From paddock to plate
Exciting racing and wonderful food experiences go hand in hand during Cup Week.
The dedicated team behind the scenes, sourcing from passionate food producers, are preparing to bring this year's carnival magic
right to your door.
A large portion of it is sourced locally from passionate producers. Here, we remind you of the dedication of the teams of people behind the process of putting a dish of beautiful food on the table, and the ripple effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had.
While we can’t enjoy the spoils of these producers trackside, we can still support local by ordering their produce online or supporting restaurants and cafes that use their goods.
Group Executive Chef at Peter Rowland, Matthew Haigh is usually planning the menus for the Melbourne Cup Carnival months before some of the world’s most renowned racehorses are under starters orders at Flemington. As the person responsible for developing the race day menus and then seeing the items on those menus cooked to perfection, Haigh has a responsibility to bring racegoers and members the best cuisine to match the best racing.
Because developing the menus for Flemington is very much a two-way conversation between Haigh and the growers and farmers, the choice of meals and food are usually in draft form by June, and Haigh will have already spent months talking to trusted suppliers and growers and investigating interesting potential new producers. “I need to know what is going to be growing and available in November and that guides me. I visit the people who grow our vegetables, the people who produce our chicken or pork or beef. I might talk to a farmer who is growing heirloom broccoli and ask, ‘can we get 2,000 serves of that for the Carnival?’” explained Haigh.
“We have a chicken supplier who only slaughters chickens once a week and only produces 80 chickens at a time. So I have to work with those farmers ahead of time and let them know what volumes I need so they can then deliver for Flemington. There’s only one farmer growing golf-ball carrots in Victoria and I might need 2,000 carrots. We discuss that in June so he has time to convert a paddock to golf-ball carrots just for the Carnival menu.”
Sadly this practice has been curtailed this year, and the hard work and passion that is usually dedicated to curating the cuisine is off the cards. It is a sad reality about the impact and the ripple effect of the pandemic, as it is felt far beyond the kitchens at Flemington.
In his time at Peter Rowland, Haigh has built trusted relationships with growers and farmers, many of them based in Victoria. Some of the duck served at Flemington is sourced from the Macedon Ranges while many of the boutique herbs and vegetables come from Flowerdale Farm, which specialises in growing shoots, sprouts, microgreens, edible flowers, petite vegetables, salads and herbs.
Haigh will usually work with a procurement manager who shares the chef’s passion for produce that is sustainably grown, local, fresh and flavoursome. The chef also prefers to source food from farmers and growers who are enthusiastic about their products.
“When a farmer comes to us and talks about his chickens running around a farm in the Grampians, eating eggs, I know that person has passion for their product and that product will be tasty,”
The dedication and care that goes into the locally sourced food is undeniable. Carnival racegoers in the past have enjoyed a menu that included Port Phillip Bay Scallops.
The sweet and succulent scallops are native to the bay and grow naturally in clusters, which are then collected by hand from the floor of the bay without nets and lines. Hand collection also means they are brought to the surface undamaged and free of grit.
Kingfish from Port Lincoln has also featured at Flemington, sourced from Clean Seas, which farm Spencer Gulf Hiramasa kingfish in a remote location off the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. The Spencer Gulf is one of the cleanest bodies of water in Australia and the kingfish have a sweet, fresh taste.
Japanese sushi masters consider kingfish to be one of the best fish in the world for sashimi, but the fish can also be marinated and slow-cooked, pan-fried or barbequed.
While we can’t enjoy the fruits of Haigh’s, his team, and these passionate suppliers’ labour trackside in 2020, we can still embrace the spirit of it. “People at the Carnival are there for the races and to enjoy time with family and friends,” said Haigh. “Food should balance out the day. To me, food is about simplicity, enjoyment, and beautiful flavours in the mouth.”
So, support regional growers, farmers and makers and shop local. Start planning now to ensure there is adequate time to source your ingredients and then create a sumptuous Carnival feast at home with outstanding products that are grown with passion and love, right on our doorstep, in a time that they need our help most.
A taste of caviar: a supplier’s story
Yarra Valley Caviar usually supplies the high-quality salmon roe that features on the race day menus at Flemington. Based on the Rubicon River in the Yarra Valley, the business is the only dedicated Australian producer of freshwater Atlantic Salmon.
The month of May is ordinarily one of the busiest times of year for Nick Gorman and his business partner, Mark Fox, as it is milking time for their Atlantic Salmon, Rainbow Trout, and Brook Trout. In May 2019, they milked 25,000 salmon, 3000 Brook Trout and 3000 Rainbow Trout.
The delicate procedure produced more than 15 tonnes of fresh roe and some of that quality roe ended up on plates at Flemington during the 2019 Carnival. “The fish only spawn in May and we then have a three-week window to collect their eggs,” explained Gorman, National Business Development Manager at Yarra Valley Caviar.
“We take the fish out of their pond and put them in a bath with clove oil that puts them to sleep. They then go to the milking station where their tummy is gently massaged by hand, so the eggs come out the vent. The fish then go into a recovery tank before being released back into the pond. The roe is blast frozen and as we need it we salt it, clean it, jar it and pasteurise it. It takes us three years to grow a salmon from the egg to its first spawning which is when fish produce roe. That roe is so clean and pure that we only add salt to it. The egg of the first spawning is the softest – it’s our top-notch roe and that first harvest salmon roe is what we’re producing for the Melbourne Cup Carnival,” adds Gorman.
Gorman and Fox bought the salmon roe business from its founder around 15 years ago but have expanded the types of roe now produced and recently also began importing black caviar from Europe. They have been supplying Flemington through wholesalers for years, with their product also featuring in high-end restaurants and being exported to the Maldives, Singapore and Hong Kong.
For Gorman, being on the 20-acre farm is the culmination of a childhood dream. He grew up in the tiny town of Savernake, about 30km outside of Yarrawonga.
His father had a cropping and sheep farm but fish and aquaculture fascinated Gorman. “I was always into fishing growing up and always mucked around with yabbies,” he says.
“Once I left high school I went to Tasmania to study aquatic science, majoring in fisheries. I loved the idea of fish farming, perhaps because it was a bit different from other types of farming. From university I got involved in commercial deep-sea diving and then went into this business.”
The farm has 16 ponds and currently has around 100 tonnes of salmon. It has Best Aquaculture Practice certification – a worldwide benchmark that signifies best practice in the industry. Gorman and Fox support sustainable farming, low stocking densities and chemical-free fish farming, too.
“I’m a country boy through and through and love being at the farm,” says Gorman. “I have a shack on the river there and it’s a beautiful place to be.”