Tom Tilbury wants local and organic produce to be a feature for diners at his restaurant.

Dedication to seasonality shines through at the Southern Highlands’ PepperGreen Estate, where Mark Chance and James Thompson share Head Chef duties. Their cooking combines classical technique with exceptional local produce, showcasing a mutual love for the region.  

James Thompson and Mark Chance.

What are some of your earliest memories of cooking? Did these inspire you to pursue a career in the industry?

JT: My earliest are of my grandmother cooking for the family on our family farm, using the freshest produce picked from her vegetable garden, eggs from the chook yard, and meat raised on the farm. This gave me an early appreciation for great produce and a hands-on understanding of where food comes from.

MC: My earliest memories of cooking were also with my grandmother, cooking her native German and Polish Christmas specialties – pierogi, spätzle, rouladen and roast pork.

You have both been heavily involved in the Southern Highlands food scene for some time now. What first drew you to the region, and what do you continue to love about working and living here?

JT: I came to the Highlands to cook with Peppers Hotels. The hospitality scene here is a small but exciting thing to be involved in; there are so many interesting local producers and unique produce to cook with, and it is a beautiful place to raise a family.

MC: My first head chef position was in 1989, at the Grand Bar & Brasserie in Bowral. I was 20 years old and worked extremely hard. I bought my first
business in 1996 – Janeks Cafe in Bowral – and stayed.

Both chefs focus on the link between great food and wine.
Both chefs focus on the link between great food and wine.

How did your respective paths to PepperGreen Estate influence your approach at the restaurant today?

JT: I spent much of my career cooking for wine-related events in the Hunter Valley and came to PepperGreen Estate with an understanding of the intrinsic relationship between great food and wine, and how to deliver a menu that both complements and showcases the wine.

MC: My career took me to Wollongong, then The Wharf Restaurant and Bistro Moncur in Sydney, before moving to Bowral. Most of my experience has been in classic kitchens so I have brought that to PepperGreen Estate.

What three words would you use to sum up your cooking philosophy? How do you reflect these in your cooking and service at the restaurant?

JT: Fresh, seasonal, and local. At PepperGreen Estate we aim to reflect what is seasonally available and utilise what is grown and produced locally.  

MC: Classic, flavour and balance. We serve food with a focus on flavour through classic technique, stocks and seasoning. Our menus draw on a wide range of cuisines, all with a focus on the balance of flavours, texture, heat and colours.

Is there anything particular about food and wine pairing that you have learnt from running a winery restaurant?

JT: Every vintage is different, just like the fresh produce we use. There are subtle differences and it is important to taste each dish with each wine to ensure the perfect pairing.

MC: Being included in a business producing its own wines and olive oil, we are encouraged to experiment: making vinegar and churning ice creams with our olive oil. Some of our reds produce dark, rich jus and glazes for red meats, and a shiraz ripple mixed through our star anise ice cream is served with our flourless chocolate cake.

The wine selection at PepperGreen Estate proudly emulates the nuances of the region, featuring varieties best suited to the unique climate. How does the restaurant match this commitment to a distinctly Southern Highlands experience?

JT: We strive to deliver a dining experience that showcases the high-quality produce and seasons of our region. As a result, our menu and specials are constantly evolving to reflect the seasons.

PepperGreen’s menu proudly showcases the region.
PepperGreen’s menu proudly showcases the region.

With your commitment to seasonality in your cooking, what excites you most about summer produce?

MC: Summer reminds me of stone fruits, as well as cherries, tomatoes, limes and radishes. The warmer months also provide mirror dory from Ulladulla, squid from the Hawkesbury region and poultry from Thirlmere. Summer also includes Christmas-style foods. My family always starts Christmas dinner with pierogi, and our main course is mostly salmon coulibiac. I’m from a family of cooks, chefs and caterers so everyone pitches in. That is summer for me.

When you get some time away from the restaurant, where else do you enjoy a great meal in the Southern Highlands? For visitors over the summer break, is there a regional itinerary you would recommend?

JT: I like to grab a coffee and breakfast at Station Coffee House in Mittagong. Along with coming for lunch and a wine tasting at PepperGreen Estate, I would recommend visitors check out some of our local craft breweries such as Eden in Mittagong, and The Tap House in Moss Vale.

MC: Dos Hombres is great for a quick dinner, with smoked meats and strong cocktails. Lunch at the Robertson Hotel for tasty robust dishes, or head to Pizzas in the Mist in Robertson for really good local cooking.

Poach pears in a pinot and retain the leftover liquid.
Poach pears in a pinot and retain the leftover liquid.

Roast Duck Confit, Roast Potatoes, Pear, Walnuts and Bitter Greens

Confit
8 duck legs
12 bay leaves
150g rock salt
50g black pepper
1 bunch thyme
4l duck fat

Salad
4 ripe pears, peeled
300ml pinot noir
2 tbsp sugar
1 cinnamon stick
16 kipfler potatoes, cooked
1 witlof, shredded
½ treviso, endive or similar, shredded
1 cup roasted walnut halves, roughly chopped

Vinaigrette
Poaching liquid from pears
100ml red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
2.5 star anise, crushed
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
400ml PepperGreen Estate Extra
Virgin Olive Oil

1 For the confit, combine all ingredients, except duck fat in a bowl, then leave overnight.

2 The following day, heat duck fat in a large pot over a low heat, until it reaches 120°C. Add the duck to the pot and return to 95°C. Gently simmer for approximately 2.5 hours until tendon breaks between heel and drumstick. Cool, then refrigerate until needed.

3 For the salad, place pears, wine, sugar and cinnamon in a medium pot, and poach gently until tender. Remove pears from pot, reserving poaching liquid.

4 For the vinaigrette, reduce poaching liquid until slightly thickened. Deglaze with vinegar. Combine reduced poaching liquid with remaining ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside until needed.

5 Preheat oven to 200°C. Place potatoes in a roasting pan, then place duck, skin side up, on top and roast until crisp.

6 Place potatoes on serving plates. Quarter poached pears, then toss with remaining salad ingredients. Top potatoes with salad, then with duck. Serve with crusty bread and PepperGreen Estate 2018 Pinot Noir.