Rhiannon Birch, Kiren Mainwaring and Jason Hutchen. Photography Peter Maloney.
How do you feel about being a mentor for WA’s Signature Dish and representing the Swan Valley region?
It’s an honour to be asked to represent the region. It’s home for me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I drive through the place. Mentorship brings enjoyment to my life and work. To pass on my passion for the region’s produce to a home cook is a no brainer.
How did your philosophy around local produce start?
When I started cooking in a regional area of Wales you had to approach local farmers. Only the local produce went on the menu. It was drilled into me from a young age that that was the only way to go. I still hold the beliefs and systems I learnt at the time. I was really fortunate.
How do you think WA fairs in its use of local produce at the moment?
It’s incredible. The commonsense interest in buying local is now widespread and the philosophy is growing. The diversity of Western Australia’s climate allows for tropical produce in the north, down to truffles in the south. It’s exciting as a chef to have such a diverse range of produce. You’re constantly learning about seasonality.
What are the benefits of cooking with local ingredients?
It’s a win for both the producer and consumer. It’s inspiring when you form a relationship with a producer and learn about their philosophy on food. You know where your food is coming from and what you’re spending your money on. You’re investing in the growth of local producers and the local area.
Entrants are asked to use one “hero ingredient” for the competition. What has the Swan Valley and surrounds got to offer?
I’m really excited about the producers in the Swan Valley getting into the hero ingredient list. It’s tough to get it down to one hero. Our shortlist includes goats milk from Caprino Farm, Edgecombe Bros do an incredible fresh asparagus, and the honey from the region is something to cry about. We also really wanted to focus on indigenous ingredients in the area, so cooks can choose ingredients from The Bitter Bush in the Swan Valley.
What’s your advice to avid home cooks who want to cook with local ingredients? How do they get started?
You just need to have an interest. If you’re excited about the ingredients, it will happen. I’m quite a purist. If you go into a small butcher shop or grocer and they’re putting their life into what they’re doing, you can see that passion straight away. Give support to the right person who will do the right thing by the produce.
Entries for WA’s Signature Dish are now open. The semi-final cook-off event will be held at Fraser’s Restaurant on 14th October. Finalists will battle it out at Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November.