Last weekend, I welcomed two guests to Canberra for the Human Brochure VIP Weekend. You might have noticed on my social media feeds that I’ve been tagging my Canberra activities with #humanbrochure – which automatically feeds into the Visit Canberra website (which you can view here). There were 101 ‘Humans’ who were selected to contribute to this website and social media campaign and I was one of the lucky 101 ‘Humans’ selected.
Since the beginning of the campaign, I’ve experienced some wonderful events but the VIP weekend was definitely my highlight. My guests and I felt incredibly spoilt!
A was my local guest and my two interstate guests were from the Wollongong area in NSW – including my lovely friend Lesley (who has known me since I was four years old!) and her friend, Mary.
Our weekend kicked off from the Friday afternoon. A and I met Lesley and Mary at their accommodation – the suave Peppers Gallery Hotel in New Acton.
After our short reunion in the hotel lobby, A and I whisked Lesley and Mary over to the National Portrait Gallery for Hannah Gadsby’s Art talk. This seemed like the perfect activity for the four of us – who all love art and comedy.
Hannah Gadsby’s show was packed with people and it was hilarious. Hannah Gadsby was also happy to pose for a photo with Lesley and Mary.
Seeing as though we were already within the Parliamentary Circle, we drove around and saw a few of the iconic Canberra buildings in the area – including Old Parliament House, New Parliament House and the National Gallery of Australia.
Dinner was low key at Public in Manuka. We snagged the last table outside and ordered large – fish and chips for Mary and Lesley, calamari salad for me, lamb cous cous salad for A and pea and avocado guacamole to share. It was delicious!
Our scheduled VIP event organised by Visit Canberra was on Saturday and A and I returned to Peppers Gallery Hotel to meet our lovely Visit Canberra driver, Dave. Before we met Dave, I found Lesley finishing her breakfast at Bicicletta, which she was very impressed with. Lesley loved the Nespresso machine, as well as the endless array of options for those who prefer a European breakfast of smoked salmon, cheeses, fresh breads and fruit.
Our event was organised into two stages – the first, a tour of the Canberra markets to meet the producers and the second, to join Chris in the kitchen at Lark Hill Winery, where we would be cooking the produce purchased at the market. Of course, wine tasting was also included.
When I spoke with my friend Cyn (AKA The Food Pornographer) before arriving in Canberra, she mentioned that I needed to try John’s amazing ice-cream creations. I was sad to admit to John that this was my first sample of his ice-cream, and I immediately opted to try the Kaffir Lime Sorbet. It was delicious! John and I spoke for a while about the plans for his dessert restaurant which is opening soon in Braddon. Some of the creations he mentioned that would be on the menu sound decedant and unique – I cannot wait to visit!
I loved the fact that Chris and Dave were both really relaxed and allowed us to visit as many producers as we wanted. Both Lesley and Mary were blown away by the markets and spent a lot of time at the different stalls.
I spent my time trailing Chris, who was moving between stalls to obtain the relevant produce for our upcoming lunch at Lark Hill Winery. Our menu was mushroom risotto and a strawberry short cake for dessert.
We picked up the mushrooms from Shoalhaven Mushroom stall.
The organic rice used for our risotto was also purchased at the market, and I was surprised to learn that Koshihikari rice (a Japanese sticky short grain) also works well in risottos. The rice itself is grown by Randall Organic Rice in Murrami, NSW.
We also bought cheese and dairy products from South Coast Cheese (which is possibly my new favourite stall now – their dairy products are fantastic!).
And, it’s also important to note that the Canberra Farmers Market isn’t only about food – there is also an array of beautiful flower vendors.
When our market trip was complete, Dave drove us to Lark Hill Winery via Federal Highway. When we arrived, we were welcomed by free-roaming pet chickens, who wonder around the gorgeous surrounds.
On this particular Saturday, the restaurant was closed for a wedding, which was due to start in the afternoon. Normally, the restaurant at Lark Hill Winery is open for lunch on Saturday and Sunday.
Chris was keen to get cracking in the kitchen. A, Lesley, Mary and I all asked a variety of questions to Chris during our time in the kitchen with him. Chris is self-taught, and his kitchen had a variety of machines – including centrifuges, sous vide, gas canisters and water baths. When Chris told us that we would be cooking the risotto in the sous vide with no hand stirring required, I was more than interested to see the end result.
Chris began cooking our risotto by browning the onions, cooking off the alcohol from the white wine and adding the rice.
Chris also showed us what to do with old mushrooms – slice them, add them to a zip lock bag with salt and leave them overnight. The end result is a mushroom juice that is packed with heaps of flavour.
Once the rice mixture was fried off in the pan, Chris added stock and placed the mixture in the sous vide.
Once the risotto mixture was in the sous vide, Chris started prepping the variety of mushrooms purchased earlier at the Farmers Market.
While we waited for the sous vide to cook the risotto, we started prepping for the strawberry shortcake recipe which was going to be made in the microwave in 40 seconds. The mixture is blended and then placed in a gas canister (also known as whipping cream dispensers) and we were all interested to see how the nitrous oxide worked on the mixture.
When the risotto was finished in the sous vide, Chris put it back in the pot and added the mushrooms and local cheese, made by South Coast Cheese. This matured cheese was strong and rich – a perfect substitute for parmesan cheese!
Plating up, Chris took a lot of care on the presentation which included South Coast Cheese feta and microherbs.
The end result was a sublimely pretty mushroom risotto.
I found it interesting to sit with not only the chef but the winemaker who presented an excellent argument – why do we only aim to match food and wine, but ignore a contrast in flavour? Mr V perfectly matched the risotto, but it was interesting to try a light pinot noir as a contrast. Both wines were exceptional.
Heading back into the kitchen, making our dessert was super quick.
The mixture was ready to be dispersed into take away cups and then microwaved. After 40 seconds, our cakes were ready and removed from the cups. Our strawberry short cakes were a deconstructed version, with the cake broken before it was placed on the plate and it not ‘technically’ being a shortcake recipe however the end result was a fluffy, comparable-tasting shortcake.
The dish was finished with raspberry coulis, thickened cream (also sourced from Tilba Real Milk (AKA South Coast Cheese) at the markets), strawberries and a drizzle of basil oil. I loved the flavour combination of strawberry and basil.
Our day at Lark Hill Winery ended with a sample of a variety of wines at their cellar door. For $5 (which is refundable with any wine purchase), you can try a variety of their biodynamic wines.
Waiting for us was a Murray’s limosine bus, which was the perfect way to end our day.
As Lesley mentioned on the day, this experience was unique – it’s not a usual occurrence for a restaurant to be headed up by both a chef and a winemaker, and it was brilliant having one-on-one time with Chris both in the kitchen and at the market. We all had a fantastic day and a special thank you to Visit Canberra, Lark Hill Winery and the variety of producers we met at the Canberra Farmer’s Market – we really were very spoilt!