New Head Chef brings passion for nature to The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly Estate

February 23, 2023

The Long Apron Restaurant at Spicers Clovelly Estate, near Montville in the verdant Sunshine Coast hinterland, have elevated, highly respected local Geoff Abel to the all-encompassing role of Head Chef.

“I love so much about Clovelly and The Long Apron,” says Geoff. “The beautiful location and buildings, the manicured grounds, the amazing weddings. But most of all I love getting to cook great food. The Long Apron Restaurant allows me to experiment and gives me full creative expression, which is all a chef could hope for.”

Geoff with his kitchen team continue the momentum that saw the Long Apron’s French-inspired seasonal cuisine recognised with chef’s-hats in the 2023, 2022, 2021, 2020 and 2019 Australian Good Food Guides.

“When you have great ingredients, you don’t need to do much, just treat the produce with respect and don’t over-complicate things,” explains Geoff. “We have a dish on our tasting menu – dry aged Maremma duck with orange and endive. It’s so simple and really allows the duck to shine.”

Cooking from scratch

Geoff has impeccable fine-dining credentials. After moving to Australia from New Zealand aged 18, he landed a job at the Coral Sea Resort in the Whitsunday’s under chef Paul Lewis (now executive chef at InterContinental Hayman Island Resort). After three years, Geoff made a move to Brisbane, and joined Urbane/The Euro Brasserie under Kym Machin before a shift to Aria Brisbane under Ben Russell.

Geoff says they were the formative years for him, “I learnt a lot about classic French cuisine which aligns with the basis of our cuisine at The Long Apron. I love all European food and I’m particularly interested in the influence of Spain and Italy on French cuisine. Because these countries share borders, there is a beautiful fusion of culture and cuisine which I find extremely inspirational.

Before coming to The Long Apron, Geoff owned the farm-to-plate, low-waste, Flock Eatery on the waterfront at Redcliffe, offering fresh, seasonal and local produce from the Moreton Bay region. Geoff and Flock Eatery won the Moreton Bay environment and sustainability award in 2017 and 2018 and Business of the Year in 2018.

Pictured: Market fish, bisque cream, asparagus and bottarga

Verdant country paradise

For the kitchen team at The Long Apron, knowing where their produce comes from and having a relationship with local producers who are focused on quality and sustainability is essential to the restaurant’s style. “We believe in from scratch cooking,” says Geoff. “We make everything in house, including our bread and butter (Maleny Dairy cows) and we have our bees to make our honey.”

Spicers Clovelly Estate left-over organic matter, like food scraps, then goes into a compost machine, which feeds their herb garden and fruit trees or goes back to the farmers who grow their produce.

“Having access to this fresh local produce allows us to let the food speak for itself,” says Geoff. “I know everyone says this but I really do mean it. When you work with such great farmers the work is done for you.”

Geoff has a world of ingredients he loves to cook with, but top of his list right now are local dairy and cheeses, Falls Farm vegetables, Maremma ducks, White Pyrenees lamb, rump cap, venison, quail, and butter, butter, butter. “Perhaps the secret to cooking is good quality produce, butter and salt; it’s a magic combination,” says Geoff.

For fresh produce, Geoff currently loves cooking with mushrooms. “Mountain Top Mushrooms grow the best gourmet mushrooms in existence! We feature them on every menu,” says Geoff.

The Falls Farm supplies amazing heirloom vegetables and fruits all year to The Long Apron, and Geoff reckons that Karen, the goat lady from Little White Goat’s Cheese, makes the best you’ll ever try.

Pictured: Ocean trout tartare, sorrel sauce, green almonds, crème fraîche, caviar

Inspired by the classics

Geoff is passionate about making dining at The Long Apron a special experience, a value he feels is shared by the entire team. “I would need a list, pages long, to describe all the hundreds of little things our staff do to make the guests feel special,” says Geoff.

In the kitchen, Geoff likes to draw inspiration from traditional French cuisine and techniques then apply a modern twist utilising produce from the hyper-local region.  He experienced European cuisine first-hand travelling with his wife throughout Europe, soaking up the rich food culture. “I think that’s where I developed an obsession with bread,” laughs Geoff. “I don’t think I’d tasted real bread until France … and don’t get me started on the cheese!”

