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Behind the Menu: Skillogalee

Restaurants

In this second article in InDaily’s ‘Behind the Menu’ series, we find out what’s cooking in the Clare Valley with Skillogalee chef Nicola Palmer.

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Skillogalee was the first winery restaurant in the Clare Valley. Palmer’s parents Dave and Diana Palmer bought the cellar door and winery in 1989 and started a restaurant in the old cottage which has been operating seven-days-a-week for 26 years.

“Growing up sitting under the benches in my mother’s kitchens gave me a great head start [as a chef],” Palmer says. “I trained in commercial cookery in 2011.”

The garden at Skillogalee includes many fruit trees and a vegetable patch from which Palmer uses as much produce as possible and preserving any excess by making jams, jellies and pickles for use as condiments.

“Skillogalee has always aimed to run in the most sustainable ways possible both in the vineyard, the kitchen and the accommodation, which we added in 2012.”

Skillogalee offers both breakfast and lunch and afternoon teas. Dishes on the breakfast menu currently include blueberry and raspberry Dutch baked pancake with creme fraiche ($16.50), grilled WA sardines with toasted sourdough and sauce vierge ($20), and baked eggs with Mauri Taleggio, baby spinach and ciabatta ($22).

Some of the dishes on the lunch menu include market fish served with warm beetroot, fennel and orange salad ($34.90) and eye fillet of local beef with sweet potato mash, green beans and anchovy butter ($45.90).

Afternoon tea includes sweet treats such as Middle Eastern warm orange cake ($8.50), fresh scones with jam and cream ($7), and cheese platters (from$18) with local dried fruits and nuts and Skillogalee quince paste.

Palmer also happens to be Chair of Clare Valley Cuisine.

“The Valley has such amazing produce and producers and getting that message out is such an important job,” she says.

“One of the great food and wine events that we have in the Valley is the Clare Valley Gourmet Weekend (May 13 to 16), which was the first food and wine event in Australia and Skillogalee has been a part of this event since its inception in 1984.

“We are looking forward to this year’s event when Skillogalee will be doing food at Clare Valley Cuisine’s annual Gourmet Markets. Skillogalee will also be holding a degustation dinner on the Saturday evening, music, breakfast and lunch on the Sunday and a gourmet breakfast in the gardens on the Monday.

In the meantime, Palmer gives us some more insight into what happens inside the kitchen at Skillogalee.

Nicola-Palmer-Skillogalee-resized

Skillogalee head chef and chair of Clare Valley Cuisine, Nicola Palmer. Photo: supplied

The kitchen culture at Skillogalee is …
Happy and friendly. Professional yet relaxed. Everyone knows their role.

Who are you cooking for?
Always the consumer – I get as much joy from a staff member loving a dish as a customer.

Describe the current menu?
An ever evolving small but lively menu which aims to showcase local produce with fresh and punchy flavours.

What does it seek to achieve?
Pleasure and enjoyment by playing an integral part in the overall experience of Skillogalee, from the moment a customer walks through the gardens into the cottage and sits down on the verandah surrounded by roses, vines and gum trees. The scenery, the food and the wines, along with the opportunity to try the wines in the way we intend them to be drunk – with food – all play a part.

Who or what has had the greatest influence on your cooking?
Local produce foremost, then my experience past and present, memories, ideals and dreams. Seasonal produce really triggers my imagination.

What are the hero ingredients?
Local seasonal produce – this week it’s home grown figs, quinces and pears.

What is your favourite dish?
On our new breakfast menu it would be the warm potted smoked trout or the home grown fig, blue cheese and honey bruschetta ($18.50, pictured top). On the lunch menu it is the slow cooked loin chop of pork with cider braised onions and raspberries ($35.90).

What is your favourite food and wine match?
Aged Riesling with baked goats cheese.

What are you cooking at home?
I am really enjoying Middle Eastern cooking at home – I can’t get enough of good sumac.

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