(Winter is coming)
STORY AND IMAGES BY RICHARD CORNISH
The last of autumn’s leaves tumble down Daylesford’s Howe Street as grey rain clouds gather over Mount Franklin on the horizon. Chef Matthew Carnell wanders out into the cold embrace of chilly air. "I bloody love winter," he says, holding out his arms to accept the fat droplets of rain beginning to fall. “It’s a chance to eat all the good things,” he says. “Cheese, charcuterie, boeuf bourguignon, fondue," he says, dropping the words for classic French dishes like a waiter placing plates. We walk back into the warmth of his restaurant, Bistro Terroir. He passes a gougère, a great ball of light golden choux pastry made with Gruyere cheese. It is delicious. “I fell in love with gougères when I was working in Paris," says the chef. "It was seven in the morning, and I'd be walking past this boulangerie in the Third Arrondissement, and I would buy five. Still warm. I'd put them in my jacket pockets to keep my hands warm." He was working at a restaurant called Sur Measure back when molecular cuisine was de rigeur. But it wasn’t for Matthew. He wanted to cook real food.
Matthew grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Eltham back when the homes were mudbrick, the muesli was raw and when chooks kept the bugs out of the veggie gardens. At 14 he did work experience at Stephen Mercer’s eponymous fusion fine dining restaurant. Matthew liked the classic French basis on which the menu was built and wanted to know more. At 17 he became Mercer’s plongeur or dish washer. At 18, he was his apprentice. For four years he worked with Stephen cooking Malaysian dancing prawns and confit duck with a truffled farce. "He was brilliant," remembers Matthew fondly. "I learned so much." Matthew’s hard work paid off. He was recognised by judges in a competition that saw him fly to France to work under Thierry Marx in his Bordeaux restaurant Château Cordeillan Bages.
After his short stint in Bordeaux, he returned to Melbourne to cook under acclaimed chef Scott Pickett at The Point. “He knew I had a love of French food and encouraged me to travel,” says Matthew. So that’s how he found himself with hot gougères in his pocket on a cold Paris morning. From Paris, Matthew travelled to the Savoie department near Chambery where his love of food of a cold climate developed. “My favourite dish, if there could be one, is tartiflette,” he says describing the casserole of potato, lardons, cheese and cream. “It’s the dish you have when you’re snowboarding or hiking in the snow all day.”
Matthew ran out of visas in France and returned to Australia to live in the family’s holiday home in Daylesford. Here he found work at Belvedere Social in Vincent Street before opening his very stylish Bistro Terroir in February last year. The fitout of his restaurant is slick and modern. His father is an architect and his sister an interior designer, so it is no wonder the long thin dining room, with its bare brick walls, suspended soft lighting and lofty black ceiling work so well. The clouds darken the sky. Matthew emerges from the kitchen with some silky smooth parfait sealed in a vacuum jar and an Alpine pork dish. It is exceptionally well-cooked pork – crisp skin, juicy flesh- served with a just tart apple puree on a bed of red cabbage cooked with apple, red wine vinegar and five spice. Washed down with a little cabernet franc/malbec blend it is simply superb.
Bistro Terroir, 6 Howe St, Daylesford; Wed 3pm-11pm, Fri-Sun 11am-11pm, 0499 022 212, bistroterroir.com.au