Gourmet Food Safari kangaroo Island
Monday:“You are 1 minute late”, the well groomed girl at the Jetstar counter said to me at 6.01am “ and I can’t allow you on”. Those words filled me with despair, and I shed a few tears before setting about getting to my destination.
I was supposed to be meeting up with my group from Maeve O’Mearas ‘Gourmet Safaris’. I would now miss the 12 pm meeting with Liz Kaydos our tour leader in Adelaide and therefore the 1.5 hour bus journey to Cape Jervis, a lovely lunch and the ferry to the luxury beach houses at Emu Bay on Kangaroo Islands’ east coast . All you have to do is get yourself to Adelaide and they will take care of the rest. Each year a smallish group travels to the Island to sample local produce and meet producers who are passionate and quite entertaining!.
It took me hours to get another flight to Adelaide and then a small regional flight of 20 minutes to Kingscote airport . Our personal tour chef Sue organised for me to be picked up at the tiny airport. A truck pulled up at 7.45pm and out jumped Justin Harman the general manager of Island Pure Sheep Dairy, himself on the way to dinner at Beaches , the main lodge from which dinners and cocktail parties are hosted.
Justin is a part of the way these Gourmet Tours are run, meeting local producers to hear their incredible stories, and sample what they produce first hand, cooked by our in house tour chef, Sue Pearson. This tour is the complete paddock to plate experience.
Justin told a story I may never forget. He is a former Chef , who settled on Kangaroo Island about 10 years ago, making him a relative blow- in in Kangaroo Island years. KI, ( as we say…) is a place of many stories . If you know nothing about KI. Settle in for a long delicious tale of adventure…………………
Life on ‘The Rock’, as it is affectionately known, can be vastly different to the mainland, and Justin admits that at times life can still surprise him. A couple of years back a shark was spotted in Penneshaw , the small seaside town where the Sea link ferry disgorges it’s passengers, cars, buses and supplies several times a day . This is a busy place, however to the right of the dock there is a beautiful white sandy beach. This beach is used by the local school for their swimming classes, as there seems no need for an official “pool”. After the shark sighting, it was decided that lessons would go ahead regardless, and the local constable was put on duty to guard over the beach. This is where he was spotted by Justin, leaning up against his car, gun at the ready………in case the shark came back. Yes they bread em’ tough.
I have been to KI before, it is much larger than you would think. The sealed road ends shortly after you leave the tiny airport or the sea link terminal. At night you need your wits about you as you traverse the unsealed roads. All manner of wildlife seems to want to fling itself towards your vehicle. As in Tasmania, it is wise to limit travel at dusk.
The North Coast Highway……(road really but this is the name our driver Peter uses)
With no reason to worry about this I settle into the main lodge. Dinner is an introduction of some of the products that we will be seeing on our tour. We start with a salad of Roast Beetroot, Sweet Potato and ‘ Micks’ greens. (Mick, a friend of Sues, grows many of the herbs and vegetables for this tour). This is served with a grilled sheep haloumi, from Island pure, fresh as a daisy and squeaky to the tooth , with a grain mustard dressing. We are treated to the stories of the rebirth of Island Pure Sheep Dairy and the struggle to update and computerise its output. We will see the dairy itself in days
Main course is King George Whiting, caught all along the coast of South Australia, with gremolata potato mash and a minted pea puree. It is lightly baked in the oven with a little water added to keep it moist
This is followed up with a date pudding, served with reduced KIS Ligurian honey and roasted walnut liqueur ( more about this later) and Island Pure Sheep milk yoghurt with honey . The wines are a local white, 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from Dudley Wines, and Sunset Wineries Black Cap Shiraz 2010
Tuesday: After a bit of a sleep in ( for me), or a walk along the deserted white sand, we hop into the mini bus and head west to Stokes Bay on the North Coast Hwy, a road of smooth white dirt , bordered by overhanging gum trees and onto the coast past the KI Abalone farm, which Liz tells us used to be on the tour. It is a farm started in 1995, and now producing over 85 tonnes a year of green lip abalone in the pristine waters of Smith Bay. We are now going to meet Dan and Sue Pattingale from Kangaroo Island Olives on their property to taste their olive oil and also a new product they are working on, Sticky Figs.
