Cooking with the Seasons

STORY BY RICHARD CORNISH

Pumpkin dish at Sault on the Vegetarian tasting menu. Image by    Jezriel Ganino

Pumpkin dish at Sault on the Vegetarian tasting menu. Image by Jezriel Ganino

“Those bloody ducks!” says chef Hugh Maxwell, half frustrated, half exasperated. The wild wood ducks have been into the kitchen garden at Sault restaurant again and eaten his leafy greens. The gardens supply a good deal of the herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens and some of the vegetables for the restaurant. They sit under the airy dining room, with its 180-degree view overlooking a lavender plantation, lake, chapel and the kitchen garden. Hugh, however, doesn’t resent the ducks as they only nibble the leaves they can get to under the netting. “They also keep the grass down,” says Hugh with a grin. “Along with the kangaroos." 

Hugh is a local lad. He grew up with mud on his Blundstones, traipsing around Spring Creek at Hepburn. That was when he wasn't getting under his mum's feet. She had the Harvest Café, and Hugh would watch her make vegetarian laksa and spicy tempeh dishes. He worked with some of the best chefs and restaurants in the business doing his apprenticeship under Michael de Jong at the Farmers Arms in Daylesford and working many years at the critically acclaimed Bendigo Enoteca Dispensary. While Hugh has mastered the art of whole carcass butchery and dry aging meat, he is letting the garden lead his menu at Sault. 

Sault Head Chef, Hugh Maxwell. Image by Richard Cornish.

Sault Head Chef, Hugh Maxwell. Image by Richard Cornish.

“A meat-heavy diet is not the way the world is going or the way the world should go,” says Hugh as he picks some fronds of bronze fennel and some yellow and purple violets to finish his dishes. Beyond the pumpkin vines is an orchard that has been transplanted by the restaurant's owner and front of house team, partners Jodi Flockhart and Damien Aylward. Despite the lack of rain the trees have sent down new roots and have made Sault their new home. 

Jodi is quietly happy with the season just gone. They have a strong following in Singapore and Hong Kong with a lot of word of mouth recommendations. “People are landing at Melbourne Airport, hiring a car and driving here for lunch or dinner,’ she says. “They, like everyone else, love the lavender and view out over the water to the forest.” The kitchen door swings open and Hugh places a dish of roast pumpkin and pasta on the table. Despite its humble provenance, this is a masterpiece in the layering of flavour. From the still liquid, confit egg yolk sitting inside the deep flavoured sweet pumpkin, laced with fresh feta, punctuated with onion cooked in soy stock every part of this dish is delicious. This is all concealed by a layer of laminated pasta, multicoloured bay leaves peering through the translucent sheet. Over this goes a rich vegetable stock. It is a truly masterful dish and an indication as to where the menu is heading. Carnivores are still very well looked after, but the fun is to be had with the veg. There is a seven-course degustation ($115 pp) that may start with a puffed linseed cracker with garden beetroot and a beautifully ‘crazed’ quail egg. 

Hugh is a rising star in the culinary scene. He innately understands the local food culture of our area and has the team behind him to take Sault and its menu on an ever-changing ride through the seasons. 

2349 Ballan-Daylesford Rd, Sailors Falls near Daylesford; sault.com.au 

Heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Image by Jezriel Ganino @journeywithjezriel

Heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. Image by Jezriel Ganino @journeywithjezriel