Chefs, butchers and producers recently came together for The Lamb Workshop – a Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb masterclass event held in the Watervale Hotel’s stylish, new, long table open kitchen featuring Chef Outta Water’s visiting chef Michael Brine.
The Lamb Workshop was a fabulous occasion to learn all about lamb and how to utilise the whole lamb, with no wastage. Facilitated by Nicola Palmer, head chef and co-owner of the stunningly redeveloped Watervale Hotel, it was a collaborative event with the cultural chef exchange program Chef Outta Water which saw them bring Michael Brine, international executive chef and owner of Townsville’s highly awarded A Touch of Salt Restaurant in Queensland, to South Australia for the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb. Michael generously shared his knowledge and skills in a relaxed, informative manner. The Lamb workshop was not only a wonderful opportunity to learn all about lamb, but also a rare opportunity for local chefs, butchers and farmers to come together and connect with one another.
On the morning of the workshop Michael toured Graeme and Dianne Johnson’s Martindale Farm, one of South Australia’s most historic sheep properties in Mintaro. Martindale Farm raises ethical lamb and shares the same ethos as the Watervale Hotel, whose philosophy focuses on quality produce and ethical practices.
Nicola shares with workshop participants that Martindale Farm is looking at providing them with a ‘mini farm within the whole farm’ in order to supply lamb all year-round to the Watervale Hotel. Nicola continues, ‘This is the first workshop we’ve done here. Next year we’ll start running demonstrations, cooking classes and farm tours where we come back for lunch – the long bar was set up for a tasting venue and dining experiences.’
Michael tells us, ‘We spent a good hour at Martindale Farm this morning and there was such a wealth of knowledge’. He emphasises, ‘When you meet the farmer and see the actual animal, you have that added respect for the creature and respect for our craft – and picking our own fruit and veg from Penobscot Farm – it all adds respect to the actual food but it also adds to the pressure, and to our demand as a chef, that we have to produce something that equals the farmer’s passion and showcases it as a whole.’
In keeping with this line of respect the whole lamb should be utilised, with no wastage. A tapas style dish is Michael’s first creation, utilising small pieces of lamb tenderloin offcuts with apple cider vinegar to balance the juicy sweetness of a tomato jam. With the addition of Penobscot Farm broad beans and radishes, it’s pretty as a picture and tastes just as good.
Michael demonstrates his next dish, ‘tagine style’ lamb shanks. The tagine style lamb shank is not only a great idea for chefs but an equally valuable way of preparing lamb for butchers, and one their customers will love to take home and bake.
Cutting the lamb shank from the bone, Michael butterflies and scores it, adding orange juice, cinnamon, raisons, turmeric, fennel, coriander and chilli. ‘From a restaurant perspective, we’re value adding by cutting it off the bone’, he informs.
Michael shares with the group, ‘There’s a hell of a lot of reading and research – a lot of people don’t realise how much research chefs actually do’. A valid point, and one that most of us certainly don’t consider when dining out. My thought is the amount of time chefs spend in research and development is likely commensurate with their passion and respect for the food – which Michael clearly has in spades.
The ‘tagine style’ lamb is rolled up and parcelled with shallots, cumin, more coriander, fennel and turmeric, and then baked, the spices producing an incredible aroma. Once cooked, Michael unwraps and slices the ‘tagine style’ lamb roll into pieces, plating them with chickpeas – also from Martindale farm – and freshly wilted grapevine leaves and beans.
Michael prepares his last dish, ‘an interpretation of dolmades’, using lamb offcuts from the bone. ‘Scrape all the little bits of meat down and chop finely, turning them into a mince. Add finely chopped lemon rind, Italian parsley, salt, pepper and one egg to bind – it’s like a kofta without the spices.’
Michael further explains, ‘I drizzled these fresh grapevine leaves which I picked today in a pear liqueur to give them some fruitiness. We don’t have vine leaves up north, but not only do they look cool, they taste good and can be used for a number of things’. He takes a spoonful of mince, places on the vine leaf and folds it over.
Michael briefly grills the flavoursome and delicious lamb ‘dolmades’ (you don’t need to cook them all the way through) and serves with lentils and chickpeas. Michael finishes by telling us, ‘At the end of the day, that’s the smallest part of the creature and shows what you can do with some of the secondary, cheaper cuts – how you can use and present them in different ways’.
With plans to incorporate a ‘Taste of the Clare Valley’ event at his restaurant A Touch of Salt in north Queensland, Michael looks forward to showcasing the premium food and wine of this ‘lucky region’ as he terms it.
Workshop participants left the Lamb Workshop with a renewed enthusiasm to feature lamb in their business. They learned new cuts and were inspired with new ideas. The local chefs, butchers and producers also commented how much they enjoyed the opportunity to connect with each other, and stayed on after the workshop to chat over drinks in the bar. One chef from a nearby village who has lived and worked in the area for 20 years, said he couldn’t remember the last time he met a farmer or a butcher. ‘We never do this.’
The inaugural Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb was not merely an opportunity to showcase the area’s premium produce but, just as importantly, about locals engaging with each other and the wider community. This is a vital, much needed well-being initiative and a great spin-off benefit from the festival.
Simon Millcock, coordinator of the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb and a partner in Chef Outta Water, explains the benefits of meeting and engaging. ‘We came up with this concept through Chef Outta Water so people can move out from their daily routine. It allows you to spend four to seven days in a local region where you can immerse yourself – meeting with producers, meeting with others and testing yourself. We’ve seen people come back from Chef Outta Water programs and completely change the way they do things in their own kitchen. We’re giving the chefs an opportunity to do that.’
Where: Clare Valley One and a half hour drive from Adelaide city
When: September (around spring equinox) 2020 festival held 16-22 September
Contact: Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb Facebook
NB Thank you to the Clare Valley Festival of the Lamb for inviting me to attend this event as their guest