Food & Wine: Hunter chefs share their secret ingredients

Chef Nick Vivian of Newy Berger Co. at the Cambridge with his jalapeno poppers and bar beef Burger. Picture: Ryan Osland
Chef Nick Vivian of Newy Berger Co. at the Cambridge with his jalapeno poppers and bar beef Burger. Picture: Ryan Osland

For some it’s a life-long love, for others it’s a new-found obsession or an ingredient they can’t live without.

KATE TARALA picks the brains of eight  Hunter chefs to find out which ingredients are inspiring them and how they use them to create delicious and decadent dishes. 

Nick Vivian, Newy Burger Co., Newcastle

What are your must-have ingredients?

One element of our most popular burgers is our jalapeno sauce and our special of jalapeno poppers are a great hit with our customers.

Is it a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time?

I have used jalapenos in dishes for a long time but at Newy Burger Co. using them in a sauce for the Bar Beef Burger or as a side dish has proven to be very popular.

What do you love about jalapenos?

What I like best about the sauce is the creaminess with the medium heat that, combined with the beef, bacon and barbecue sauce, offers a great combination.

Where do you source them from?

I use fresh jalapenos for some dishes, sourced from the local markets with the tinned jalapenos being a great option for the sauces: using the brine that the peppers are pickled in really enhances the flavour of the sauce.

What dishes do you use jalapenos in?

To make the poppers, simply cut off the top off the jalapeno and scoop the seeds out with the handle of a spoon. Remember to wear your hazard gear as jalapenos in the eye is not much fun! The filling can be of your own choice. However, for one of my favourites I use  cream cheese with lemon zest and thyme.  The creamy texture of the cheese counteracts the spiciness of the pepper. Once filled, I roll in plain flour, dip in an egg wash and then coat with breadcrumbs. Deep-fry and serve straight away; these are a prefect party snack when you have friends  over.

Chris Thornton, Restaurant Mason, Newcastle

What are your must-have ingredients?

Butter and salt.

Are they a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time?

I have always used them but my understanding of how much and when to use them has changed over time.

What do you love about butter and salt?

I love butter for its versatility and what it can add to a dish. 

I especially love the complex flavour you can get out of culturing your own butter. 

Salt just makes everything taste better.

Where do you source it from? 

It depends. 

We make our own cultured butter at work. 

What dishes do you use those ingredients in?


Troy Rhoades-Brown, Muse Restaurant and Muse Kitchen, Pokolbin

What are your must-have ingredients?

Mulberries and ruby grapefruit.

Why do you love using them?

Both of these ingredients are smack bang in the middle of the season at the moment. Ruby grapefruit I just can’t get enough of; it brings this wonderful fight between bitter and sweet and has a lovely fragrant aroma. Mulberries, on the other hand, for me are so special. One single tree that is well loved can bring an incredible bounty of fruit. Some berries are surprisingly tart, some are beautifully sweet and juicy. It is my favourite berry due to the very short window of a season and memories of getting in trouble [with]  Mum for coming home, hands, clothes and face stained in mulberry juice from a local afternoon raid.

What dishes do you use mulberries and grapefruit in? 

Ruby grapefruit and local snapper: we gently steam a fillet of local snapper at 60 degrees, served with a baby gnocchi saute, avruga caviar, spring peas, herbs and flowers from my garden, and home-made semillon verjuice, which we mount with butter and fresh segments of ruby grapefruit. Hunter Valley Duck and Lovedale mulberries: we cure and smoke the duck breast in apple wood, confit and pull the leg meat, serve with radicchio, cultured Singleton goat’s milk, fresh Lovedale mulberries, spiced almonds and a Pedro Ximenez and mulberry reduction.

Naomi Henderson, Hello Naomi

What is your must-have ingredient?

Madagascan vanilla bean!

Is it a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time?

I discovered the difference early in my baking – it is an obvious yet secret ingredient.

What do you love about Madagascan vanilla bean?

Vanilla is the most loved flavour in the world; there is no logic or words to describe  this universal love and the sense of nostalgia – but when you use premium-grade fresh vanilla beans it takes it to the next level. I import [my vanilla] from France.

What dishes do you use vanilla in? Pretty much everything. We use vanilla seeds in our vanilla cake, white chocolate and vanilla bean mud cake, homemade vanilla bean syrup to flavour our creamy jersey milk, cookies, marshmallow ... everything!

Andrew Wickham, The Landing Bar & Kitchen, Honeysuckle

What are your must-have ingredients? My favourite ingredients are smoked paprika and coriander. 

Are they a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time? I have always loved smoked paprika and coriander. I remember adding smoked paprika to my eggs as a small child; my fondness for coriander probably started when I was still an apprentice – working in quite a few Spanish-influenced restaurants gives you unbridled access to both of these glorious ingredients.

What you do love about smoked paprika and coriander?

