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Man of Steele

September 8, 2010

The success of Saturday’s Spring into Skinner Street event heralded the beginning of a new era for the South Grafton community. So often overlooked in favour of the city centre to the north, South Grafton’s main drag has seen a remarkable transformation, now a vibrant hub of cafes, hotels and retail. Following recent works by Clarence Valley Council in response to growing interest in the area, the heritage streetscape is now more pedestrian friendly, with wide promenades and new outdoor dining areas, and features public art bringing a new sense of place and community to the area.

One of the highlights of Saturday’s event, a cook-off between four chefs currently at the pans on the south side of the bridge, proved that the area is a burgeoning culinary destination giving the north side a run for its money. Hosted by Northern Rivers Food Links, chefs Matt Dobbs of Walkers Marina Hotel, Rick Worthing of Zack’s on Bent Street, Wayne Rush of the Australian Hotel and Jeremy Steele of the Naked Bean were given one hour to create a series of dishes showcasing a selection of local produce including Palmers Island mulloway, Yamba prawns, Wooli oysters and grass-fed beef shin.

The conditions made the intensity of familiar competitions like Masterchef and Ready Steady Cook look pedestrian in comparison, with each station equipped with just a single gas burner and barbecue. After a few harried moments of menu planning, the chefs were allowed to select ‘pantry’ ingredients from the adjacent cornucopia at Farmer Lous, returning with brimming baskets of fresh produce to complement the main ingredients.

With the chefs under the pump, compere Samantha Muller of Northern Rivers Food Links enlightened an enthusiastic crowd about the work of the organisation and the importance of eating locally, showcasing a range of regional produce from Challacombe Farm strawberries to Carrs Peninsula olives. Muller also encouraged the audience to participate in the current ‘Grow Your Own Food 12 Week Challenge’ currently taking place in the region, both reflecting and encouraging the increasing popularity of the kitchen garden.

With drizzle alternating with blazing heat providing a glimpse of the atmosphere in a professional kitchen, the crowd remained undeterred and watched eagerly as the chefs transformed their fresh produce into a series of elegant and original dishes, with everything miraculously coming together during the final moments.

The eager audience

Jeremy Steele plating up

With equal parts pride and relief as the one hour time limit expired, the chefs presented their dishes to judges Samantha Muller, Mayor Richie Williamson and Farmer Lou’s proprietor Maria, who were enthusiastic about the duty bestowed upon them.

Sweet relief

The judges make the tough decisions

After a conspicuously lengthy tasting session, the judges were uniformly impressed with the quality and creativity of the chefs’ offerings. There had to be a winner on the day however, and Jeremy Steele took the toque by a nose, with Zack’s Rick Worthing coming a close second, and Wayne Rush of the Aussie and Matt Dobbs of Walkers Marina third and fourth. Jeremy offered five courses, including lemongrass-skewered prawns with mango salsa, mulloway on tofu and hommus with watercress salad, and beef stir-fry followed by strawberry fool and cheeky Tim Tam petit fours. The fresh, tropical flavours reflected his experience working in the Cook Islands and perfectly complemented the fresh local seafood. You can sample some of Jeremy’s produce-driven creations for yourself at The Naked Bean on Friday and Saturday nights.

Lemongrass-skewered prawns with mango salsa

Mulloway, watercress, cranberry and onion salad, tofu, hummus, raspberry vinigarette

Strawberry fool

With the Skinner Street festivities heralding the beginning of Spring, September is shaping up to be an exciting month for local foodies, with the Causley Fresh Gate to Plate event coming up on 25 and 26 September, including markets, masterclasses and degustation lunch. Meanwhile, next time you’re thinking of dining out, think South!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tal permalink
    September 9, 2010 17:13

    Hey can you promise that you will do a Jacaranda entry come November? Perhaps we could create a feast together when I’m up there of……[drum roll]….only purple food. I do a pretty nice Beetroot dip.

  2. September 9, 2010 17:30

    I love how Jez looks like Gargamel in the third photo. Nice action shot!

  3. Warren Steele permalink
    October 26, 2010 07:43

    Gee Felix, there for a brief moment I foolishly thought you had made an entry about this Man of Steele and perhaps you related it to the daily ritual that is the morning paddle. But I guess this is a gastronomical related blog and not a sporting one – that is if you call our morning ritual “sport”! And whilst your Man of Steele and this Man of Steele are from the same gene pool, one is quite adept at preparing wonderful food whilst the other is rather proficient at inhaling wonderful food!

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