Time behind the pass at Michelin-starred restaurants equipped Clare Falzon with a strong appreciation for quality produce. She continues to celebrate exceptional ingredients as the head chef of the Barossa Valley’s Hentley Farm restaurant, where a commitment to sustainability underpins all aspects of her work.
What first drew you to cooking professionally?
My family immigrated to Australia from Europe in the 1940s, and their background fostered a strong sense of tradition around meals while I was growing up. My parents also have a keen fondness for cooking, so I was exposed to the importance of a good food experience from a very young age. This gradually grew into a vision to create that experience for others, which is something I continue to love about my work: being able to create a dish I enjoy and sharing this joy with others.
You’ve worked in acclaimed restaurants both in Australia and overseas. How did your path to Hentley Farm shape your approach today?
The opportunity to work in various cuisines and styles means I have been privileged to acquire knowledge from many excellent chefs, which I can now pass on to the team at Hentley Farm. This ensures we are treating the produce with the utmost respect and optimising the quality for our guests, while also continuously growing and learning as a team.
I have also been fortunate to work with some incredible produce, and to develop close relationships with producers and farmers. These relationships have deepened my understanding of the work, respect and passion that goes into producing every ingredient; in turn this drives me to celebrate the subtle flavours of produce, and let it shine as it is.
Is there one dish from the restaurant that epitomises this cooking philosophy or style, and why?
The cos lettuce and radish salad. Cos lettuce and radish can be often overlooked in dishes, but in this they star. The lettuces are grown by a local farmer, who harvests them specifically for when we need them. The radishes are grown on our farm, and planted, cared for and picked by the restaurant team. Paired with crushed cashews and dressed in a mustard seed butter, the salad is then finished with edible flowers foraged from around the Barossa – wild brassica, canola, radish flowers, oxalis and society garlic, depending on the season.
Hentley Farm describes their winemaking style as ‘winegrowing’ – producing vintages that holistically celebrate the fruit’s unique nuances. In terms of produce, how important is the quality of raw ingredients in shaping your final dish?
Quality produce optimises the flavours and overall enjoyment of a dish, while also encouraging us to work with the whole product, utilising components usually seen as waste. In the kitchen, we strive to work as sustainably as possible: egg shells are repurposed as a vessel for our pre-dessert, which is served in the egg carton it was packed and delivered in; fennel fronds are turned into fennel oil; the leaves of the cauliflower are fermented. Working with consistently exceptional produce also constantly inspires the team. Having beautiful oyster mushrooms personally delivered by the farmer who grew and harvested them that same morning allows the team to see for themselves the care and passion that goes into a product. I find this motivates chefs to extend that passion to the final dish.
Having such beautiful produce so accessible in the Barossa, are there any local ingredients that you particularly love to work with?
Living and working in such proximity to an abundance of produce, both farmed and foraged, is very exciting. Although some seasons are more prolific than others, there is always something available to keep us inspired. My favourite ingredient in the early summer months is wild garlic shoots. They are beautifully vibrant and have an elegant, nuanced garlic flavour, which can add something very unique to a dish.
Your on-site kitchen gardens also guide the evolution of your menus. Are there particular production practices that you are committed to?
All produce grown both on-site and by our farmers is organic. The Hentley Farm restaurant is committed to carrying out our practices and routines as holistically and sustainably as possible. The reward is knowing that the ingredients we use are created in a way that nurtures our environment and that we can do all this while still having our own supply of beautiful produce.
Whether from the kitchen gardens or local suppliers, what do you most look forward to cooking with during the summer months?
I look forward to summer tomatoes all year. We plant our tomatoes in spring and watch them grow until they are ready to be picked, right before service each day, in summer. The flavour of a home-grown tomato is unbelievable and it’s a pleasure to serve them to guests who may not usually have access to such a product.
Has the recent time away from the kitchen allowed you to reconsider your goals for the restaurant?
Witnessing the world slow down significantly, I further committed myself to growing what we can, and sourcing local and sustainable produce. While taking time off due to Covid-19, like many others I spent a lot of time in my garden at home – something I always try to make time for, but previously wasn’t able to focus as much attention on. Being there every day, watering and planting and harvesting, allowed me to be able to witness its growth day by day, which is very inspiring and humbling. I was also cooking with vegetables straight from my backyard and was able to enjoy them without any distractions. This sense of satisfaction and contentment is something I would love both the Hentley Farm team and guests to experience.
Where else in the Barossa would do you head for a great meal?
I always recommend the Barossa Farmers Markets in Angaston; a lot of our suppliers are there each Saturday morning. I go down every weekend before work to pick up the day’s produce for the restaurant and to do my own fresh produce shop.
Radish & Cos Salad
Clare Falzon, Hentley Farm Restaurant
2 cos lettuce heads
100g unsalted butter
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds, soaked overnight and drained
1 tsp chilli flakes
½ cup raw cashews, crushed
6 breakfast radishes, including leaves
Serve with: edible flowers to garnish.
1 Quarter the cos lettuce heads and lay directly on a plate.
2 Melt the butter with the Dijon mustard in a pan over a low heat, then add mustard seeds, chilli flakes and cashews.
3 Allow to cook together for a minute to infuse the flavours, then season.
4 Remove from heat and very quickly toss whole radishes through butter, before removing and adding to cos.
5 Dress the cos and radishes with the butter and cashews, and garnish with edible flowers.