Monster Kitchen and Bar's new executive chef, Paul Wilson, knows he's got his work cut out for him, taking over one of the top kitchens in town just as Ovolo Hotels announce all its restaurants and bars across Australia and Hong Kong are going vegetarian for 365 days.
"I know I can cook meat, I know I can cook fish, I've been doing it for the last 15 years," he says.
"But having to think about our new menu, the new approach, is exciting, being able to use everything I've learned about cooking vegetables and to make them the star of the show, I'm really looking forward to it."
Wilson is new to Canberra, Australian-born he's spent time working overseas, most notably at Geranium in Denmark, rated as one of the world's best restaurants.
He was on holidays in Copenhagen and dined there and loved the place so he sent chef Rasmus Kofoed an email asking if he could work there. Things fell into place a few months later and he was soon promoted to sous chef.
"Rasmus has a different brain, the way he thinks about food and vegetables in particular, that all resonated really deeply with me ... the idea that a carrot one day is not going to taste the same as the next day."
He's keen to incorporate such things as fermenting and pickling into the kitchen, looking for ways to minimise food wastage.
He's also keen to get a kitchen garden happening and has already been talking to Pialligo Estate about a collaboration, not only for their own allotment, but also ways to use the surplus produce grown at the estate that their own kitchens can't use.
"I heard last year they threw out a couple of hundred kilograms of plums because they were too busy to process them," he says.
"If there's a way to work together on something like this, it's going to be great."
Ovolo management says its conscious of the rise in consumer interest in plant-based eating and the move to a year of vegetarian offerings represents not only a nod to clients wants but also to the concept of sustainability.
Wilson spent some time working at the exclusive luxury resort on Laucala Island in Fiji, well known as Red Bull island as it's owned by Red Bull co-owner Dietrich Mateschitxz. Oprah Winfrey and Elle Macpherson might be spotted poolside.
"We had our own farm on the island, with wagyu cattle, pigs, poultry, with greenhouses for fruit and vegetables and paddocks full of produce," he says. The island is reportedly 80 per cent self sufficient in food.
We joke that perhaps there'd be space at New Acton somewhere to run a couple of wagyu cows, let the chickens roam wild in the little garden pockets in the precinct.
"It will be exciting to see where we can take this challenge of the year of vegetarian and where we can take the restaurant too," he says.
Canberra wines win gold
Seven Canberra District wines won gold medals at the 2020 NSW Wine Awards, preliminary results are in after judging wrapped up earlier this month.
"The Canberra District once again made a strong showing in the 2020 NSW Wine Awards proving that it is consistently capable of producing wonderful wines of diversity and inherent drinkability," chair of judges Dave Brooks said.
"This year, the shiraz from Canberra was an absolute standout with the top wines showing pure cool-climate fruit, fine structures and beautiful lines."
The seven wines which won awards include: Corang Estate 2019 Reserve Selection Shiraz; Eden Road 2018 The Long Road Shiraz; Lerida Estate 2019 Shiraz; Lerida Estate 2019 Cullerin Syrah; McWilliam's Wines 2018 Eliza Jane Shiraz; Mount Majura Vineyard 2019 TSG; Shaw Wines 2016 Reserve Merriman Cabernet Sauvignon.
Eden Road also won a gold for its 2019 Gundagai Sangiovese. And we'll claim Nick Spencer's medal for his 2019 Medium Dry Red Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec out of Hilltops and Nick O'Leary's golds for his 2018 and 2019 Chardonnays out of Tumbarumba.
The trophies and the best wine of the show will be named at the NSW Wine Awards presentation luncheon on October 23. Stay tuned.