20 Dec 2010 - 2:51 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

It’s taken a couple of years. But the concept of hosting roving regional events in the actual Tasmanian region where the food comes from has finally come off.

I’d had the idea years ago. So had my mate Nick Haddow. So, I think, had a couple of other chefs we approached with the aim of doing the lunches in 2008. And we took inspiration from the success of an American operation called Outstanding in the Field. Sadly, the other chefs became busy (both with very successful local food operations – so they’re the smart ones), and the one Table in the Paddock event that Nick and I did manage to host wasn’t open to the public as we had hoped. Rather, it was a celebratory event cooked, at no charge, for the producers themselves. Hardly the makings of a sustainable business, despite the success of the event itself.

In the two years since, Ross O’Meara and I ran a couple of other regional lunches branded under our Rare Food banner from the market – they were locally focused, but based on our own regions and products, rather than the food and regions of others.

So when Nick and I managed to persuade Ross to come onboard for the newly minted A Common Ground events, we had the last piece of the jigsaw. Ross is a bloke who can be thrown a cooking job in difficult circumstances, very difficult circumstances, and he’ll produce magic. Nick is an ideas man – he thought of the name, organised the logo and website. And a bank account so we could take bookings and prepayment. And me? Well, I’m not sure what my role was, except I did notice we had no drinks cold at noon for a 12.30pm start – after two people had already arrived – and we hadn’t finished setting the room. It was a true team effort. We all cooked, we all washed up and swept, and all wore ourselves out.

The venue was remarkably remote for us, in Stanley, six hours’ drive from Cygnet in Tassie’s far North West. The idea was to showcase local produce in a way that did the produce justice. To put producers, consumers, cooks, farmers and fishermen all at the one table; to celebrate the stunning food grown in this incredibly fertile region – a place with wonderful soil, magnificent pasture and some of the purest air and water in the world. All we had to do, really, was not muck it up.

What we served:

  • French breakfast radishes from Yorktown Organics with Ashgrove Farmhouse butter and salt
    (2007 Barringwood Park Blanc de Blancs)
  • Baby abalone from Stanley, steamed with Rosie MacKinnon’s green garlic, topped with wasabi leaf and a seaweed and cider vinegar dressing
    (Seven Sheds Kentish Ale from the keg)
  • Couta Rocks crayfish with two varieties of Dick Shaw’s Tasmanian grown avocados, lemons from the same orchard, Cradle Coast olive oil
    (2008 Barringwood Park Northbank chardonnay)
  • Slow-braised Stanley octopus with Paul Day’s nicola potatoes, Barringwood Park pinot and chardonnay, new season purple garlic
    (2008 Barringwood Park Northbank chardonnay)
  • Milk-fed Mathom Farm goat braised with Barringwood chardonnay and local olives. The goat was served on Australia’s only commercially grown, organic quinoa tossed with quinoa leaves, olive oil and broad beans from the garden
    (2006 Barringwood Park Mill Block pinot noir)
  • Hammond Farms grass-fed Wagyu beef (marble score 6) two ways; braised shin, brisket, ribs and chuck; and forge-grilled scotch fillet with freshly grated Shima wasabi stem
    (2006 Barringwood Park Mill Block pinot noir)
  • Mixed, local vegetables – green and red cabbage, chargrilled cauliflower, baby silverbeet and nicola potatoes with Ashgrove Farmhouse butter
  • Turners Beach strawberries with goat’s yoghurt and Blue Hills Honey
    (Seven Sheds Razzamatazz; raspberry, honey, wheat ale from the keg)

The only ingredients that came from outside the north of Tassie were the salt, sugar and pepper. The lunch was $140 a head, drinks included.

Our dream was to host the event outside, in a paddock overlooking Stanley’s Nut [an ancient volcanic formation]; where you could see the water the octopus boats went out on; the island where the wagyu cattle are droved to at low tide, to feast on greener pastures; the land where the abalone farm lies.

Instead, fierce winds and the certainty of rain meant we sheltered in a wonderful old stone barn at Highfield House. In many ways, it was a blessing. Our striking location came with power, its own toilets and an ancient forge with enormous bellows to grill the meat on. We cooked for nearly 70 people, and the mood in the room seemed to suggest that it was a success. A lot of very happy punters stayed until about 6pm, including two day-trippers who just dropped by from Devonport, and quickly found themselves a room.

What we quickly learnt is the importance and support of locals. Charlotte from The Old Cable Station put us up, lent us her licensed food preparation van and fed us a couple of breakfasts when we most needed it. Craig from T.O.P. Fish seafood (the octopus fisherman) lent us his coolroom trailer, supplied ice and more. Julian from the Stanley pub let us wash up our glasses, plates and cutlery in his commercial dishwasher after his own enormous dinner crowd had gone that evening. And let’s not forget Graham who helped us load and unload bundles of chairs and tables from the town hall. In his ute.

We even had help from outside the region. Colette from Ut Si Café in Perth, near Launceston, came up to volunteer with two of her staff – Fiona on the floor and Shireen in the kitchen – three women who saved us from certain failure. We simply showed them a naked dining room and they transformed it into a banquet hall. Or showed them a few kilograms of broad beans and returned to find them double peeled.

I’m back home, exhausted, exhilarated, and under pressure to get more done around the farm. Like parenting, the wife reckons, for a change, as she leaves our infant son behind and heads off to Sydney for a three-day break.

The next A Common Ground event is slated for Flinders Island in April. We’ll organise that once we recover from the last one. Visit A Common Ground here.