• “The pears are seasonal so I preserved them as a way to hold onto that perfect taste and moment in time when they are ripe.” (E+/Getty Images)Source: E+/Getty Images
The magical flavours of homegrown preserved pears with local venison transports this chef straight to the soil, all the way from his Lebanese grandfather's backyard garden to the regional farms of Orange.
By
Yasmin Noone

26 Mar 2021 - 10:29 PM  UPDATED 26 Mar 2021 - 10:47 PM

When the 28-year-old chef Dom Aboud moved from Sydney to Orange, NSW two years ago to head the kitchen at the Union Bank restaurant, something unexpected happened: a love of growing food, inherited from his Lebanese gido, was unlocked.

“My grandfather has always had a really green thumb,” Aboud tells SBS. “When I was a child, I remember he had every tree you could imagine growing in his backyard. Even today, although he’s pushing age 90, he’s still out there in his backyard gardening, growing his own figs, chillies and herbs.”

Inspired by his grandfather’s gardening mastery and a desire to cook homegrown food, Aboud tended to a neglected Beurre Bosc pear tree in his new regional backyard. The former Rockpool chef successfully revived the tree and it’s now bearing pears.

“I got tips from my grandfather on how to make this tree produce fruit. But to be honest, I didn’t realise just how much work went into producing one fresh ingredient until I had my own house here in Orange and grew my own pears.”

Aboud recently picked the pears and let them ripen in his house. The flavour, he says, is rated off the charts. “There’s something delicious about that soft sweet flesh of a freshly picked pear because the fruit hasn't been sitting, waiting, in cold storage. That freshly picked pear will be the best pear you ever taste – it will have a personality about it.”

"The next thing you know, they have walked in with the dirt still on their hands from the field and given" you that ingredient. That’s special.”

Although Aboud learned to appreciate homegrown produce as a child and was later trained to focus on paddock-to-plate practices as a chef, it wasn’t until he moved to Orange that he truly began to appreciate the symbiotic relationship between nature, farming and cooking in a regional location.

“Orange itself is such a magical place,” he says about his new home. "As a chef, if you want a certain type of food – venison, berries, garlic, pine mushrooms or truffles – you just shoot a quick text to a producer you know personally. The next thing you know, they have walked in with the dirt still on their hands from the field and given you that ingredient. That’s special.”

The flip side to living off the land is that fresh produce is a slave to nature.

“While living and working here, I’ve seen the huge amount of work that goes into large scale food and wine production and appreciate there are many factors [in the equation for success] that are out of a producer’s control – from drought to bushfire smoke tainting grapes to fruit fly infestations.

“So for me, as a chef, to be able to take the fruits of a farmer’s labour and give it new life through [food preparation] and cooking is just incredible.”

Pushing through bushfires, drought and a pandemic: Orange marks 30 years of F.O.O.D
As locals and tourists alike celebrate Orange F.O.O.D Week this April, sampling the best of the region's food and wine, they'll mark the festival's 30th anniversary and a return after a turbulent 2020.

Orange venison and pears: a tasty marriage

The chef says now that he’s gotten into gardening and is surrounded by so many local farming inspirations, he’ll continue to grow his own food. The plan is that he’ll contribute some of it to his restaurant’s ingredient list to feature alongside local produce.

Aboud’s pears will also appear on a celebratory menu, as part of dish number four at the Orange F.O.O.D Week’s 30th-anniversary dinner on Monday 12 April at Orange Function Centre.

The pears won’t be served fresh – they’ll be preserved in spiced sugar syrup, flavoured with star anise and cloves. “The pears are seasonal so I preserved them as a way to hold onto that perfect taste and moment in time when they are ripe.”

"When cooking venison, you really need to let the protein stand on its own with good, strong cooking.”

The fruit will be presented beside topside venison (served medium-rare) from Mandagery Creek – the same Orange-based supplier that Aboud used when he first cooked venison as an apprentice.

“The preserved pears go really well with the venison – a meat that you can’t hide behind. When cooking venison, you really need to let the protein stand on its own with good, strong cooking.”

The dish will be finished with radicchio from a regional farmer and a chocolate plum sauce.

“It will be such a privilege to showcase fresh, locally grown produce through my cooking, because I really do understand there’s so much work that goes into producing an ingredient."

For more information on the festival, visit Orange F.O.O.D Week online or on social media, @orangefoodweek.

Feels like home: A Jamaican beer-infused oxtail curry for the senses
Chef May Walker has created a home away from home in Australia by continuing Jamaican food traditions.
Meet obanzai, Kyoto's version of grandma cooking
Though the term itself is relatively new, obanzai taps into a collective nostalgia for homestyle cooking.
Feels like home: My grandma's chocolate mousse
Despite working in famed Paris kitchens, when it comes to the perfect chocolate mousse this French chef sticks to his grandmother's recipe.