My favourite kind of food is food that has a story. An honest and inspiring story. Food that can be traced back to where and how it grows and especially who grows it. Sometimes nature grows it all by itself and that food is simply grown wild. To me, this is the very best and honest type of food. I get goosebumps just at the thought of it. I picture gumboots on, secateurs in hand and the thrill of the hunt for untouched, region specific and completely in tune with the seasons food. In the late Autumn around coastal NSW Australia, this means finding everything from wild Warrigal greens and lemon myrtle, neptunes necklace and dandelion, wild pepper and fennel seed, rose hips, slippery jacks and stinging nettle. To me, food and it's accompanying story doesn't get any better. Wild food is always exhilarating to get a hold of and once found, its story is best continued to be told in an unfussy, pure and honest way. Simply prepared, cooked simply too and laid out on the table family style, for friends to simply enjoy and eat.
Earlier this May, myself along with co-hosts Aaron Teece of Studio Neon and Annabelle Hickson of The Dailys, dreamt up a wild food supper to do just this. It was late Autumn and the perfect opportunity to draw on all things wild from the regional radius between the Highlands and the Hawkesbury. It was held at the Balzac family's stunning 1880's converted church on the Colo River. Aaron planned an insane wild menu and was head chef and forager for our afternoon. A long banquet table was made specifically for the occasion, and we set it up outside with alfresco dining, candles and Hawkesbury stars in mind. Annie transformed the table into a wild foliage wonderland with a spectacular installation complete with long gum leaves, grey wattle, prickly pear and twinkling lights (Annie never ceases to amaze me with her creative plant genius). We dressed the table with moss covered twigs, oyster shells and fabric wrapped bento gift bags for each guest - with a glass tube of homemade wild fennel salt and a jar of The Husk Mill cacao tea inside. The most beautiful handwritten menus also graced the table, calligraphed by the ever generous and stylish Caitlin Melling.
As guests began to arrive, we greeted them with craft cocktails made with local Poor Toms Gin, lemon myrtle syrup and wild rose hip jam. The cocktails accompanied a starter menu of coal baked oysters with seaweed butter, Aaron's fresh baked focaccia and servings of soft shell Hawkesbury school prawns collected the day before from Gary up the road. Before we sat for supper, we all went on a participatory guided foraging walk led by Aaron, where we were introduced to the likes of wild grown wood sorrel and dandelion. The bridge then led us across the river to an overflowing organic orange orchard, once owned and recently sold by the Balzac's family friends, where we were able to fill up our baskets with as many navels and valencias as we could carry. With baskets heavy and overflowing, we all wandered back in the last of the afternoon light to be welcomed by a festoon light lit church, a cracking fire, pre dinner drinks by local winery, Logan Wines and a long banquet table lit by flickering candles. We sat for supper and out came our wild meal! Aaron indulged every one of our senses with unfussy, flavour filled and honest plates of nettle and potato soup, wild weed quiche, emu with nasturtium, tuna with Warrigal greens, wild rabitt with dandelion and orange eton mess from our citrus picking stint in the orchard. The wine continued to flow and the table hummed with the sweet sounds of chatter and clinking plates.
It's evenings like these that I only wish we could pause. It was such a thrill to watch our supper and our wild food story unfold. I am ever so thankful to Annie, Aaron and Caitlin, our supper sponsors and particularly all our guests who made the trip to the Hawkesbury to dine with us and spend the afternoon. It was so great to meet you all, and I hope we all get to dine together again.
There is hope to hold more of these events in the future - so please do keep and eye out here and here if you would like to join us for the next one. For now, I'll let the photos tell the rest of the story and keep you full on all things wild until then.