Dan arrived on Kangaroo Island to shear sheep and never left. ” I had this fantastic idea, to plant olive trees. People were saying it was like liquid gold, and I thought I was going to grow money on trees.” Not long afterwards he discovered that every one in Australia had planted olive trees and he got so disillusioned he ” spat the dummy” and dropped out to become a hippy for a few years. He is back now, with 20 acres of trees, producing up to 200 litres a fortnight, he tries to keep it small so that the production stays at a manageable level. He hates having to go off the rock to sell in the larger market place. There is Corregiola and Kalamata olives and some trees grafted from Wild Island stock, all harvested by hand and chemical free. The oil is extracted within 24 hours on the property by 2-phase eco-centrifugation, and no heating is used during this process. A new venture growing figs and transforming them into sticky semi sweet soft orbs for use with cheese or as a healthy snack, is a new well received idea. Many on the tour bought 5 or six bags of them for gifts after tasting them.
We are back on the bus and off to Happiness Winery and Cellar Door, (Chapman River Wines) for lunch. Liz tells us that this really is going to be one of our favourite adventures on the tour …and it is! We are greeted by their ferocious miniature muscle man, a Jack Russel named Brutus, with attitude, who really just wanted his tummy rubbed. Sue is here to meet us and has prepared a wonderful lunch, once again featuring Kangaroo Island produce. This will be one of the many times we have a bit of a laugh at the way Sue manages to ‘pop-up’ all over the island , just in time to feed us.
The cellar door is the home of Diana and Bruce Keir who bought 120 acres of beautiful land and an old homestead close to the Chapman River, near Antechamber Bay, with an airstrip, available for flyins!. An aircraft hanger has been converted into an ecclectic cellar door, ( made of tin) featuring their small selection of wines along with platters of simple antipasto style local foods, coffee and cakes . Diana and Bruce are gracious hosts and quite mesmerising .
Sue has a mini degustation planned for us, and we sit togther on two tables in the ‘aircraft hanger’ to sample wines with this delicious parade. We start our lunch with Fryars Kangaroo Island Egg and a crispy potato cake. The eggs have been poached to a perfect soft incandescent yellow yolked finish. ( potatoes are also grown on KI, as well as chickpeas, sweet potatoes and cherries). Next a mini Caesar salad made with ‘Micks ‘ greens, then a Capaccio of local beef , Parmesan and Dan’s ‘wild’ KI olive oil. Then, a decadent fine pastry tart made with Sand Crab tossed in aioli, Yarra Valley Trout Roe Pearls and FergusonLobster Oil. Lerham , or, as we affectionately dubbed it l’amon…. cured and lightly smoked lamb from South Rock Lamb was the next taster and it arrived with rosted tendrils of wild fennel and fresh crispy watercress. To finish our lunch we are given a risotto made with peas and Island Pure Keflalotiri cheese ( greek style soft sheeps milk). All of the food has been tasted with the Chapman River Wines. 2008 Rose, 2006 Merlot, 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon , 2006 Shiraz, 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot shiraz. My favourite was the bright pink rose that was fruity and dry, and I had another glass!.
Liz has to force us to leave, we feel so relaxed and the setting is so intreguing that we are a little unwilling to reboard the bus. We are going out to Cape Willoughby to see the 150 year old lighthouse that guards the passage between Kangaroo Island and the mainland. It is a remote and beautiful location, where you can rent one of the cottages purched on the hillside for 360 degree views. On the way we pass one hundred and 1 sheep and cattle and some Alpacas .
