Kyle’s herbivorous gastronomic expedition
When my aunt died about 15 years ago she left me her books which were many and varied. Among them was a book by Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 - 1826). This book (not, I am afraid, a first edition) resided in the loo for many a month. It’s a fascinating book that describes late eighteenth century gastronomy. Brillat-Savarin says: Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es. This means “tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. If you doubt this aphorism, then you may wish to listen to “You are what you eat” by the Formidable Vegetable Sound System. Of course, being what you eat can, in principle, be achieved by shipping food in from all over the world. But it can equally be achieved by eating food that is grown locally, that is on season and has left a light footprint on our increasingly fragile environment.
A couple of weeks ago we received one of our regular emailings from The Whale at Narooma. It was advertising Kyle’s Herbiferous Gastronomic Expedition. It was to be a vegan degustation. Kyle Levier is a gardener, surfer, home-brewer, talker and supporter of the simple things. The idea for a vegan degustation arose through conversations between Kyle and Matt Hoar, the Whale’s chef. Whale owner Matt Deveson had not thought that he could fill the restaurant with a single vegan offering. He reckoned without the good citizens of the Shire. I had wondered whether the age distribution of the diners would be skewed toward the younger generation but all age groups seemed to be represented.
You may have seen Kyle in his market garden as you head up the hill past Turlinjah on the highway heading north. I went to speak to him there on a sunny winter day so I could talk to him about his growing philosophy. When I arrived I was surprised to see that he was spraying something onto his crops. I asked him about this for I thought that being organic meant that the grower was limited in what he could spray. “I’m biodynamic.” he said “There’s a difference between being biodynamic and being organic. The biodynamic approach is based on observation, it’s about the system as a whole.” A biodynamic farm is a single entity that can be viewed as an single system or organism. Kyle is passionate about his approach. And the results speak for themselves.
Matt Hoar is a local boy from Dalmeny and an ex-professional surfer. His surfing meant travel and, as they say, travel broadens the mind and that shows through in his cooking. His philosophy of sourcing local food at affordable prices drives his approach. Matt Deveson confirmed that about 80% of the ingredients for the vegan degustation were sourced from the Shire mainly from Kyle but also from Fraser Bayley and Kirsti Wilkinson.
Above: Kyle Levier and Matt Hoar | Photo Trevor Moore I asked Matt about the challenges of vegan cooking. “You can’t use butter,” he said, “nor cream for deserts.” Kyle might not agree with the idea that there are any challenges with vegan cooking. And, as Matt said, “the produce makes it easy.” I asked if creating the vegan equivalent of a traditional dish is simply a matter of substituting a non-dairy fat for the butter. “It’s not quite that simple,” said Matt. One of the dishes we had was gnocchi in a roast cauliflower cream. A non-vegan gnocchi would be served with a butter and cream based sauce. Matt’s idea was to roast cauliflower and then pureé it finely. He thickened it with xanthan gum (gelatine is animal based) used a little onion oil to give the sauce a similar texture to the conventional diary-based sauce. We have only had excellent dining experiences at The Whale so it wasn’t hard to sign up to the vegan feast. We knew it would be good and so it was; better than that, it was a standout. There are three things that are essential for a good meal: first class produce, an imaginative chef and a satisfied diner. All three of these were well in evidence at The Whale last Thursday 22nd June. We started with a pumpkin and red curry soup served with kale and ciabatta. When you eat soup in the winter you need it good and thick; soup in which you can stand up your spoon. Not only was the texture good and the colour vibrant but the flavours were very excellent. We followed this with broccoli tempura which was served with pickled radish, wombok, foraged wild kelp ponzu and a nasturtium emulsion. The ponzu and the nasturtium emulsion were perfect together. This was followed by gnocchi on cauliflower cream. Gnocchi is sometimes difficult to get right; it’s either too soft or too chewy. This gnocchi succumbed to neither failing. It was silky smooth. A beetroot and quinoa risotto followed. This was served with smoked parsnip and, inspirationally, pomegranate. The colour of this dish was bright and inviting. The taste was sensational and smoked parsnips are definitely something to look out for.
Above: Beetroot and quinoa risotto: marvellous colours, great taste Photo Trevor Moore
Given that Matt Hoar had commented on the challenges of doing a desert without cream, we were looking forward to the raw cocoa fondant, raspberry and cointreau sorbet, coconut cremeux and hazelnut praline. We were not disappointed. After we had finished our meal, washed down with a couple of good bottles from The Whale’s well-stocked cellar (vegan emphatically does not mean no booze), we tried to decide among ourselves which of the courses was our favourite. We failed. Each was a wonderful combination of colour, flavour and taste. There are those who think that a vegetarian diet leaves you wanting more to eat. This is total rubbish; we were well satisfied.In 1986 someone called Murcott wrote in a peer-reviewed article that “the proper meal is a cooked dinner, made and combined in the right way. A proper meal consists of one course only, a plateful, a combination of meat and two vegetables.” There is more wrong with these two sentences than I can begin to say. We had a good time, in a lovely environment with great service and we enjoyed a first class meal. Matt and Jen Deveson are to be commended for putting this event on and Kyle Levier and Matt Hoar commended for coming up with the idea. The Whale 104 Wagonga Street, Narooma NSW 2546 Australia 02 4476 2411 | whalemotorinn.com | firstname.lastname@example.org facebook.com/WhaleRestaurant | facebook.com/WhaleMotorInn