For the first decade of Andy Crestani’s career, he worked in Sydney restaurants Otto and Bistro Ortolan, before a stint in the UK at various Michelin-starred establishments. He and wife Lara made a tree change to Mudgee in 2012, where Lara’s family operate the Robert Stein Winery. Today Andy oversees Pipeclay Pumphouse, where his team embraces the farm-to-table, nose-to-tail ethos.
What inspired you to pursue a career in hospitality?
My heritage is Italian and Greek, so my nonna made great Italian food, and family gatherings were big and plentiful. This upbringing did influence my career choice, but my parents were still shocked when I told them I wanted to be a chef. I hadn’t cooked in our family home growing up, but I just knew it was what I wanted to do. My parents wanted me to finish my schooling, but as soon as I did, I jumped into my TAFE course to start working in the industry.
How did your path to Pipeclay Pumphouse influence your approach at the restaurant today?
At smaller Sydney restaurants working with western NSW producers, I enjoyed that we could connect with growers to refine the ingredient before the dish. It was a great opportunity to identify with the produce, and respect the time and energy involved in the growing process. Throughout my training and career, precision and refined techniques have always featured. I have fused these many techniques and cooking styles to create my own at Pipeclay Pumphouse.
Describe your cooking philosophy in three words and how is this reflected in your menus?
Technique, restraint and respect. I use simple techniques that pay respect to the land around us and the bountiful produce it supplies us with. My cooking demonstrates restraint and respect for that produce, to showcase it for what it is. Something simple like an onion will be used numerous ways in one dish. The skin will be turned into a smoked ash, the flesh into a sweet onion soubise, and the top and tail go into a stock.
How do you approach food and wine pairings at the restaurant?
The winemaking process is a lot like creating a dish; you need great produce for the best finished product. Robert Stein Winery has a very diverse and growing list of wine produced on-site, so this makes pairing quite easy. With riesling being the flagship, I can create beautiful simple dishes with seafood or pork. There are not many restaurants you visit where the wine, pork and vegetables all come from the same farm. The dish mostly comes first, although we consider the wine profile when refining flavours and textures.
The Stein family farm provides an incredible range of fresh produce. How does your menu celebrate this abundance?
Most of what makes it to the plate is either grown on-site or within a 150km radius. Where produce like seafood falls outside this, I make sure everything else on that plate is either grown in our garden or locally. Our pork products are a statement piece for our degustation and mostly feature as house-made charcuterie – terrines, rillettes or salami. We have a part-time gardener with whom we plan what will be growing in the garden to coincide with each new menu. We also plant indigenous ingredients to pay homage to the native lands.
Have you come across any local suppliers promoting outstanding farm practices?
Gooree Park grow oranges; the juice is used for Hello Lovelies’ ‘Oh Regina’ cordial, and the zest is used for their Tonic Syrup. The skins and pulp then go to Robert Stein Winery’s Berkshire pigs, which will later make their way to our menu at Pipeclay. This is just one example of how our farmers, growers and chefs can work together to promote a more sustainable region.
With lockdown forcing the restaurant’s temporary closure, your team created Pipeclay at Home dining experiences. Did these give you a chance to experiment with new cuisines or recipes?
During the 2020 lockdown, I took our at-home diners on a tour around the world. Each week featured a menu from a different country, including Greece, Portugal, France and Morocco. Being 8km from town, it was a mad rush to cook and package each dish, and get staff on the road while still keeping the dishes hot. We learnt from this and pivoted Pipeclay at Home for 2021. Our customers chose from a selection of Starters, Heat + Eat, Sides and Desserts, and then heated the dishes up themselves. It worked much better for everyone, and I could still create dishes that I love cooking. In saying that, we couldn’t wait to reopen our doors, see our staff, the smiles on faces and hear the chitter-chatter in the dining room.
With such commitment to seasonality in your cooking, what excites you most about preparing summer produce?
There is such a great emphasis in my kitchen to use fresh produce and not manipulate the ingredient. It gives me the ability to use garden and foraged produce in its raw form, the way nature intended it to be. The summer season allows me to construct savoury dishes including fresh local fruits. I might feature duck with figs from our orchard, or farm-raised pork with local Mudgee cherries.
What do you hope diners remember after a meal at your restaurant?
People are wowed when they first enter the restaurant. It’s rustic and simple without all the fuss. We love to offer our guests a very laid-back dining style with just good, honest food. We know we’ve done something right when customers are booking their next dining experience before walking out the door, and we’re so lucky to have repeat diners returning for each seasonal menu.
For holidaymakers visiting Mudgee, is there a regional itinerary you would recommend?
I’d recommend they start with Alby & Esters for breakfast, head to The Drip for a bush walk, and then The Zin House for a long lunch. Spend an afternoon browsing Three Tails Brewery, High Valley Cheese Company and Baker Williams Distillery for uniquely Mudgee products, and of course the long list of cellar doors on our doorstep.
Mussels with fennel, orange and caper emulsion
1kg mussels, cleaned and debearded
1 bulb fennel
4 brown shallots, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 oranges, 1 zested and juiced, 1 segmented
200ml white wine
3tbs baby capers
1 Halve the fennel, dice one half and shave the other half on a mandolin. Reserve fronds for garnish.
2 Heat 50g butter in a large, deep saucepan over medium heat. Add diced fennel and shallots, cook for 4-5 minutes, or until soft.
3 Add garlic and orange zest, and cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Increase heat to high, add wine and orange juice, and bring to the boil.
4 Add mussels to pan. Simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes or until mussels open.
5 Transfer mussels to a bowl. Remove pan from heat, add capers and whisk in
remaining butter, a knob at a time, until dissolved and sauce has thickened.
6 Return mussels to the sauce, and stir through shaved fennel and orange segments. Garnish with fennel fronds and serve with crusty bread.
WINE MATCH: 2021 Robert Stein Winery Reserve Riesling, A$60