Hats off to top Melbourne chefs changing with the new world order

Myffy Rigby
Babajan chef Kirsty Chiaplias with her box of produce.
Babajan chef Kirsty Chiaplias with her box of produce. Photo: Eddie Jim

From running hatted restaurants to becoming purveyors of top-notch produce boxes, Victorian chefs are doing their damnedest to adapt.

It's been a grand old pirouette for hospitality Australia-wide. Restaurants, bars and cafes, unhappy with standing still and taking corona on the chin are doing whatever they can to stay afloat. First it was the quick switch to take-home meals. Now, many have become bakeries and greengrocers, connecting with their communities and supporting the suppliers and farmers who have long been there for their restaurants.

And the best bit? You reap the rewards. Suddenly, we all have access to some of the country's best produce, not to mention chefs who are turning their hands to baked goods and comfort food. Being in the know is what takes being forced to stay in from miserable to joyful. From bake-sales to organic farm-fresh produce boxes to those rare wholesale companies that were, once upon a time, completely inaccessible to anyone but hatted chefs comes a new way to be part of The Stay At Home Club. Level up.

Dan Hunter of Brae restaurant.
Dan Hunter of Brae restaurant. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Three-hat chef Dan Hunter now sells three-hat produce boxes

The Brae kitchen garden is among the most enviable in the country. Acres of heritage fruits and vegetables, all destined for the plates in Dan Hunter's three-hat restaurant, in sleepy Birregurra. You may have toyed with the idea of pilfering some of that incredible produce on a pre-dessert stroll. Lucky you didn't, in retrospect, because vegetable boxes make up a large part of chef Dan Hunter's revenue now, which has dropped by 97 per cent in the past month.

It was a very strange and sudden change of stride for Hunter, going from running one of the most awarded restaurants in the country ("a beast, when it's open," he says), to suddenly having an empty kitchen and proper weekends. Initially in those first few weeks the intention was to close down and wait it out; the goalposts were changing every few days and the anxiety was unbearable for everyone involved.

But now the initial panic has abated, they're starting to look at different ways of working for the foreseeable future and there's a little peace in that. "We've got space around so we can go for a walk and pick food," says Hunter. "And it might sound a bit weird but we're sort of enjoying the serenity."

During the initial process of putting the business down for a nap, Hunter just kept his head chef and head gardener on. Now he's in the process of gradually bringing back staff for one or two days a week to help with take-home meal prep and, more importantly, to look after the property. Hunter says it's JobKeeper that's kept the business alive. "It's been crucial. I can't even fathom to think what would happen to Brae in another six months without it," says Hunter. "I guess it's only been the last few days that we've started to think we can change gear and even consider options as to what this place could be in the future."

The produce boxes have been an education for Hunter and his wife and business partner Julianne Bagnato. To begin with, they were just winging it. They'd come in, pick everything that was ready to eat and divvy it into boxes, but they had no idea what they should be charging for an organic box of vegetables. They specialised in restaurants, not retail. After some hefty research, they started selling to Birregurra locals for $75 a box, and they were snapped up instantly.

The worry, of course, is what happens once they pick their entire crop. They're now having to think about how to run a market garden, not a kitchen garden. They're selling baked goods, and take-home meals in the mix, with a little makeshift shop out the back in the garden shed. The intention is to keep it local, to feed their surrounding community.

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"It's been super lovely to see. I know most of the people that buy the boxes and cook from them. So in some way it's been this learning. In seeing opportunity," says Hunter. [When you're running a restaurant] "you don't often come up for air on how to change direction. It's often a really slow burn before you get to things and this situation can only push some of that stuff ahead."

Simon Hartley poses for a photo at his store Becco, which has become a grocer to keep restaurants suppliers afloat. Melbourne. Friday, March 27, 2020. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Simon Hartley of Becco restaurant, which has become a grocer to help keep suppliers afloat. Photo: Daniel Pockett

Pop-up grocery stores

Restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs are moving in all kinds of directions to stay afloat. Support the little guys with your next shop, and help #savehospo. Pick up and delivery available; check with them first.

