A DAY IN THE KITCHEN – Gather at Coriole

Coriole was founded in 1967 by Hugh and Molly Lloyd who released their first wine in 1969. The Lloyd family still owns the estate, now managed by Mark and Paul Lloyd.

Tom Tilbury started Gather at Coriole in 2018 after closing his Gather Food and Wine at Robe. It had always been the plan to move back closer to Adelaide and he’s a natural fit for Coriole. When describing his food, Tom uses the words seasonable, sustainable and ethical, and perfectly summarises it as ‘produce-driven rustic elegance’, where showcasing quality produce is the primary focus. Tom remembers wanting to be a chef from a very young age and prior to opening Gather Food and Wine he did stints at D’Arry’s Verandah, Cullen Dining in WA and, over the years, has dabbled in a number of different cuisines.

The kitchen team today consists of Sous Chef Luke Brown, chef Thomas Bennett and dishy/kitchen hand Patrick Williams. Luke’s been working with Tom for one and a half years, having spent time at The Duck Inn, Georges and 2KW. Thomas has been at Coriole for ten months having been Sous Chef at Victor’s Place and is still currently working at Little Rickshaws. Patrick’s been there for a year, having been a pizza maker in his past life. There’ll be up to six people in the kitchen during the busy summer months.

The kitchen sections are Hot, Larder, Pastry and the Pass. Today Luke’s on Hot and the Pass and Thomas is on Larder. Everyone’s multi-skilled and they swap stations every two to three weeks. A typical day starts around 8:30am and finishes about 5pm. First jobs for the day include baking bread and taking butter out of the fridge to get it to room temperature. Then it’s cracking on with the rest of the To-Do list written at the end of the last service.

Luke loves the pressure of a busy service. Thomas tells me the best part of the day for him is going out to the garden mid to late morning to pick veggies, herbs, weeds and flowers – something they do as a team. The garden is bountiful – full of marigold, chard, radicchio, sorrel, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, nasturtium, chives, parsley, thyme and rosemary. And they make use of the plants and weeds that grow around the vines adding nitrogen to the soil – broad bean, mallow, wild mustard, pea shoots, sow thistle, mallow, wild garlic, wild brassica. Tom is a forager from way back, starting as a child growing up in Maslin. You don’t have to wonder how the name ‘Gather’ was conceived.

With the commitment to using and buying local, Gather at Coriole has a farm at McLaren Flat where they source about 40% of their veggies and lamb. Another 40% of veggies comes from Neringa and around 10% from Village Greens. Other local produce and businesses include a number of small farms, Ellis Butchers, pork from Boston Bay Smallgoods and Myponga water buffalo. They minimise waste and make and use a lot of pickles, including turnips, parnsips, lilly pilly, and vinegars such as plum, eggplant, cucumber and burnt bread.

The current offerings are a five and seven course option with a choice of snacks. A set menu makes life easier – it’s more structured and simple than a la carte. Currently being open Thursday to Sunday for lunches, Thursday is a busy prep day with all produce deliveries arriving and pastry chef Tash coming in to do all dessert prep for the weekend. When it comes to discussing new dishes, they all bounce ideas off each other, generally focusing firstly on the protein and work from there as to how to enhance it.

There’s a real focus on being neat and clean here. There’s plenty of paper towel and cloths placed everywhere to continually wipe down benchtops. One thing I notice that’s different to the other kitchens I’ve been in is there’s no music playing. When I ask about it, they replied that they prefer no music – they find it easier to concentrate but also they enjoy having good conversation. This is obviously a team that enjoys eachother’s company.

After a morning of prep, as service approaches Tom admits that there’s always a bit of nervous anticipation as they check that everything is ready to go. Today is a quiet day in terms of lunch bookings. Restaurant Manager Jane Mitchell comes in to talk through the run sheet and highlight any dietary requirements. Then, as service starts, I spend some time watching the action of dish preparation and plating. I do love this bit. And I still marvel at how chefs can use their bare hands to poke, pick up and turn meat over in a sizzling hot pan.

So what were my tasks for the day? Tom is coaching me through making the various components that make up the dessert of ‘Mandarin, almond, cream diplomat, geranium’. So there’s the mandarin cake, there’s the fresh mandarin segments, the geranium jelly and the orange tuille. It’s a good thing that I took up baking cakes over Covid lockdown, but last time I made jelly it was of the ‘Aeroplane Jelly’ variety when I was about ten years old – just add boiling water… This was a little different – steeping highly scented lemon geranium leaves in a sugar and agar syrup. One thing’s for sure – I’m certainly not the fastest mandarin segmenter in town but Tom was pleased with the end result. One of my other jobs for the day was to pick the meat out of blue swimmer crabs. When you grow up in a Chinese household, trust me – this is something you get really good at – getting every last bit of meat out of that shell!

Anyway, I’m grateful to Tom and the team for a really educational and fun day. Tom was very patient with me and the lads were very accommodating and didn’t seem to mind explaining everything they were doing. Key things I learned: Don’t be heavy handed when measuring 100g sugar into a bowl of water, it can get messy handling glucose syrup, the scent of lemon geranium is truly amazing, and you need to keep cutting back asparagus regularly to keep them sprouting. Thankfully I didn’t bugger anything up too badly and I got to eat some beautiful lamb and fennel for lunch. Another excellent day in the kitchen!

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