Smoked paprika is such a complex flavour, it has a subtle heat and smoky flavour owing to the oak wood smoke-drying process; it adds a burst of colour and flavour; it’s the main spice in chorizo and a must for me in braises, stocks and sauces.

What dishes do you use those ingredients in?

Coriander is a vibrant and aromatic herb. When used fresh it brings a citrus fresh burst of flavour to salads, soups, braises and drinks.

Where do you source smoked paprika and coriander from? 

The best-quality smoked paprika in my opinion comes from Spain, from a mountainous town called La Vera. It’s quite expensive but worth the money. Coriander grows all year round in Australia; you can grow it in a pot at home, but all grocery stores carry it.

What dishes do you use them in?

Over the winter months we went through quite a bit of paprika in our braises, such as the Beef Cheek Estafado with Pedro Ximenez Sherry. It was used at the start of the sauce, to bring some heat and smokiness to the finished product. As we head into the summer months we will use it in a variety of dishes such as Barbequed Pork Ribs with charred pineapple salsa; grilled corn with smoked paprika butter and an assortment of other dressings and sauces. Coriander will be used in a variety of salads, sauces, salsas and drinks over the summer here at The Landing Bar & Kitchen. It will be added fresh to our quinoa, roast sweet potato and ricardo verde salad, through our blackened pineapple salsa, and through our white fish, lime and charred corn ceviche. For me at home, I have a few favourite ways to use it, but my favourite is to add a few (or many!) freshly picked leaves and a slice of cucumber to a gin and tonic. It’s amazing on a hot summer’s afternoon – try it!

Mitch Carroll, Cazador, Newcastle

What are your must-have ingredients? Lemon, garlic and mushrooms.

Are they a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time?

Mushrooms have always appealed to me; there are so many varieties and it’s an ingredient you can eat any time of the day, breakfast on some sourdough or they always work as a dinner accompaniment.

 What do you love about mushrooms? Their earthy taste, but they also absorb flavours, working well with garlic, lemon, cream, salt!

Where do you source your mushrooms  from? 

The mushrooms and all our fresh produces comes from the Sandgate Markets.

What dishes do you use mushrooms in?

The almond and sage gnocchi with roast mushrooms and baby spinach available on our lunch menu and the roast wild mushrooms with confit garlic and duxelle on our smaller plates menu available on our Happy Hour tapas or dinner menu  from 6pm.

Luke Carpenter, Mercure Newcastle Airport, Williamtown

What are your must-have ingredients?

Hard question: butter and salt! I’ve also been using rapadura sugar a lot lately. It’s an organic unrefined sugar. It’s made from simply evaporating the water from the sugar cane juice. The molasses is still present in the sugar and not being cooked at high heats it still retains its vitamins and minerals.

Is rapadura a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time? It’s new to me. Friends of mine, Karl and Kelie from Ritual in Nelson Bay, introduced it to me.

What is it about it that you love?

I like the unrefined nature of it as compared to a white sugar. I know this sounds crazy, but it tastes like sugar as I know it when I was a child as opposed to a sweetener like white sugar. It has a slight caramel flavour to it and a fine texture with little molasses pieces. It is available from health food shops or online.

What dishes do you use the ingredient in? I’m developing a few recipes at the moment with it but it’s awesome as a direct replacement for white sugar in most baking recipes. It makes an amazing set custard. 

I really like a little in my coffee in the morning as it adds a nice caramel note to a morning wake-up cup.

Lisa Margan, Margan Restaurant, Broke

What are your must-have ingredients?

Good-quality olive oil. It differs from other oils in that it has flavour, aroma, complexity and texture. I use extra virgin oil for ‘‘finishing’’ and dressing dishes. I also prefer to cook with olive oil for most things, except when high temperatures are required as it has a low smoke point. And I feel lost without fresh lemons in the kitchen as they add necessary acid, freshness and balance to dishes. We have several trees at Margan in our Kitchen Garden – every home should have one. And a quality butter is pretty hard to leave out of the kitchen!

Is it a new obsession or something you’ve been using for some time?

I have always considered these ingredients as essentials and would be lost without them.

What is it about it that you love?

Good olive oil is a little like wine in that it expresses its ‘‘terroir’’ – sense of place / where it is produced. Like wine, it is derived from fruit and there are many different varieties which give different flavours and aromas. It may be spicy, peppery, earthy or slightly bitter. And like red wine, olive oil  has good anti-oxidant properties so is a better fat choice than many. Freshly pressed olive oil is an amazing product and if you can source unfiltered that is even better. It will be cloudy as there will be microscopic bits of olive in there but the flavour is superior. We have olive groves at Margan (mainly used for pickling) but tasting fresh pressed oil from neighbouring groves is incredible. Just add sourdough! There are great Australian oils available (many coming from the Hunter Valley, which I prefer as they are local) and also some seriously good Italian and Spanish ones, which are expensive but worth every cent as they can make even simple ingredients shine.

What dishes do you use it in?  A broad range of cooked and raw dishes  – even some sweet ones such as olive oil cakes.


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