As a chef Geoff loves cooking over coals on the hibachi grill, and low and slow sous-vide is a great way to infuse flavours. “To be honest, sometimes all I want to cook with is a good old-fashioned cast-iron pan and a gas burner”. He finds endless inspiration in classic cooking bibles like the Larousse Gastronomique and Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion, as well as The Noma Guide to Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. “I love fermentation,” says Geoff emphatically. “Fermentation allows us to add such an interesting depth of flavour and uniqueness to our dishes.”

The menus change so regularly it’s very hard to pick a favourite. Ideally, you can experience the Dégustation Omnivore or the Dégustation Végétarien & Vegan, with optional matching wines.

Local seafood is featured, as are superior quality meats, such as ocean trout tartare with sorrel sauce, green almonds, creme fraiche and caviar also free range pork belly, Mooloolaba king prawns with sprouted grains and blackened apple, or wild-shot venison with bitter chocolate and beetroot.

With a focus on dairy and plants, current dishes include Little White Goat Cheese, Falls Farm vegetables, brik pastry and sherry gastrique. Also featuring are Mountain Top Mushrooms with panise, black garlic and sage, and miso eggplant with sprouted grains and blackened apple.

Pictured: Scallop served raw with orange, shiso, radicchio and roe

A new take on tradition

The private retreat’s The Long Apron Restaurant French-inspired cuisine is matched by one of the region’s best wine lists. It has an understandable preference for French wines, especially Champagne, and the classic regional styles (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone) that are also produced so well in Australia.

Individual wines are highlighted throughout the wine list with tasting notes, which goes for the entire range of beverages at The Long Apron, from tea and coffee to the excellent selection of (many local) beer and spirits, including a homemade clarified rum punch that’s macerated for three days using fifteen fruits and spices.

The Long Apron also has an enviable calendar of intimate food and wine events scheduled, which Geoff also takes pleasure in. “I’ve been enjoying designing our new Champagne high tea menus! It’s our take on a very traditional past-time, and there’s something truly special about Champagne and strawberry macaroons.”

In addition to a sparkling Sommelier Selection of vintage and prestige cuvée Champagne by the bottle, a Coravin wine preservation system allows The Long Apron to pour more premium wines by the glass than would otherwise be economical, including Chablis, Cote Rotie, and Châteauneuf Du Pape, as well as unique regional styles from around the wine world, like aged Hunter Valley Semillon and Barbaresco from Piedmont.

Pictured: Almond dacquoise, chocolate crémeux, whipped ganache, almond and miso ice cream

Hydration is the key

The Long Apron’s new Head Chef Geoff Abel started out as a kitchen hand when he was 15. Geoff says, “The kitchen has a way of pulling people in. It hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride, but at some point in the journey, I fell in love with the industry.”

On the Sunshine Coast, Geoff and his family with four kids under 12 are as well-known on the beaches as at the farmer’s markets. “Children have such a strong passion for learning that is both humbling and inspiring. They motivate me to stay creative and always keep learning.”

“I love cooking at home with my kids – it is a joy we can all share … and you’ll find a few of my grandma’s recipes sneaking into my baking from time to time,” says Geoff.

If you ask Geoff about what he loves about working at The Long Apron, he’ll say that it’s because he gets to cook great food, support local farmers, and exercise his creativity. “I know everyone says those things, but I really do mean it,” says Geoff. “Everyone comes into work happy at The Long Apron. How could you not, working in such an amazing location?”

Geoff knows it’s a tough industry to work in, and puts in a lot of effort to maintain a calm, supportive environment for young people to learn in. He says, “I did some mentoring work at the Wandering Cooks alongside Naomi Zavackas and Phil Marchant. Angela Hurst of the Wandering Cooks hired us as chef/business mentors to help budding young entrepreneurs with their food-business ideas.”

“There was one quote that really stuck in my mind which was the last thing Chef Ben Russell said to me when I left Aria Brisbane” he reveals. He said with a serious look on his face “Geoff, always remember, hydration is the key”, and it’s stuck with me for some reason. I have no idea why he said it or what he was talking about… drinking water regularly or perhaps sourdough hydration. Either way it’s good advice!” Geoff laughs.

A world to explore

Located just 1 kilometre from Montville and 15 minutes from Maleny in the beautiful Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Spicers Clovelly Estate feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

There’s a captivating feeling from the moment you pass between the grand figs, shaded jacarandas and groves of magnolias and gardenias that frame Clovelly Estate’s main guest house.

Whether you seek privacy or companionship, adventure or tranquillity, Spicers have created a true estate experience that melds with the landscape to draw you into a verdant world of natural, unadorned luxury.