A DAY IN THE KITCHEN – Hentley Farm

Hentley Farm is a single estate boutique winery and one of South Australia’s iconic fine dining and fine wine destinations. I’ve been fortunate enough to dine there on numerous occasions over the years, and it’s always been in my SA Top 3. So what an honour it was to be welcomed into the kitchen for a day.

Heading up the kitchen is Head Chef Clare Falzon, who’s leading a relatively new and young talented team. Clare is originally from Sydney. Growing up on the central coast. After her apprenticeship she headed to Europe before returning to Sydney to join the team at Nomad. Here she particularly enjoyed working with cheese, meats and charcuterie, and forging relationships with famers and other suppliers. As fate would have it, on a trip to South Australia she dined at Hentley Farm and a year later she applied for a job there. Clare’s food philosophy is to consciously and, as respectfully as possible, create food and flavours not only for individuals to enjoy, but to create shared experiences. Growing up she was taught that good food is powerful and something to be enjoyed. She takes a lot of inspiration from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food culture which encourages community and uses food as a means to bring people together.

On this day, the team consists of Sous Chef Jack, chefs Joelan, David, Olivia, Sammi, Karmin, Jasna and kitchen hand Mark who does everything from dishes to cleaning, watering and weeding the garden and feeding the chickens. Absent are Santi and Ethan. Everyone currently works a five-day week. The day usually starts around 9am and ends by 5pm. The guys work through jobs on the prep list that’s written at the end of the last service. It’s prep time until 11am, then a full clean down of the kitchen happens before an 11:30 pre-lunch kitchen team briefing.

The menu is fresh, local and seasonal with modifications during the season based on the availability of certain produce. It’s all about making the hero ingredient shine. The menu features produce that grows wild in and around the Greenock Creek, and also from the onsite garden beds. Greens are largely sourced from K&R Produce, and then there’s Jake, the go-to guy that sources anything else required between orders. There’s not a lot of red meat on the current menu, but there is Paroo kangaroo and fish is bought in as needed. In terms of new dish ideas, there’s no formal process. The team generally gets inspiration from the produce that comes in and sparks ideas that they discuss.

The kitchen runs with the pastry section, grill, snacks and the pass, where Clare also fillets the fish. There’s the ‘back bench’ where more prep work is done and pastry has a separate kitchen. This morning, David, who worked in aged care and the Adelaide Convention Centre before starting his apprenticeship, is preparing the cellar door snacks. Jasna, who’s completed TAFE and has worked at Leigh Street Wine Room and Argo is juicing lemons. Olivia who’s just graduated from Le Cordon Bleu is prepping on the back bench, Joelan who started as a dishie at Hentley four years ago after working at the Greenock pub making pizzas is tending to turnips. Sous Chef Jack is making a starter snack of nori and rice paper crisp with house-made furikake. Jack grew up in Goolwa and started out washing dishes at Aquacaf. Being a lover of art and music, the thing he loves about working in a kitchen is the ability to be creative.

Everyone’s focusing on their tasks, but come time for service, everyone helps out on the various sections. My first stop is in the pastry kitchen where I have a chat with Sammi and Karmin. Sammi, Pastry Chef de Partie, took up pastry cheffing five years ago after realising she didn’t want to pursue a career relating to her degree in international studies. On a whim she did a pastry course and the rest is history. Karmin happened to meet Lachlan Colwill at a Tasting Australia event, did a trial at Hentley and was offered a job, starting as a dishie. I ask them how their creations are developed. Basically Clare comes up with ideas by way of concepts and flavours, and Sammi and Karmin bring those ideas to life through researching and experimenting. I ask if I can help out and Karmin jumps at giving me the task of weighing portions of brioche dough to three different weights and rolling them into balls. This, I can do, although my rolling technique needs work.

Clare then comes in and tells me that I should go and see how Olivia makes her bao, so I head on out to the back bench. Olivia is happy at Hentley as she feels that she and her Chinese culture are supported and respected. Olivia tells me that with her bao, which is filled with a quail egg and garlic chive mixture, practice makes perfect when it comes to the folding technique, and hers are beautiful! She tries to teach me. Yes, I’m a gun at making my Lim Dim Sims, but this is a whole different kettle of fish! Despite her patience and encouragement, I don’t make many before I surrender!!

Then, it’s a trip to the garden with Joelan to collect some chives. He’s just finishing off his four-year apprenticeship and in the future he’d love the opportunity to work overseas. The garden (and orchard) has plums, mulberries, walnuts, figs, lemons, limes, finger limes, mandarins, spring onions, chives and strawberries and a whole lot of other goodies. Joelan stops to feed the chickens and geese before we head back to the kitchen for the 11:30am briefing.

For the briefing, the chefs gather around as Clare runs through the order of service, dietaries, any expected VIPs and dish elements requiring attention. In addition, to encourage the team members to be conscious of their own self-development and respect for others, Clare asks what they are going to personally strive for during service, to which some of the responses were ‘authenticity’, ‘professionalism’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘building relationships’.

The team pre-lunch briefing

Diners start arriving and the action begins. In the Atrium, it’s the full Discovery menu experience. There’s also people dining in the kitchen at the Chef’s Table, and people at cellar door ordering food. It’s all go with preparing the snacks, and Clare is slicing and plating sashimi as required. Everyone is calm and just gets on with it. I hang out and enjoy the vibe, watching, taking pics and generally trying to stay out of the way before I say goodbye and head to cellar door to enjoy some snacks and a glass of viognier.

Thanks to Clare and the team for having me. It’s the biggest kitchen team I’ve experienced so far and to be able to go behind the scenes at such an iconic restaurant was a real treat. If you’re keen to go, it’s a little depressing to hear that each day there’s a rather long wait list, but no need to despair if you book in early enough.

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