Babajan

Takeaway and family-style meals are available from this Middle Eastern cafe, as well as everything you need to make a Middle Eastern feast for yourself at home. Shop for breads and borek, Turkish coffee, dips, sweets and more.

713 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, babajan.com.au

Becco

Find wine, housemade pasta, as well 00 flours and fresh produce such as Dobson's potatoes and Baker Boys bread.

11-25 Crossley Street, Melbourne, becco.com.au

Beppe

Find the holy grail of tinned tomatoes, San Marzano, in Daylesford. They also stock an apocalypse-worthy stash of Italian wine and all the pantry staples you'll ever need to never leave your home.

32 Raglan Street, Daylesford, beppe.com.au 

Di Stasio Alimentari

There's plenty to love in the ready-made meal and delivery dinner-stakes here, but now there's also Di Stasio's little shop, where you can buy cheese, salumi, sauces and soups (pictured, right).

45 Spring Street, Melbourne, distasio.com.au

Grosvenor Hotel

Yes, the restaurant and pub have shut their doors for now, but happily you can still visit them for takeaway booze and groceries. Buy meat, bread, pasta and cheese as well as ready-made meals from chef Simon Moss.

10 Brighton Road, St Kilda East, grosvenorhotel.com.au

Ladro

Finally. A place you can buy pizza, pasta, negronis and toilet paper all in one shop. Sorry, make that two shops – they also offer the same service in Prahran.

224 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, ladro.com.au

Marion Bakery & Grocer

From local wine bar to what might just be Melbourne's most luxurious general store, the team behind Fitzroy's Marion have buddied up with Caulfield's Baker Bleu to to keep the north very well fed indeed. Find bread and pastries, coffee, milk, vegetables and cheese along with a curated bottleshop. Win!

Corner Deadman's Lane & Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, marionwine.com.au

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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MoVida Alimentaria

We've waited so long for this: whole legs of jamon Iberico delivered straight to our door. Of course, that much luxury Spanish ham might not be for everyone. Check out chef Frank Camorra's produce boxes, which have everything you need to make a menu for two. Or shop separately for MoVida's whole range of pickles and tins.

1 Hosier Lane, Melbourne, movida.com.au

Neptune Food and Wine

It's very important to stay well-fed and hydrated during the pandemic. With that in mind, check out Neptune's full wine range. They also stock rice, coffee, pasta, orange juice and free-range chickens, not to mention ready-made meals.

212 High Street, Prahran, neptune.melbourne

Provenance Grocer

Ever wished you could take home one of chef Michael Ryan's excellent cocktails? Well, now you can thanks to his online grocery store. Along with Brooklyns, Manhattans and martinis, you can also purchase house-made sugo, house-cured bacon, muesli and preserved mushrooms.

86 Ford Street, Beechworth, theprovenance.com.au

Rascal Brunswick

An online store and bottle shop set up specifically to sell produce for other businesses, with all proceeds going back to those small producers. Find Ratio Roasters chocolate, Wild Life baked goods and Alem tea here, along with all your boozing needs.

rascalbrunswick-bottleshop.com

Skinner and Hackett

Interestingly, the butcher has become the grocer, selling ready-made meals from the likes of Bar Lourinha, Henry Sugar and Gerald's Bar.

400 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, skinnerandhackett.com.

Smith and Deli, Fitzroy

​Raise your hands in the air and wave them around like you just don't care, then use those hands to order a toasted sandwich from Shannon Martinez' delicatessen. Pick up and home delivery.

175 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, smithanddaughters.com

St Ali

The legendary Melbourne coffee roasters have also set up shop to help out local business, selling everything you need to make the perfect breakfast (bread, bacon, coffee) that rolls into lunch (spaghetti, passata, chocolate).

12-18 Yarra Place, South Melbourne, stali.com.au

Ted's Grocer

Find Ocean Made seafood here along with milk, TP, butter, crumpets and, most importantly, a lot of wine.

