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July 18, 2024

Civilised Wild Food

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Executive Chef Bret Cameron with a palm trunk, about to be harvested for its heart. In the background is Forager Peter Hardwick
Executive Chef Bret Cameron with a palm trunk, about to be harvested for its heart for Harvest’s Wednesday night ‘Wild Harvest’ dinner. In the background is Forager Peter Hardwick. Photo: Simon Haslam

By: Vivienne Pearson

Given that my usual ‘foraging’ before dinner is ransacking the fridge to find something edible, I was intrigued by the idea of a dinner composed of foraged food.

The dinner in question is at Harvest, in Newrybar. Each Wednesday, a Wild Harvest Session is offered, for which many of the ingredients have been picked, plucked, gathered or harvested from wild sources. Wild, as in roadsides, vacant blocks, community-owned land and the beach. Wild, as in not planted, not farmed, not watered, not looked after in any way.

Not all ingredients are foraged. For my entrée, two of the three types of mushrooms were foraged, along with stems of ‘rainforest spinach’, and a brine made from seawater and bunya nuts. For the main course, non-foraged potatoes and manchego cheese were combined with wild mustard and palm heart. My tastebuds were already very happy and the dessert managed to top the lot: a parfait flavoured by ‘bubble-gum’ tea tree combined with bolwarra, a native fruit that is aromatic and spicy, and sorrel, a savoury herb.

Don’t worry if you haven’t encountered these foods before – most people haven’t. The dinner is an interactive experience, with Peter Hardwick, the forager, accompanying each course to the table in order to introduce diners to the ingredients and answer their many curious questions.

Each dish is the result of detailed collaboration between forager and chefs. Bret Cameron, executive chef, says that the final details of the menu cannot be clarified until Peter arrives on the day with cooler bags full of foraged produce. ‘It’s exciting,’ Bret says. ‘It’s opened up a whole new range of flavours. My job is to take what Peter brings and make it work.’

There is a strong theme of curiosity and inventiveness. The dishes are different each Wednesday and, for now anyway, are one-offs. The Wild Harvest has proved so successful during its trial period that from Wednesday 29 June it will be solely Wild Harvest as either a set 4 courses for $70 per head or each dish available as a la carte. It is even possible that some of the new ingredients from the Wild Harvest sessions will be introduced into the regular Harvest menu.

The food is presented beautifully, suiting the delightful setting at Harvest. Even on a chilly night, sitting out on the spacious deck is a good option, thanks to its sheltered nature (and a bit of help from the patio heater).

A Wild Harvest Session is not the best choice if you want a simple dinner, or if you want to concentrate more on your companions than on your food. But if you want to try something novel and exciting, and you are open to new tastes and experiences, this is a dinner you will remember for a long time to come.

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