Many of us have a metaphorical “track winding back” to our childhood home and its myriad of influences.
For James “Jimmy” Campbell this track led him from his life as an awarded inner-city chef to The Bunyip Hotel, Cavendish - 295km west of Melbourne and in the ‘middle of nowhere’.
Growing up on the family farm in Victoria’s Western district, Jimmy was encouraged to leave.
“Back in the 90s, the prospects for farming were pretty low. The local wool market had crashed and most of the younger generation were encouraged to seek work elsewhere.”
After graduating from school he studied philosophy for a time at La Trobe University before “serendipity” provided him with a new opportunity.
“I’d long had it in the back of my mind that I’d like to be a chef, this was long before it was a trendy, before there were TV shows about it.
“I wasn’t sure it was for me, but I felt young enough to give it ago. I guess there was a bit of serendipity involved too, as I was lucky enough to score an apprenticeship under MoVida’s Frank Camorra.
Jimmy worked with Frank for the best part of a decade. During this time, he won twoGood Food Guide hats as Head Chef MoVida Sydney and was recognised as one of MoVida group's rising stars.
“I loved my time in Melbourne and had a great time heading up Sydney but the restaurant was never mine, I mean I treated it like was, but deep down I knew different.”
Then life took another surreptitious turn.
“My grandparents died and I decided to head back to the farm to help the family out, just at the right time too. Truth be told I was starting to feel like a bit of a mess, I was working hard and playing hard in the city and like most folks, it didn’t really agree with me.”
Being back on the farm gave Jimmy a good dose of fresh air and time to think. He worked crutching sheep, fencing and shearing until an opportunity to run the kitchen at local, The Bunyip Hotel presented itself.
“I knew it was for me. It allowed me to stay close to my family, the land I loved and it allowed me to bring my craft home and to share it with a community that I felt connected to.”
Jimmy started at The Bunyip in 2017 and since then the place has become a known for its newly refined menu dubbed by Richard Cornish as “Modern Squattocracy”.
Locals continue to flood to “their local” enjoying its new culinary polish and joining them in droves are city-folk keen to experience a well-considered high-brow twist on traditional Australian country cooking.
Thanks, Jimmy for taking the time to tell us a bit about yourself, a bespoke recipe (see below and for supplying our readers with some background reading on The Bunyip, fast becoming one of the most popular food destinations in the Western District.
Q & A with James “Jimmy” Campbell
What's so special (to you) about Cavendish?
So many things, my family have lived in the area for generations since the 1800s. I feel so connected to the land, to the people, to the culture. I feel like I get the place and the place gets
Where do you source your products?
There are a number of families and farms I buy my produce from and work with to build out the menu.
What I am loving is that we are starting to have a shorthand now, they know what I like and what I don’t. They’ll work with me too, to create a new flavour or prep for next season’s menu. It’s bloody marvellous.
What’s the most heard feedback from your customers?
They come here to a place that's relaxed, friendly and warm and they say that this reminds me of the days when I visited my grandma on the farm they also say, "Oh my god, this is just what I’ve been looking for!"
I love it when I hear that, because it embraces who I am - where I’ve been and who I am today which is a blending Iberian craft and with a local homely feel.
What’s your favourite kitchen tool?
I have an amazing old vintage Magimix which I bloody love. But my number one piece of equipment is my ‘Gray Kunz’ saucier’s spoon. (Gray is an internationally renowned chef, inducted into the Restaurant Hall of Fame by the Culinary Institute of America and author of“The Elements of Taste”). A gold one was gifted to me by Matt Germanchis as a housewarming present when I started at The Bunyip.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the food business?
I considered academia pretty seriously for a time, but I reckon my practical streak meant I always would’ve returned to the farm at some time or another.
What words do you use to describe Mount Zero Olives?
Ethical, with a commitment to quality.
What would you recommend someone adds to their "Foodie’s bucket list"
Lebanese Pizza from A1 Bakery in Sydney Road Melbourne and 7-year-old dairy-cow ribeye from
Etxebarri in the Basque Country of Spain – it's a religious experience.
Do you have a favourite “foodie” moment from art, film; or novel or poem?
“Great Chefs of Moder France” by Anthony Blake.
What special plans or dream projects do you have planned for 2018-19?
We’re looking to do a seafood pop-up restaurant next summer on the coast due South of
Cavendish – The Sea Bunyip if you will. Be sure to come and visit!
Aye aye, Captain Jimmy – we’ll cross the country to have a taste of that!
Risotto with Mt Zero Freekeh by Jimmy Campbell
1.6 lt game stock
300ml Mount Zero Piqual extra virgin olive oil
5 fresh chorizo sausages
2 tbls smoked paprika
15 French sorrel leaves (chiffonade)
Toast the freekeh in heavy based saucepan
Glacé with game stock and simmer very gently for 24mins
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan
Add thinly sliced shallot and diced chorizo
Fry until golden
Add paprika to oil (this will fizz) and continue frying for 30 seconds
Be very careful not to burn the paprika
Pour this into the prepared freekeh.
Fold the sorrel through just before serving as it will discolour rapidly.
Option, fold through a little parmigiano-regiano for taste
The Bunyip Hotel is at 17-25 Scott Street, Cavendish, 03 5574 2205. Open Thursday -Saturday noon-11pm, Sunday noon-5pm.