August 19, 2019
Keen to enjoy a diet that’s naturally in sync with the seasons? As days lengthen and temperatures rise heading into spring, try spending time in a garden, suggests Hunter Valley-based Restaurant Botanica head chef, Shayne Mansfield. Get out amongst the green shoots and bursting buds and you’ll find cooking inspiration in spades.
Restaurant Botanica Head Chef Shayne Mansfield
At Spicers Vineyards Estate in Pokolbin, a flourishing biodynamic vegie patch has blossomed into a key ingredient for success – providing the pick of the crop to the luxe wine retreat’s aptly named and well-regarded in-house eatery, Restaurant Botanica.
Red wine balsamic strawberries, strawberry curd, shortcake, egg white
Mansfield and his kitchen team visit their onsite vegie plot multiple times daily. They chew over what seasonal bounty might feature next on Botanica’s menu, aiming to incorporate as much fresh produce as possible for lucky diners. While Mansfield has always been a huge fan of winter comfort food whatever the weather – these days it’s classic spring treats that sit front of mind.
“When we visit the garden, we chat about what we might pair with a certain dish or discuss what we might use for pickling or as a ferment,” he says. “It’s been quite a long winter, so now I’m hanging out for asparagus, broad beans and peas.”
Only heirloom seeds make the cut for planting at Vineyards Estate. This spring, the kitchen’s harvest could include everything from brightly coloured French breakfast and cherry belle radishes, to purple broad beans, target and golden beets and pretty garnishes like nasturtiums, tiny blue borage flowers and bachelor’s buttons (also known as cornflowers).
Wagyu beef tartare, coal roasted beetroots, onion buttermilk, sorrel oil
There are just 32 garden beds, so the goal isn’t to supply all of Botanica’s plant-based needs. But taking time out sowing and growing gives chefs a change of scenery – and crucially, keeps everyone in-step with which produce is at its peak.
In addition to sowing herbs like basil, thyme, Vietnamese mint, chives, red veined sorrel and more, the team also forages for wild tarragon and wild fennel on the property, as well as oxalis or woodland sorrel.
Classically trained Mansfield has worked with top chefs like Jason Atherton at London’s Michelin-starred City Social and enjoys using pollen shaken from fennel flowers as a tasty flavour boost on certain dishes.
Lavender flowers might be dried first to intensify their flavour before becoming part of a brown butter enriched rosemary and lavender streusel that will star with lemon posset in a spectacular spring dessert.
Honey & Lavender posset, calamondia jam, porridge ice cream
Homegrown radish, rhubarb and beetroot are used both fresh and pickled, while nasturtiums supply flowers and leaves and even buds are harvested and pickled as a home-grown alternative to capers.
Spring lambs will soon appear as a Botanica menu special and Mansfield plans to use his grandmother’s ‘strawberry jam rosemary lamb’ recipe to prepare them. The lambs are raised by a local family business, Little Hill Farm which also supplies Botanica with honey, eggs and chicken. Ethically-grown pork hails from nearby Hunter Valley-based, Merrifields Farm, while jumbo-sized ‘Jurassic’ quail arrive in from Redgate Farm located near Taree. Grass-fed beef is reared by Little Joe.
Fresh produce from the market garden at Spicers Vineyards Estate
Want to try strawberry jam rosemary lamb at home? “Coat the leg in strawberry jam and rosemary salt and cook it in a super high oven (around 240C),” says Mansfield. “After about 20 minutes, turn it right down and cook it low and slow.” The mixture of the jam and rosemary salt gives the lamb fat a dramatic black coating, creating a caramelised fruity hit that pairs well with the tender meat. Happy spring eating!
No space for a kitchen garden? Grow herbs and garnishes in pots. Or visit your local market to add punch to home cooking with the pick of the season.
Words by Fiona Donnelly.