Widely admired as an advocate for the region, Kim Currie opened Zin House at Lowe Wines in Mudgee in 2014. She has played an integral role in establishing wine and food tourism across New South Wales’ Central Tablelands region, championing artisan producers and local talent, all the while leading her restaurant to critical acclaim.
What first drew you to cooking professionally?
I grew up cooking. We were five kids and allowed to make a mess in the kitchen from when we were still small enough to need a stool to reach the kitchen bench. Mum was a natural cook, and my brother and one of my sisters are also trained chefs, with
successful restaurants in New Zealand. Arriving in Australia from New Zealand at the age of 20, cooking was my passport. I’ve cooked professionally ever since.
Describe your cooking philosophy in a few words.
When we first opened Zin House, I wrote three words on the office wall: quality, authenticity and generosity. These remain a guiding principle for all of us. We farm organically and biodynamically, and everything is made in-house. We value the process of cooking and exalt even the most humble preparations. And generosity rules. I’m completely incapable of serving meagre portions of food. We value our diners by giving them the time and space to enjoy the experience. Over the hours they spend with us, we see them unspool, wind down and visibly relax.
Having spent time away from Zin House in early 2019, what did you most look forward to when returning to the kitchen? How has the restaurant’s approach evolved as a result of its revitalisation?
I spent a lot of my time away itching to get back into the kitchen and the garden. What I love about hospitality is what drives most of us: a sparkling clean restaurant with everything just so, the hum of pre-service and that wonderful sense of achievement from guests immersing themselves in the dining experience.
Six months away allowed me to review what I wanted to do, and how I could create a business that I would continue to love and nurture into the future. Perhaps the biggest move for me was reducing the number of seats for each service to 40. I wanted the relationship between the garden and restaurant to be paramount, and the garden can produce enough for that number.
Lowe Wines is renowned for small-batch vintages with minimal intervention. Does Zin House embody similar values?
Just as with Lowe Wines, you can use the descriptors ‘small batch’ and ‘low intervention’ for Zin House as well. We start with quality ingredients, from as close to the source as possible, and do as little as possible to them.
What does a perfectly matched wine most contribute to a meal?
I look for wine and food pairings that are like comfy friends. I avoid discordant, loud and obnoxious intrusions – food can turn that lovely wine into a menace when you least expect it. It’s why I’m an absolute advocate of matching wines to dishes on the menu; usually starting with the food. A favourite is fresh curd or feta with puff pastry, maybe some little tomatoes heated in their skins with some sprigs of thyme, teamed with a buttery, oaky Lowe White Gold Chardonnay.
Do all the restaurant team have a chance to spend time in the gardens?
Everyone who works in our kitchen needs to know the garden like the back of their hand. We companion plant, so there are no easily identifiable rows of vegetables or herbs. The idea is that they know what is there and where to find it, because we always look to the garden first before creating a dish.
How do you see yourself contributing to the regional food scene in the future?
Advocating for simplicity. Read about some of the top chefs of the world and you’ll hear them discuss how hard this concept is to master. I’m also keen to continue to mentor young chefs with an interest and willingness to learn, and I hope to nurture more women. I’ve been shocked to discover how many young male chefs find it difficult to work for a woman, especially one who is self-taught.
Where is there scope for further improvement in the wine and food industry? What important conversations need to be started?
The cost of food production. It’s way overdue, but as consumers, we must support food producers to be sustainable and financially viable. Let’s be more forensic in dissecting marketing messages such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘local’. If a restaurant has a pocket handkerchief garden and does 1,000 covers a week, they cannot be growing their own food.
I’d also love to tell my guests to put their phones aside, and focus on the food and wine. Enjoy the dining experience by being present with your fellow guests, the restaurant staff and the environment that you’re in. Bank the memory, not the boast.
What are your picks for food and wine in the Mudgee region?
High Valley Cheese Co make some excellent cheese using Dubbo’s Little Big Dairy Co’s milk and cream. Try the Mudgee Rouge, a favourite. Also visit Aril Estate for cured olives. For dining out, Mr Sushi King on Church Street is where locals go for great Asian food. Alby & Esthers is the place for good coffee. On Sundays, our new Pavilion at Lowe serves the Grazing + Roast, a generous antipasto and roast dinner with-the-lot experience.
In terms of cellar doors, Di Lusso does wood-fired pizza with a side glass of arneis like no other. Slow Fox Wines and Heslop’s are small, family-run cellar doors that do it in style, while Logan Wines is a must for the architect-designed building, the views and the wine of course!
Zucchini & Chickpea Salad
Preparation time: 15 minutes
4 small zucchini, sliced thinly and grilled
1 cup hummus
1 ripe tomato, diced
1 tbsp black olives, pitted and diced
1 tbsp red onion, diced
1 cup cooked chickpeas, well seasoned with sumac (a Middle Eastern spice)
A few mint leaves, shredded
1 large handful rocket leaves
salt & pepper
2 tbsp mixed seed granola, eg: toasted hazelnut, hemp, pumpkin seed & za’atar
50ml pomegranate molasses
50ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
To serve: A sprinkling of pomegranate seeds (if in season)
1 Place hummus on base of plate.
2 Toss all the salad ingredients, add a little of the dressing, season and pile in the centre of the plate.
3 Top with the grilled zucchini (warm or cold) and sprinkle with the granola and pomegranate seeds.
4 Drizzle with the rest of the dressing.