November 16, 2021
Spicers Scenic Rim Trail takes guests on spectacular guided glamping hikes through one of Australia’s most unique landscapes, but how does Spicers’ style of destination fine dining translate to the open air and star-filled sky?
Head Chef Jake Knauth is the solution. He’s a community minded market-gardener, a lover of quirky wine paired with integrated great food, and unexpectedly a fried chicken and taco bar entrepreneur (Lucky Egg, Trash Taco) who listens to what the hungry want and where they want to eat it – whether its chicken burgers from a shipping container out the back of a busy pub or preparing meals for rough sleepers and other vulnerable people.
From kitchen to camp site
Knauth came to Spicers from the popular Maeve Wine in South Brisbane, where he’d been Chef de Partie under Jesse Stevens from 2019 and completed most of an apprenticeship with Ben O’Donoghue at the nearby South Bank Surf Club.
These days, as Head Chef for the Scenic Rim Trail, Knauth cooks, assembles and delivers culinary sustenance to Spicers’ eco-camps, ready for a team of hosts and guides to prepare for their guests, while generating minimal waste.
“Unlike a restaurant where you come in for a single meal that just needs to be impressive and delicious,” Knauth explains, “we’re feeding guests every bite of food they eat for up to six days while they’re on an intensive 65-kilometre hike, so we serve a diverse and exciting week of nourishing, energy-rich food.”
In the past few months Knauth has focussed on the addition of high protein grains, seeds and sprouts like lentils and pepitas, which he says reflects growing interest in high-performance, plant-based diets.
Slow food for long walks
Knauth says that there’s never a dull day on the Scenic Rim Trail. He’s experienced out of the blue challenges, including downed trees, a mice plague, or the flash flooding that forced the team to hike deliveries 10 kilometres into camp.
For the ready-to-go restaurant quality meals, Knauth has made friends with an array of fresh and dry spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin and caraway that lend themselves to preserving through pickling and fermentation. A current dish is Knauth’s fun take on ‘strawberries and cream’, mixing flavours of fresh, green, and fermented strawberries with native strawberry gum and local dairy.
“We’re also making a few different krauts at the moment,” says Knauth, “I love the slow fermentation process, and when they’re ready, they taste incredible and are so good for you!”
Knauth and the crew love to share their culinary concepts with their guests and often send them home with a jar or recipe from their experience.
Journey to the Scenic Rim
Head Chef Knauth had not quite finished his apprenticeship when he left to tour with one of his bands and eventually got married, but in 2019 landed the gig at Maeve Wine. Jake says “Head Chef Jesse Stevens whipped my ass and pushed me hard and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s just what I needed.”
Knauth’s early life is full of powerful food memories. “Growing up my nan was like Julia Child to me,” Knauth remembers. “We’d make cookies and fruit cakes and simple nourishing country meals, but what she was really teaching me was how to just wing it, make a mess, and enjoy cooking.”
His first job cooking was as a teenager at a family owned Greek taverna, and that was it for Knauth, he was hooked. “Working there was like being in a band, you’d put on a very confident professional façade in front of guests, and then walk back through the curtains to total mayhem.”
After valuable time apprenticing at the South Bank Surf Club, Knauth started his own venture in 2015,
Lucky Egg Fried Chicken, which ran out of a little container next to The Brightside live music venue and bar in Fortitude Valley.
While managing Lucky Egg, in 2019 Knauth ran a series of pop-up diners under the name ‘Trash Taco’, focussed on sustainable local food producers, discarded ingredients and natural wine.
Knauth says, “Wine was always the inroad for me into the high end of the industry, the food was great, but the wine was what demanded the food to be great.”
“These days I love a strong margarita, a kombucha on ice, or one of Pat Sullivan’s fun, cloudy wines from West Gippsland. Coming into summer I also can’t get enough of the Sobah non-alcoholic beers, an Aboriginal owned and led company from the Gold Coast.”
Respecting the land that feeds you
Spicers Scenic Rim Trail sources produce (and stories) from local farmers, suppliers and artisans. “We are so far from anything,” says Knauth, “so supporting local growers and suppliers means we get a better, fresher supply and long-lasting relationships.”
Fruit and veg comes from Ghost Gully produce in Gatton and 9Dorf Farms in the fertile Lockyer Valley – a fifth-generation family-owned business who are passionate about sustainable farming. Other local producers suppling Spicers Scenic Rim Trail include Arthur Clive’s Family Bakehouse in Boonah, 4Real Milk based in Queensland’s Scenic Rim. They also source beef, pork and eggs from Echo Valley in Goomburra, who practice regenerative agriculture, which Knauth spent a year studying as a paid intern at Lot 81 Micro Farm in the outer Brisbane suburb of Ferny Grove.
Knauth is a keen market gardener at home and has plans for the Trail. He says, “We’re intending on setting up a market garden at Canopy in the next few months to provide a portion of our herbs and veg onsite.”
Knauth’s diverse background includes a stint at Micah Projects’ Hope St Cafes where he prepared and delivered upwards of 400 vacuum packed meals and fresh sandwiches daily to rough sleepers, at-risk families and other vulnerable people.
“There needs to be a monumental shift in the way anyone who has anything to do with food treats it and the waste it creates,” Knauth says. He feels that Spicers is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to achieving its sustainability goals and action on climate change.
“I think for a lot of restaurants it’s incredibly hard to break the cycle,” he says. “Profits are paramount to survival, everything costs a lot of money, so why on earth would a restaurant sift through its trash and pay three times as much to dispose, recycle and compost their waste responsibly?”
Always inspiring chefs
Knauth has been massively influenced by Silo: The Zero Waste Blueprint by Douglas McMaster. “I hated this book when I first read it,” he says. “It seemed so unachievable, just a pie in the sky. Now it lives in my bag and I use it religiously to kickstart solutions to problems we face in our attempt to make the Scenic Rim Trail zero waste.”
“It sounds like a cliché now but the Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain is by far the most tattered and stained book in my house, followed by an old copy of Larousse Gastronomique that my grandmother gave to me. There’s something about French food when you’re young that you just need to conquer!”
“My favourite restaurants are those where the service and the food are so intimately executed that it feels like you went to a mate’s place for fab lunch or dinner. I’m thinking of Fleet and La Casita in Brunswick Heads, as well as Cumulus Inc. and Lazerpig Pizza Parlour in Melbourne, and Sixpenny in Sydney.