Seven of the country's top young chefs are in Canberra tonight, cooking a meal based on ingredients collected in a five-day tour of the region.
After visiting oyster farms and a fishing co-op on the coast, the group was checking out chestnuts at Tweenhills yesterday and were to pick up last-minute ingredients at the Exhibition Park farmer's market this morning.
The seven chefs - two from Sydney, three from Melbourne and one each from Queensland and South Australia - are finalists in the annual Appetite for Excellence Awards, with the winner announced in Sydney on Monday. They're joined by seven young waiter finalists, and six finalists in the young restaurateur category.
Canberra's Peter Harrington, who owns Sage at Gorman House, is the only Canberra face among the group, as a finalist in the young restaurateur award.
Harrington will front up to an interview on Monday with the judging panel, which includes Luke Mangan, founder of the awards, and top chefs Mark Best and Christine Manfield. His pitch will describe his plans for his restaurant, which include the development of his 240-hectare farm on Majura Road as an example of best-practice sustainable farming. Harrington is working with academics from the University of Canberra sustainability department on the project, and so far has 100 black Angus cows, and 40 black-face Suffolk sheep on the fledgling farm.
At tonight's dinner at the War Memorial (open to the public, $90, appetiteforexcellence.com/huntandgather), each chef and waiter team has been assigned a course. Sarah Knights, from Uccello in Sydney, the only female among the chef finalists, has the job of cooking pork using free-range pigs grown on organic pasture at Melanda Park north of Sydney. She plans roast pork belly with a prune and chestnut stuffing on the side. Knights, 27, has spent the past two years working on private super-yachts in Europe, where she cooked for 12 guests and 22 crew, a gig which took her to 22 countries.
Originally from Jervis Bay, Knights says the highlight of last week's tour was seeing 30 blue-fin tuna being unloaded from the fishing trawler in Bermagui on Thursday. Yesterday, Ewan McAsh at McAsh Oysters at Batemans Bay told her oysters could be put back in the water once harvested, where they would start growing again.
Other stops on the tour included Gilmore Braes Heritage Beef team in Batlow, Country Valley Dairy near Picton and cheese producers the Small Cow Farm at Robertson. The winner of the young chef award competes in the S. Pellegrino cooking cup in Venice, and has two weeks' work experience at a top overseas restaurant.