We head back east towards Penneshaw, where we will have a little look around ( as Penneshaw is so small). This is where the Fairy Penguins jump the rocks and cross the road to nest at night.
Tonight we will be having an early dinner of fish and chips from the aptly named ‘Fish’ of Penneshaw. This tiny shop is owned and run by Sue ( yes she has beaten us back to Penneshaw and is ready to cook us dinner). Sue ( Pearson ) has been making visitors to KI happy with her fresh fish dishes for around 10 years now. It has been named one of the best fish and chip shops in the world. Fish can be eaten grilled with salad if the more favoured fried fish and chips is not for you. Sue follows a sustainable mantra, attempting to source as much as possible locally. She even has a ‘Fish Mile’ notice board so that you can choose your fish by its local mile guide. We are treated to Salt and Pepper Prawns for an entre followed by Whiting and chips. The lines snake down the road when the last ferry arrives at the terminal, so we have staked an early claim, and get in before the rush
we We will sit on the headland and watch the sun set over the Back Stairs Passage to Cape Jervis in the distance, across the road from the shop. It is a the most perfect evening, the sky is blue to the minute the sun reaches the water, and the golden line is extinguished. As the sun sets we are offered honey ice cream in crunchy waffles cones. I am not able to fit this in, but have it on authority that the ice cream is “the best”.
This will be an early night for most, as we return to the accomodation with the chance to enjoy some time watching TV or reading. It certainly is no excuse to be sent off empty handed. Along with fresh supplies of Kangaroo Island Eggs, Barossa Valley Bacon, Island Pure Yoghurt, strawberries, cereal and fruit for breakfast, the houses are stocked with a cheese plate of local cheese and a bottle of wine. This is no place for a diet.
Wednesday, is a big day, a day for a little sight seeing rather than food seeing….., and one that most are looking forward to. A visit to Flinders Chase National Park on the far West coast is both a memorable journey and a long one in terms of KI. The national park is home to two species of seal, Koalas and The remarkable Rocks. The wild beauty of this far flung region are not to be missed. The bus leaves at 7.30 am, while I am still tucked up in bed.
I have been to this area before and I decide to spend a day with Sue, ‘a day in the life’, if you like . Sue once worked in the kitchens of Pier in Sydney and the Ivy in London. I worked with Sue some years ago at Divino in Sydney. It is a treat to see her and spend some time in the kitchen. The group has not been neglected today, food wise. They will return at around 2 pm for a lunch at ‘Beaches’, but should they be hungry in between, they have been packed tasty roast beef wraps and little raspberry muffins, just to tide them over!
This picture was taken by Deborah Gadd on her day at Flinders Chase
Sue makes me a delicious breakfast as we sit in the sun and she tells me a bit about how she would normally structure a day to fit in cooking lunch and dinner for a larger tour than the one I am on. She works hard for these days that the tours are on the Island wanting everyone to experience as much Island produce as possible. This is done in some interesting locations and so the food must be a movable feast…….
The lunch today will be on the terrace of ‘Beaches’. The clear blue sky and the sound of the surf hitting the sand are enough to make you feel on top of the world. I help Sue set tables and do the odd job, so that she can go for a walk along the beach with me to the Emu Bay Pier, at the point where the guest houses are situated. Sue and I return laden with shells and orange correl and, at around 2pm the bus returns and every one finds a comfy chair at a table to wait for lunch. The food is buffet style and includes a brown rice and spinach salad with semi dried tomatoes , Corn with roast capsicum , avocado ,Spanish onion and coriander , and Couscous, Currants and Moroccan spices . This is eaten with freshly culled grilled KI Marron,( fresh water farmed Yabbies- crayfish)cold beers and wine.
After lunch there is the option to do a short masterclass with Sue, and, as most are foodies with a cooking addition, this option is the chance to scarper another recipe. It is a short 30 minute class on how to make beer can chicken, destined for lunch tomorrow. The plump local chickens are coated in soy for colour and salt and then rolled lovingly in spices before they are impaled on full VB cans to roast to a golden moist brown.