4 Saxon Street, Brunswick, theodor.es

Jarrod Briffa, CEO Sibling & amp; kinfolk cafe/social enterprise.  Sibling is a social enterprise battling through the coronavirus crisis. 31st March 2020 The Age News Picture by JOE ARMAO

Jarrod Briffa of social enterprise cafe Sibling in Carlton North. Photo: Joe Armao

Produce boxes

Buy a box from the little guys and support our local farmers and producers. In some cases these can be picked up, but in all cases they deliver for a fee or minimum spend.

Brae, Birregurra

Once upon a time you'd have to visit the restaurant to get a taste of the incredible produce they're growing at this three-hat regional restaurant. But lucky Birregurra locals can now buy it by the box.

4285 Cape Otway Road, Birregurra, braerestaurant.com

Cibi

Everything you need to create a serene and beautiful kitchen, from fabrics and utensils to groceries. There are take-home meals available, but make your own produce box with house-made miso, pickled plums and, interestingly, spaghetti. 33-39 Keele Street, Collingwood, cibi.com.au

Copper Pot

This little European bistro is doing weekly take-home meal specials (Thursday is steak night – $70 for two with a bottle of wine), as well as organic produce boxes, using local growers.

105 Victoria Street, Seddon, copperpotseddon.com

Epocha

Most of the menu is available for pick-up and delivery (hello, duck fat potatoes) but this Carlton restaurant is also offering cheese and charcuterie boxes. And for many, that's all the fresh produce they actually want.

49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton epocha.com.au/restaurant

Little Andorra

This little wine bar is offering produce boxes for just $35 with all produce from Days Walk Farm. They're also offering take-home meals such as spaetzle with caramelised onion, mushrooms and cabbage.

555 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, littleandorra.com.au

Maker and Monger

The city's leading cheese shop, with a broad range of local and international offerings, now delivers straight to your door. Order a toasted cheese sandwich for now, and an entire fromage produce box for later (or, well, also for now; where else do you need to be?)

163 Commercial Road, South Yarra, makerandmonger.com.au

Sibling by Kinfolk

It's pine mushroom season and if going out foraging isn't in your wheelhouse, you can buy them here, along with produce boxes and plenty of pantry and kitchen staples, and ready-made meals.

611 Nicholson Street, Carlton North, siblingbykinfolk.org.au

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Small Axe Deli

Small Axe Kitchen might be closed for now, but the deli lives on. Here you won't just find fresh produce packs, but pantry packs too. There's even a "Netflix and chill" pack (above) for those isolating with a significant (or insignificant) other.

Shop 1, 625 Sydney Road, Brunswick, smallaxedeli.com

Small Graces

Wondering how big a produce box you should actually order? Here they break it down for you so you don't end up drowning in radishes at the end of the week. This online store also offers a wide selection of dairy and plant-based milks, organic free-range eggs, sourdough and pickles.

57 Byron Street, Footscray, smallgraces.com.au

Direct to the public

Where to buy restaurant-quality produce straight from the source.

Blackman's Bay oysters

The Rolls-Royce of bivalves are now available to order for delivery in Melbourne and Hobart. The minimum order is three dozen. Orders are via email and money is by bank transfer only. Delightfully old-school. info@blackmanbayoysters.com.au

Meatsmith

Test your cooking skills with chef Andrew McConnell's full range of meats, from Bannockburn chicken to O'Connor beef. He's stocking all the big guns here, down to his own sausages and burger patties. Not to mention rare breed hams, fancy milk and very good bread. meatsmith.com.au

Milking Yard Chicken

Find the ducks to the stars (Great Ocean Road) here along with some of the fanciest hens you'll ever have the chance to roast. If you've ever fancied making proper coq au vin with an actual rooster, you can buy them here. milkingyardfarm.com.au

Melbourne Food Squad

From Cape Moreton scarlet prawns to Yarra Valley caviar and Goolwa pipis, these wholesalers can deliver you products that usually aren't that easy to get hold of for the general public. melbournefoodsquad.com

Ocean Made

A fantastic range of fresh fish including sashimi-grade salmon and tuna, ling, snapper and flathead delivered straight to your door. In all honesty, it's more likely to come to you in better shape than if you went to the fish market yourself with a cooler bag. oceanmade.com.au

Correction: An earlier version of this story mentioned Mercado in Daylesford. This has been updated to Beppe.