Last year celebrity chef Serge Dansereau visited Port Macquarie to judge the Mid North Coast Signature dish awards. This year Serge is back … and he’s bringing his knives.
> Tell us about your background as a chef …
I was basically a chef at the Regent Hotel for 15 years. We had Kable’s restaurant. I was known for working with all the small producers all around Australia.
Twenty-five, 30 years ago, there was a real need for the public and producers to have more understanding of quality produce, and a range of produce. We didn’t have things like vine-ripened tomatoes at that time; we only had washed potatoes; we didn’t have wild mushrooms; we didn’t use farm rabbits. So with all of these things, I’ve worked to find producers who could produce them.
So I guess that is what I became known for around Australia!
I now have my own restaurant, which is the Bathers’ Pavilion in Balmoral Beach in Sydney. I’ve got a beautiful café that serves up to a thousand people a day and a restaurant that serves beautiful food using quality produce.
I employ over 45 chefs. From the butter, to the ice cream to the bread – everything is produced in house. We also offer catering.
I do cookbooks – my fifth cookbook is coming out soon. It’s called ‘French Kitchen’ – cooking at home French-style for the family.
Because I’ve worked with so many regions and so many small producers in Australia over the years, last year I came down to judge the competition Mid North Coast Signature Dish.
> What’s your speciality as a chef?
Obviously, my kitchen works with ingredients from all around Australia that many people have never seen before. I normally have the first crack at anything that’s new. I was kind of the first person to use wild mushrooms, so that was something we didn’t see.
As a small example, there’s wild asparagus. Wild asparagus just did not exist in its fresh form in any restaurant or shop. Then I saw tinned wild asparagus that was produced in Australia, so I tracked down where it was grown and was able to organise to get some shipped fresh.
All the seafood produced here in Australia – I was the first one to use Ocean Trout. I use seafood and game products, like duck. I’ve got a great friend who has a duck farm, and we worked very closely to promote it.
Artichokes, fennel, zucchini flowers – you could only find them in small backyards, where people grew them themselves, but you could never find them at the markets. I just like to expand the range!
Twenty-five years ago, when I worked in the Regent Hotel, I could see that we were missing something in Australia, in the way foods were handled at the markets.
I travelled to California and I saw all these amazing little organic, small vegetables. I came back to Australia and it took me years to convince growers to grow baby vegetables. Even heirloom vegetables – you never saw them – purple carrots, white carrots.
It’s essential for a chef to create something a bit different with great flavours.
> You’re a judge for the 2nd consecutive year at the Mid North Coast Signature Dish awards. What prompted you to become involved again?
They really wanted me to come back again this year. I said that if I come back this year, I want to work a little bit – it’s too easy to just do judging!
We thought if we put a dinner together, we could employ some of the young chefs from the region. I would also get to work with some of the producers in the region to design a menu.
> Based on what you experienced last year at the Mid North Coast Signature Dish competition, what are you expecting from this year’s final?
I think we’ll see all the competitors using local produce in a very clean manner on the plate.
People will get the idea that it is important to concentrate on flavour and also to concentrate on local ingredients.
Concentration on good technique, as opposed to having too much flurry on the plate … keep it simple, but keep it all about flavour and all about technique.
> You’re also helping to prepare a special dinner to be held at Rydges on September 10. What are you hoping this dinner will achieve?
I’ll be working with the Rydges crew, but we’re also encouraging all the students from TAFE to come in if they want to. We’d like to get as many young chefs as we can from the region as we can to participate.
I’m happy to do the dinner, and I’d like the money to be kept for a good cause, helping to promote food on the Mid North Coast. That way we have an event that can raise some funds – and I think that makes a lot of sense. And at the same time we also get to work with some great young chefs and local producers.
> Any hints as to what type of food you might prepare for the dinner, or is it top secret?
I’m looking at the types of plates that can showcase the ingredients – like oysters, prepared in my manner, a terrine of rabbit, maybe duck for the main course. I’m working on the menu at the moment – we’ll come up with something. I don’t want to use ingredients, or come up with a menu, that challenges people too much.
We’ll be using local wines with the dinner too.
> How important do you feel it is to promote regional produce and talent?
I think it’s important, because each region really needs to have its own sense of identity. You want to attract tourism, and you want to attract turnover at your restaurant, and you want people to realise that you use local ingredients, from local producers.
I think everyone can gain from that, by just giving a sense of identity – food-wise – from the region.
It’s essential to develop the region and to support the restaurants. It’s important to support young chefs and to provide environments for them to work where they can experience local produce.
> Thank you Serge. The finals of the Mid North Coast Signature Dish competition will be held at Port Macquarie TAFE on September 9.
The Mid North Coast Signature Dish dinner will cost $100 per head and will be held at Rydges on September 10. Contact Rydges to purchase tickets on 6589 2811.