Dan Hunter, winner of two of the biggest awards in The Age Good Food Guide 2016, is as produce-focused at home as he is in his restaurant, Brae.
Dan Hunter, chef
It's been (another) standout year for Brae's owner-chef, Dan Hunter, who has won the Age Good Food Guide Citi Chef of the Year award and the Santa Vittoria Regional Restaurant of the Year double. The Bairnsdale-raised 41-year-old arrived fairly late in the kitchen, starting his apprenticeship in his mid-20s. Following stints overseas, including head chef at Spain's legendary Mugaritz, Hunter made his mark during six years at Dunkeld's Royal Mail Hotel. His new Birregurra restaurant won the top gong in its first year and is now one of only four Australian restaurants in the World's Top 100 list. Hunter lives with wife Jules Bagnato and four-year-old daughter Ivy in a rental house in town with plans to build on Brae's farm in the near future.
I'm always hungry when I get home at night but I don't feel like eating much [so] I'll often eat a bowl of (Kellogg's) cornflakes before I go to bed. We always have two or three Otway Fields organic jams on the go; and there's a peanut butter going around here called Darryl's Peanut Butter, which is phenomenal. Jules makes pickles every year and we're on the 2013 vintage of Stephanie Alexander's bread-and-butter pickle recipe, which is fantastic. Her family is Italian so we'll always have a few home-made salamis or passatas in the cupboard, too.
There's always broccoli and fruit and at this time of year it's mandarins and oranges. We always have Schulz Organic Milk, which is close to us, and parmesan – the older the better. I have an omelette each morning with three eggs from the farm, parmesan and Greenvale Farm ham. I'm lucky, one of my chefs just did work experience with Massimo Bottura in Italy and he gave him a big block of 36-month-old parmesan to bring back for me so I'm working my way through that. It's bloody amazing.
Gin. I have a few bottles on the go and depending how I feel I mix them up a bit. Four Pillars is pretty good, as is the Melbourne Gin Company. For a straight-up, sharp gin and tonic I tend to go Four Pillars. But only on the weekends.
Last night's dinner
We had a Milawa roast chook. I just cut whatever soft herbs are in season, push all that into the cavity with a cut lemon and sometimes garlic. I season the skin at room temperature and cover it with Brae olive oil, sometimes with butter. Then I crank the oven to 220 degrees. A size 16 chook is ready in 45 minutes. This week we had it with shiitake that were too big for the restaurant, rice, sesame oil and some broccoli.
I drink black coffee. We use St Ali in the restaurant and I always take a packet of their single origin home. I drink more white wine than red and we prefer things with a more natural bent, perhaps grown bio-dynamically. I've been drinking a lot of Italian-origin oxidative wines at the moment but I do love chardonnays, chablis, that sort of white burgundy variety. And any classic aperitif: Campari, negroni, Americano – I love all of those. I'm a bit of a sucker for American rye whiskies as well.
I've got one of those classic drawers that chefs tend to have of every knife you've been given and don't use any more. A couple I use religiously and a couple I'll use because I haven't in a while. I always use a Microplane for zests and for cheese, an old bread knife and a big French chasseur for braising meats and making pasta sauce.
Eating. It's about trying to get something done quickly that's tasty and goes well with wine, basically. If I do cook Thai, David Thompson's Thai Food is great. It's probably one of the best cookbooks of the last 20 years, I reckon.
Jules bought this blue plastic omelette flip from the Salvos in Brunswick in about 1993. It's indispensible to both our cooking. Bought second-hand and still going strong.
Most unforgettable meal
It was in Japan in July at a restaurant called Matsukawa, a kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo. It blew my mind into a million pieces. Technically it's amazing and product-wise it's incredible, just a beautiful, beautiful experience.
In summer when all the tomatoes and zucchinis and things are going bananas we have a really fresh, almost unchopped ratatouille. You sweat some onion or chives down with garlic and then add barely chopped half-zucchinis, tomatoes and baby eggplants in half or quarters and then just really braise that out with heaps of herbs and then braise a lamb shoulder in that. It's just incredible.
I've just discovered this Korean wholesale supplier in Melbourne called Table 181 and I've been getting their organic native green Korean rice and extra virgin Korean black sesame oil, which is also organic. I've never tasted anything like it. I'm drowning everything with that at the moment.
Always season your roast potatoes after you cook them. Salt draws out water so if you season later the starches will caramelise much quicker and brown-up nicely. And don't cut them too small. More surface means more colour opportunity. Give it a shot.
"I cook quite simply at home and I do always make a point of using the best ingredients. We're lucky in that we have a vegetable garden, we have chickens, I bring stuff from the restaurant – all those types of things – so we eat really well."
The Age Good Food Guide 2016 will be available for $10 with The Saturday Age on Saturday, September 26 from participating newsagents and supermarkets while stocks last. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at theageshop.com.au/agegfg2016 for $24.99. #goodfoodguide