my own.