Kitchen Spy: Robin Wickens, chef

It's been just over a year since British-born Robin Wickens took over at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld, which earned two hats in the latest Age Good Food Guide. After a four-year stint living in Apollo Bay and running his food store,  Wickens Provedore, it has been a return to serious cooking. Known in the 2000s for his pioneering molecular gastronomy at Melbourne's Interlude, the now 38-year-old chef says the treechange is suiting him, his wife, Kate, and their six-month-old daughter Nellie well. The family lives in the hotel's "chef's house", five minutes' walk from Wickens' work kitchen.    

The staples

My pantry

I always have lots of grains and various sorts of rice – risotto is a fairly quick staple we go to often. We're getting into a few different grains and I make a porridge with freekeh and Mount Zero quinoa with Nellie and we use Schulz milk, which is pretty local. She'll have it plain but I like it with pears poached with a bit of bourbon whiskey – it's got an amazing smoky flavour. And Heinz Baked Beans – you can't make them as good at home. Same goes for HP sauce. And I am a Vegemite convert.

My fridge

You'll find a lot of green vegetables – Kate's forcing me to drink green juice at the moment – and there's cheese. I like the Extravagant and the Fermier from L'Artisan in Timboon, which is also pretty local, and use a Swiss gruyere from Calendar for my cheese toasties. Then there's beer, meat from Greenvale Farms (a local pork producer that does nice sausages) and there are my stocks in the freezer.   

Secret vice

Eating late at night watching English Premier League football. I have cheese on toast with Worcestershire sauce. It's probably the worst thing you can have at one o'clock in the morning.

"Since moving to the country my home cooking has got a lot better. I've been teaching Kate to make sourdoughs and coming out of winter we've been doing lots of slow-cooking, which is baby-proof. I'm certainly a lot healthier."

Last night's dinner

Lasagne and vegies when I got home about 9.30pm. Kate made it – it's her go-to dish.

I'm drinking

A lot of coffee. We use South Blend from Coffee Supreme in a French press at home. I like Stone & Wood lager and ale, and I'm slowly working through the wine list here at the Royal Mail. I have a preference for anything from By Farr, out of Geelong, a father and son team who do a couple of different pinots and a chardonnay. It's just consistently good wine, every year.

My toolkit

We've got a new Kenwood mixer, which is really good and makes bread comfortably; a Thermomix, which is good for baby food and other things (it's doing a lot of purees at the moment); and then there's my Le Creuset pot and my French press for coffee.  

My inspiration

The kitchen garden here at the Royal Mail. The garden dictates the whole menu here and the chefs make a visit at least once or twice a day. It's how we come up with the dishes.  


My Le Creuset casserole dish. We're into slow cooking at the moment and if you set the oven to 140C,get lamb shanksin  about 1pm when Nellie's having her afternoon nap, you can forget about it until she goes back down again at 7pm.   

Most unforgettable meal

It was Easter 2012 in Apollo Bay and the tuna were running. A friend of ours took us out fishing and I get really seasick so I spent the day over the side of the boat. But we caught a couple of tuna, took them back and I cooked them up. It was simple really: barbecued sashimi tuna an hour out of the ocean and beer.

Recipe stalwart

Fresh stocks. It's quite a big stretch to move from carton stocks to fresh stocks but once you do it's hard to go back. Roasted wings, chicken or duck make excellent stocks are they are extra gelatinous. I use just enough water to cover the bones and throw in root vegetables, celery, leeks and onions and a few herbs. I like to keep it pretty plain and don't add salt.