At the table with: Alastair McLeod

At the table with: Alastair McLeod

At the table with: Alastair McLeod
Alastair McLeod talks about how life is like on the family farm. (Credit: Supplied)

Who is your inspiration?
My inspiration in the kitchen are the people who I source my food from. I live in Brisbane, Australia and I’ve made it my business for the last 19 years since I moved there. It’s not about knowing who the chefs are, or who is hot to trot, or who is doing dude food but to know the local produce in my own local environment, and that’s what I seek to do every time I cook; it’s not about shining the spotlight on myself but on the producers.

What’s in your fridge?
When you ask cooks that you expect some answer that involves truffles, lobster, but actually my wife is vegetarian and we only eat vegetarian at home, so our fridge and crisper is replete with vegetables. People go in the summer time that there are tomatoes and tropical fruits, and in winter they say there is nothing to eat but I love winter for the cauliflower, broccoli, and beetroot, and root vegetables. We do a lot of curries, stir fries, and grilled vegetables.

Best thing to come out of the microwave
I’ve heard of them…if you need to reheat something there’s nothing wrong with having one. In our commercial kitchen we don’t have one but in our domestic kitchen yes we have one. I’ve made soups at home and I’d warm it up in the microwave.

What was your last meal?
There’s no more intimate thing than cooking for someone and creating with your hands, and so we were cooked for by Ross Lusted at The Bridge Room. There were some lovely refined flavours and lots of technique on the plate. Ultimately though there was lots of generosity and warmth, and for me — the way I look at things — is that outshines the food.

Where do you like out to eat?
In Brisbane I like to go to the Wild Canary at the Brookfield Garden Centre. It does wonderful breakfast and lunch with a real narrow focus. Sometimes you send your kids with a 100 packet of crayons but sometimes it’s nice to use only 15 colours, and use them over and over again. The chef at Wild Canary really has a similar mantra and he sets himself these parameters for his cuisine, and that really resonates with me. Ben Williams at Gerard’s Bar does really exciting food, and makes great use of spices, Middle Eastern flavours, and is very hashtag on-trend but still offers great warmth and hospitality; it could potentially be your suburban restaurant.

When you’re not in the kitchen…
We live on acreage so we have two steers, four dogs, seven chickens, and native bees; everyone has a name except for the native bees, so that takes up a lot of our time. It’s a visceral and primal pursuit of looking at that fence today or it’s real ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge stuff’ where it’s never done. When we go back there it’s a real sanctuary. It’s pretend country; we live 20km from the centre but it seems far away. We use to live in inner city in New Farm and we had five neighbours but we didn’t know any of their names. When we moved to the country we have Ron and Elizabeth who I go to get mandarin and oranges to make marmalade; there’s Hine and Jane who have horses in the back; then there’s Anna and David who live next door. We also do a farmers’ market stall as part our business because it keeps you as a cook very close to the earth.

You sound like you’re quite passionate about food production
There are certain things we can all do. There is the whole issue with food production and how are we going to feed the planet. There is the statistic out there that says the average shopping trolley of 29 items has done two Jessica Watson trips — the girl who sailed around the world — which is about 70,000km to get into your trolley and that’s stuffed. The reality is the solution is right under your nose where you grow stuff yourself; you don’t need to then buy. We throw away a quarter of the food we buy and it’s a terrible indictment on society.

Butter, margarine, a mix or neither?
Gympie cultured farmhouse butter made by this Frenchmen Camille Mortaud.

Kitchen tools I can’t live without
I got married recently and we had five chefs cook for us: George Calombaris, Matt Golinski, Cameron Matthews, who is a Two Chefs Hats from The Long Apron, Glen Barratt from Wild Canary, and myself. Matt got us a Japanese knife but of course you’re not going to get a knife for your wedding gift cause it’s bad luck, so he gave me 50 cents and I bought it from him, and he put the name of our property on it. He said the deal is that the knife is for our house not the commercial kitchen, and the other part of the deal was to throw away the knives we got with your Nutri Bullet, so I’ve had to honour that deal.

Cookbooks I always return to
Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Nico Ladenis’ My Gastronomy.

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