By Hilary McNevin
Chef Neil Cunningham is a passionate advocate for Victorian produce. He doesn’t shout it from the rooftops – nor does he need to – as each day, as Executive Chef of Yarra Valley’s Coombe restaurant, his menu does the talking for him. Local beef, lamb and vegetables punctuate his menu, and as his ethos is strongly aligned with ours, we’re honoured to have Neil as this month’s Mount Zero Hero.
Neil’s philosophy towards food is simple: regional and seasonal with a British accent that reflects his classical French training at his native UK in Michelin-star restaurants like Cliveden House in Berkshire, under award-winning chef Michael Wignall.
Neil moved to Melbourne in 1999 and after a stint working in the city moved to the Yarra Valley and headed up the kitchen of the Healesville Hotel. It was then he discovered Mount Zero.
“I first tried it [Mount Zero] when I came to the Yarra Valley and included it into the menu at the Healesville,” says Neil.
He’s continued to use our products.
“I love the grains, the biodynamic approach to the produce and the oils. Nothing has come close to the consistency of the oils. The fresh presses and the citrus oil are wonderful to finish on seafood like Barramundi. I’ve always got the lemon oil on-hand.” Neil is also a fan of our smoked oil and the salts. “The sea kelp salt has a great depth of flavour,” he says.
Neil moved to Coombe Valley restaurant three-and-a-half years ago being attracted to not only the venue and its kitchen garden but the history of the place.
“When I was a kid in the UK I remember loving Peach Melba as a dessert, I thought it was fancy,” he laughs, “and it was one of those dishes that always stayed with me. So, when I found out that Coombe was the former residence of [famous opera singer] Dame Nellie Melba and it’s her dessert, it felt like I’d come full circle. I liked it,” he says.
Despite his love of the classic dessert, he’s chosen a savoury dish to share with us as Mount Zero Hero. It’s a dish that celebrates all of our products that he likes to work with: lentils, salt, olives and oil. Here, he’s working them into a dish of local trout and pepperonata.
“There’s great fly fishing in this region,” Neil says, “and I always keep a couple of trout in the freezer. A quick confit in Mount Zero lemon oil works very well.”
Neil says that it’s the sweetness of the peppers with the earthy trout that makes this a dish to which he often returns.
We think it’s going to become a favourite of ours, too!