Every one is tired and they are given a lift back to the houses to spend the afternoon in peace. There are no shops any where to be seen, but this makes the thought of an afternoon more luscious as it can be spent on the deck watching the scenery or walking on the beach. Diner is at 7.45 pm.
I set the tables for dinner and have a glass Cape d’Estaing 2004 Shiraz, because…… dont forget, I am on a Gourmet Tour, even if I am trying to be helpful…. We will have a three course dinner tonight and will be joined by Andy from South Rock Lamb. Andy is a real Kangaroo Island native. Andy and Kate Gilfillan and their three children live at Antechamber Bay, on the East Coast. They have cleverly refocused their business to include a Internet order system, supplying lamb to Adelaide once a month. Andy has also started making the L’amon we had for lunch, and Lamb chorizo. Being a farmer is not an easy life, and he is such a likeable down to earth character every one tries to work out ways that they can buy things from him once back home. He takes it all in good naturedly, knowing that this is probably not likely to happen any time soon, due to the realities of freighting things around the country..
Andy says, ” City people need to realize that Australia has a fantastic farming base. They will be shocked when something goes wrong in the food chain ( with overseas imported products) Farmers will be OK, but what about city people?. If they just paid a fraction extra for local, everything would be so much easier and safer. ” This local has many intriguing stories of his ancestors and the changing face of life on the land. Most traditional sheep farmers have had to find alternative ways to make a living from their sheep, since wool is no longer a sustainable way to make a living.
The first dish this evening is a ” Catalan style” stew , made with chickpeas, broadbeans tomato and slices of the wonderful South Rock Lamb Chorizo served on a piece of grilled sour dough . It is earthy and delicious with the tomato softening the smokey bread . The Lamb Chorizo is intensely meaty with a distinctive lamb taste. It has an almost salami like texture, of shredded meat but without large lumps of fat. This dish was served with Cape d’Estang Shiraz 2004, the same wine that I enjoyed while setting the table. Yum. To follow is a slow roast Lamb shoulder with creamy soft polenta and a dark flavourful jus. Here we had Springs Road Vineyard 2006 Cabinet Sauvignon, this is berry intense and not too tanic. The dessert is a Pannacotta made from Island Pure Sheeps Yoghurt and with Island Beehive honey. A red wine reduction ( poaching liquid from some pears for another dish) was a fresh finish. Thats Andy below
Half way through the tour, I am impressed with the chance to meet the ‘true ‘ local. In my job I am lucky enough to have the chance to meet producers and sample products before they reach shelves and shops, but this is not something that everyone gets to experience. The opportunity to get up close and personal with our artisan farmers and producers, to listen to their inspirational stories and see first hand, the work that goes into getting our food to the cities, would benefit everyone that buys food. The people that do these tours are largely already the food converted. People that have an interest in Paddock to Plate and try to play their part in supporting our food chain, and people that love to cook.
This is the crew having their nightly debrief. Here they decide if the program for the next day is suitable due to weather conditions, guest interests and needs and how they want to time the day. This flexability enables them to exchange any information they have on changing opportunities and new ideas. These are all run past Maeve , who had the foresight to set up this tour 8 years ago. Liz Kaydos the current tour manager, researched the Island and along with Sue and Maeve laid down contacts with producers . Peter has been the driver on every trip so far.
With too many other great experiences to fit in here, I have to post it in 2 parts. Look out for Maeve O’Mearas Gourmet Food Tour, Kangaroo Island Part 2.
** Stay tuned for a visit to Island Pure Sheep Dairy,Island Beehive for organic honey, free range eggs, Australia’s only Boutique distillery AND MORE …… where will Sue pop-up next?
Tania joined the tour as a guest of Gourmet Safaris
Chapman River Wines
Off the Cape Willoughby Rd, at Antechamber Bay