HomeEditorialFinding a food philosophy

Finding a food philosophy

As you get older you start to think about things a little more deeply.

Collecting blackberries and watercress with the aniseed scent of wild fennel in the air was commonplace during Kane Pollard’s childhood in the Adelaide Hills.

He didn’t realise it at the time, but those early days foraging would later influence his ethos as an acclaimed chef. Over the past decade or so, he’s worked around the State, including at Sky City’s Sol Bar and Restaurant and the Topiary at Tea Tree Gully, which he later bought with his father-in-law.

Most recently he’s collaborated with the team at Full Circle to create food and spirits experience Ondeen at Verdun, where he lives out his philosophy of using hyper-local and seasonal ingredients.

“I think it’s one of those things where as you get older and start to think about things a little more deeply that you realise a lot of people come back around to what their passions were, or what they used to love doing as a kid,” he says.

“That’s how I used to live – I used to forage with my brother – at that point I didn’t think it was foraging, we just had blackberries in our back yard, so we would eat them, and watercress growing in the river, so we’d eat that.

“… Those experiences didn’t push me towards being a chef at the time, but later in life when I started the restaurant Topiary and started to have full control of my own menu, I started to think ‘who am I as a chef and what am I passionate about?’

“And that’s when the foraging and the seasonal, local Adelaide Hills produce came to the forefront.”

“If you’re starting with high quality vegetables – things like beetroots and carrots that have lush green tops – then they become usable ingredients”

Growing up largely at Uraidla, some of Kane’s fondest memories are working in the family market garden.

But his first tastes of the hospitality industry were working at Uraidla’s Summerhill nursing home and Norton Summit’s Scenic Hotel after school, which he credits with showing him the power food has to bring joy and the “buzz” of a kitchen.

After three intense years doing an apprenticeship in pubs and fine dining around metropolitan Adelaide, he moved overseas – a decision which became influential in his future cooking style.

“I was doing 75- 80-hour weeks at that point, sleeping in my car and coming back down and doing breakfast service and then instead of being knocked off in the afternoon being asked ‘can you stay for dinner service tonight because we’re a bit short’,” he says.

“So I was a bit burnt out and … wanted to take a breather, so ended up over in Germany.

“That’s probably where the cooking from scratch started to come into play.

“…There was a lot of waste involved in fine dining … And then going overseas they just used everything.

“They just make everything – if you’re making your own loaf of rye bread every few days, putting all the effort in to make the sourdough, then you’re not just going to throw it out if you don’t use the ends.

“(They were) drying it for breadcrumbs or using it in sauces and things like that.

“And then if they didn’t make it themselves in the household it was always sourced from very close by and I started to taste the difference and see the difference and feel the difference of connecting with local producers rather than scouring the world for the best produce.”

Returning to Australia, Kane worked in various restaurants, including Stirling’s Loca-Vore, but eventually found his way to the Topiary in Tea Tree Gully.

After two years working there he and his father-in-law purchased the business and he’s since transformed it into a unique dining experience with a focus on making food from scratch, also incorporating foraged ingredients into the menu.

Stepping back from the day-to-day running of the Topiary, Kane was head-hunted to head up Sky City’s Sol Bar and Restaurant, where he introduced his local produce philosophy, before moving on and establishing PLACE – a culinary experience that aims to showcase South Australia’s locations through food reflective of its surroundings.

While he still runs a handful of PLACE experiences each year, this year he also took on the role of food curator for Tasting Australia and is focused on developing Ondeen, where business partners Deborah Kingsbury and Rose Kentish share his food philosophy.

Kane’s passion for locally sourced ingredients is evident in the recipe he shares with me in the evolving kitchen at Ondeen. He’s making a traditional crème caramel … but it has a local twist.

“We’ve sourced the best possible eggs, milk and cream from the Adelaide Hills to create it and, instead of using water in with the toffee itself that sits at the bottom of the crème caramel, we use honey malt liqueur.

“Because I like to use 100% South Australian ingredients, instead of adding vanilla to the recipe itself, we bring in the honey malt liqueur, which brings in that little bit of sweetness, oak and that vanilla tone that comes from the oak naturally and a bit of spice.”

The dessert is one of the options on the current Ondeen menus, which Kane is designing to focus on local, seasonal produce and help create an environment that reduces waste. “For example, certain parts of an animal or a fish or a vegetable will be used in the sunroom menu and then certain parts … are used in the field menu,” he says.

“So (it helps) having a couple of different types of menus that you can utilise different things in.”

Reducing waste is something he says people can also do at home, starting with choosing quality ingredients.

“If you’re starting with high quality vegetables – things like beetroots and carrots that have lush green tops – then they become usable ingredients,” he says.

“And then it’s just figuring out, instead of using spinach use beetroot tops.

“Instead of using only herbs in a pesto, use carrot tops.

“… If you do all the prep at once, you can cross incorporate things in different dishes at the same time – so, for example, I would buy a couple of whole chickens and poach one, roast one and the same day I’ll pull the meat off and the bones go into a pot and while I’m peeling onions, I’ll put the skins in the stock, while I’m peeling carrots I’ll put the skins in the stock, take the celery tops off put them in the stock, if I’m picking herbs to put through salad I’ll put the stems in the stock.” He says farmers’ markets are a great place to start when looking for high quality ingredients, with producers often on hand to answer questions.

And as far as choosing local goes in every day home cooking, he says there’s plenty of opportunity in the Adelaide Hills.

“We’ve got it pretty easy up here to be honest, with the amazing butchers, the farmers’ markets, it’s all there at our finger tips,” he says.

“… Getting back to that mindset of cooking and sourcing and connecting with people can be a really enjoyable beautiful part of life.

“It doesn’t have to be a chore.”

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