With these dishes on the autumn menu, the only answer is ‘yes’

There’s nothing like a drop in the mercury to put an edge on your appetite. And as the days shorten and you reach for an extra layer of clothing to combat the chill – it’s good to know Mother Nature has your back. She’s about to unleash some of the year’s tastiest produce – in a flavoursome celebration of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.

For Chris Hagan, head chef at Spicers Clovelly Estate’s award-winning in-house restaurant The Long Apron, at Maleny in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland, autumn is an extra special time. It reminds the expat of his former home in the north of England and sparks his creativity in a fresh direction.

“I love autumn, going into winter,” says Hagan, who’s classically trained and has worked at the likes of Derbyshire’s Fischer’s Baslow Hall in the UK, and at Victoria’s Lake House in Daylesford.

The Long Apron’s ambitious modern European menu is both technique-driven and produce-lead, with Hagan’s old-school skills brought to the fore, especially when the likes of hard-to-find salsify, celeriac and globe artichoke hit its menu in autumn.

Hagan enjoys introducing diners to under-utilized but delicious ingredients. “A lot of people have gone away from using globe artichokes because they’re labour intensive. Others are worried about getting the preparation right,” says Hagan. His favourite way to serve artichokes is as a classic barigoule, a traditional French method, which sees the veg cooked in a vinegar-spiked white wine broth.

“I like to serve them with something with a bit of fat content, a mackerel or cobia, a fish that you can enjoy a bit rare,” says Hagan. “The Spanish mackerel we’re using now will run until May. They’re coming out of Bundaberg at the moment and are just beautiful paired with the acidity and nuttiness of the barigoule.”

Chris Hagan holding a mackeralChris Hagan enjoys cooking with mackerel

Salsify, a nutritious member of the dandelion family, is another must-have for Hagan – when he can find it. “You often see it on European menus but it’s very expensive here and there are only a few producers. It takes on a lovely nuttiness when it’s roasted that really represents autumn and winter for me – especially with lots of foaming butter, thyme and garlic!”

The Long Apron’s seasonal flair has made the restaurant into a standout destination for guests and non-guests alike. The upscale accommodation is surrounded by nine hectares of private grounds, so Hagan doesn’t need to consult his iCal to tell when it’s time to make menu changes. The signs are everywhere.

“Seeing the leaves change colour triggers how I think about food. It sets the tone for how I look at the menu,” Hagan says. “I love using the seasons to dictate what I put on my menu – as we assess different dishes going toward autumn I find myself going more towards darker, richer flavours. Even though occasionally temperatures here hit 30C during the day.”

Rosellas from a regenerative organic farmer The Falls Farm, in nearby Mapleton, will also feature at The Long Apron in autumn, starring alongside a decadent rich dark liver parfait. “We’ll be making a rosella jam-puree to go with our duck parfait,” says Hagan who’s buying spent grain from a local brewery to make crisp crackers. “The rosellas have the acidity to cut through the richness of the parfait – so it will be a sort of chips and dip – which we’ll serve with pickled green walnuts.”

RosellasRosellas used in cooking at The Long Apron

Hagan has fond memories of foraging for pine mushrooms and slippery jacks at The Lake House. It’s too warm in Maleny for these favourites locally but he adds them into the mix as often as possible. “We print our menus daily so there will be variations, but I like to roast them or make them into a ragu we serve with a confit egg yolk and some lardo, perhaps on quinoa.”

“It’s all about the flavour and the texture. They’re so versatile. I love the creaminess and the richness.”

Traditional autumn staples, chestnuts and quince will likely make the cut, too. “I’m excited for quince,” says Hagan who’s planning to serve these aromatic fruits slow baked in a savoury application as an accompaniment to a coal-roasted duck dish. “Quince has such a versatile flavour. I’ve always loved the idea of fruit with meat. It really complements protein.”

Chestnuts are destined for a dessert, this season. “Last year we used chestnuts with some confit egg on our suckling pig dish. This time I’m working on a take on Mont Blanc,” Hagan says.

Chestnut dish at The Long ApronChestnut dish at The Long Apron

Mont Blanc is a classic dessert featuring pureed sweet chestnuts piped out and topped with cream in the shape of a mini snow-capped mountain. As befits The Long Apron, this new sweet addition will be an interpretation, not a simple recreation. The chestnuts will become a sweet puree which liquid nitrogen will turn into an icy crumble. A sable biscuit will sit at the base and rich caramelised white chocolate ganache and meringue pieces will play a part.

Sounds like it’s time to nourish body and soul with something indulgently memorable. Mother Nature would surely approve!

Words by Fiona Donnelly.