Menus should be changed just one dish at a time, according to Hentley Farm’s Lachlan Colwill. The award-winning chef also believes that degustation menus – called discovery and du jour menus at his own restaurant – are the best way to showcase beautiful ingredients and ensure maximum freshness.
Here, Colwill talks about his approach to cooking and some of his favourite seasonal ingredients – including wild fennel.
What philosophy guides your menu at Hentley Farm?
Serve delish food and have fun doing it!
Why opt for a series of set menus, rather than a la carte options?
A la carte menus can be incredibly wasteful and don’t give the chef enough flexibility to work with and sell the ingredients/dishes when they are in their prime. In a lot of a la carte restaurants, chefs often prepare beautiful dishes only to watch them sit in the cool room for days because they aren’t selling – what a waste! It’s a far more enjoyable experience for all when you know the food you’re eating and serving is in its absolute peak of freshness.
How often do you change the menu?
One dish at a time. I don’t believe in the concept of changing a whole menu in one go just because it’s that time of year. A menu should be a series of dishes that have been tried and tested so each dish is as good as the next and so the chefs that serve them understand every element of their structure, ensuring consistency can be achieved. For myself and the other chefs at Hentley Farm, it takes roughly four weeks of trial and error to develop a dish idea to menu stage; once developed, it is refined daily with each service and served while its ingredients are in season.
What seasonal ingredients are you currently enjoying cooking with?
Each year at Hentley farm we watch the same cycle of wild growing ingredients like fennel, garlic, sorrel and many more. We recently hit wild fennel season and the stuff is everywhere in the Barossa, so we cook with it a lot.
How are you using it on the menu?
We use the wild fennel in various ways. The fronds are used to season butter, the flowers are served fresh with sauerkraut, the stems used as a vessel for eating sea urchins, and the whole plant is part of our restaurant floral arrangements. It’s a handy plant to have!
How would you suggest people might try using it at home?
Make a vodka-based cocktail with mint, apple and wild fennel, then hollow out one of the fennel stems and use it as your straw. Not only does it look super kewl, it enhances the fennel flavour and is quite refreshing
Where do you source your ingredients from?
When looking for ingredients, we always start with what we can forage or grow ourselves on the Hentley Farm site, then we look at the best produce and producers the Barossa has to offer, then what the rest of South Australia has to offer. We use a very minimal amount of ingredients from outside these fields. The ingredients that excite us the most are those that are produced closest to us, like the award-winning Shu-Am pork from the small town of Freeling – their farm gate is exactly 14 kilometres from ours.
Hentley Farm restaurant is based at the boutique vineyard of the same name at Seppeltsfield, in the Barossa Valley.
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