You should see the Saint Monday kitchen on a Wednesday morning. That’s the morning we receive our haul of fresh, locally grown biodynamic fruit and vegetables from Matt and Tamsin, the fine folk behind Greenwood and Grogan Produce. On Wednesday mornings, you’ll find crates spilling over with just-picked greens balanced on top of the dishwasher. Or paper bags brimming with the supplest green beans you’ve ever seen, slumped beside the toaster. Back in summer, tomatoes tumbled across the kitchen benches like coloured balls of wool from a basket – purple ones and yellow ones and ones that blushed so profusely red that it was almost rude.
Now, we’re into the season of potatoes – startling purple congo potatoes, and creamy little bundles of deliciousness that fit into the palm of your hand. And pumpkins. Oh my god, the pumpkins. Butternuts and golden nuggets vie for attention as they line the head-height walls of the kitchen like proud, stout sentries. Every Wednesday feels like a celebration of abundance, and we can scarcely wait to finish what we’re doing – icing that cake that we’re just about to put on the counter, or plating up the breakfast we’re in the middle of – to rummage through boxes and bags to see what delights Matt and Tamsin have brought us from their farm up the road in Staghorn Flat.
These fresh, locally produced goodies have shaped, to an enormous degree, the items that have appeared on our menu since we opened, with our dishes bending and flexing around the ingredients that have been available as the seasons changed. Nicole, Saint Monday’s chef, has invented and concocted dishes that have showcased these ingredients – whether they were the curiously wrapped tomatilloes that suddenly appeared on our Idler's Plates, delightful little cucamelons that teetered atop our Nacho Mountain, or damson plums that found their way into our housemade jam!
So when we became aware of a novel ethical and local dining challenge, called Give A Fork, whose aim was to provide the impetus for those working in the hospitality industry to help set standards when it came to increasing the value placed on locally and ethically produced food and minimising food waste, we knew we had to be part of it. Ever since we opened Saint Monday’s doors, we’d been very conscious of working with those growing and producing food in our area, but the challenge, with its four clear rules, has inspired us throughout April to go further still.
The rules? That any dishes created for the month-long challenge put vegetables at centre stage; that meat, if it was used, was free-range, local and ethically produced; that items that might otherwise be composted – like vegetable skins or carrot tops – were used as part of the dish; and that the provenance of ingredients was able to be traced.
Needless to say, Nicole embraced this challenge with gusto, creating two dishes that pivot on key ingredients supplied by Greenwood and Grogan. The first – Pepita Pepita Porridge Eater, a vegan porridge of quinoa and biodynamic pumpkin, with generous lashings of creamed coconut and garnished with handfuls of maple-baked pumpkin skin and spiced pumpkin seeds and nuts. Not only does this little baby lean heavily upon the incredible flavour of G&G's glorious pumpkins, but it uses the whole pumpkin – flesh, seeds and skin. Little ol’ Pepita Pepita has turned out to be the sort of dish that has people awestruck at how downright tasty a vegie porridge can be. Seriously.
Nicole’s second brilliant dish highlights those little purple congo potatoes I mentioned before, turning them into a gnocchi that becomes the centrepiece of the “out of this world” Spudnik Gratin. Purple gnocchi is baked in a creamy sauce and topped with a blue-cheesy, day-old-sourdough-y crumble (the blue cheese is from Locheilan Farmhouse Cheese, and is produced in the Goulburn Valley by Chris’ dad, Bruce; the sourdough we bake ourselves). Again, veggies and cheese produced by people we know, love and whose processes we trust, are celebrated here, and day-old sourdough gets a new lease on life as a topping.
Not only have these dishes been delicious, we kind of hope that they've also been miniature "revolutions" on plates, playing a role in helping to change our behaviour, and maybe even the behaviour of those who have tasted these dishes. We've had to be imaginative to use what we've had on hand to create something that works. We've been encouraged to look differently at things that might otherwise have ended up in the compost bin - to consider them valuable and tasty ingredients, rather than waste. We've had fun finding out about those pumpkins and potatoes, about the best way to use Bruce's blue cheese to create just the right crumble for the top of the gratin. It has been a process involving conversation, experimentation, tasting, trial and error. It's been good wholesome fun. We've felt good about playing a part in a unique, local food system built upon the honest, hard work of local people doing what they love, and have felt an intense sense of responsibility towards articulating the value of the food we access via this system by using every last scrap of it as best we can.
We hope that those who have tasted these dishes are inspired to do more than just lick their lips in satisfaction. We hope it has sparked a bit of curiosity and excitement about the potential for each of us, as chefs in our own home kitchens, to invest in great local food and prepare it with a sense of consciousness around its provenance and the human, cultural and ecological energy it embodies.