In the midst of COVID, Jamie Carter left his position as sous-chef at Sidewood Estate to “get a change of scenery” in Australia’s Top End. He returned in April this year, his passion for the fundamentals of hospitality at the fore.
An almost year-long stint as a guest chef at luxury lodge Bullo River Station had presented him with an opportunity to connect more directly with the people he was cooking for.
“The station has a maximum of 18 guests at any time, so basically I was their private chef,” Carter said.
“Everything moves a lot slower on a station in terms of logistics and ordering – and having that luxury to move at a less hurried pace also took me back to the fundamentals of what hospitality is about.”
After Bullo River Station, he worked as a chef on the small ships cruising The Kimberley and Australia’s northern coast.
Again, it gave him an insight into the personal experience that chefs can offer to customers and learn from. Meeting diners does not happen in Australia as often as it should, he said.
Sidewood is an award-winning family-owned winery, with the restaurant, cellar door and outdoor spaces designed to welcome everyone from young adults and families to people looking for an elevated dining experience.
Owners Owen and Cassandra Inglis share Carter’s belief that diners should welcomed as guests into one’s home. This is reflected in the restaurant’s décor with inviting caramel leather banquettes and their personal art collection – think Charles Blackman, John Olsen and others’ work – hanging on the walls.
Executive chef Jamie Carter is going back to the fundamentals of hospitality
“We do try to get out, really interact and bridge that gap between the back of house and the guest experience,” Carter said, adding that in doing so they also create a point of difference for the restaurant and encourage people to become regulars.
“We’re a family at Sidewood and that’s the energy I really want portrayed through our food.
“I like to describe my shared plates menu as having ‘intricate simplicity’ with seasonal ingredients and everything – curing, pickling, whatnot – done inhouse if we can.”
Venison and other meats are sourced from local suppliers in the Adelaide Hills, the seafood is all South Australian and sustainably caught, and they use one local fruit and vegetable supplier because “it’s about having that relationship with suppliers so you know what the best quality products are for the time and only using those”.
Carter said delivering a tempting and interesting menu was about “reading what guests are after”, with the 5-course Chef’s Selection allowing a curated discovery of dishes.
This season’s menu features tea smoked duck breast with spiced carrot, oyster mushroom, fennel and orange. For dessert, there’s a mulberry tart with sangria gelato and Turkish delight fairy floss.
Across the estate, and particularly for the weekend outdoor events, they also do an enormous number of wood oven pizzas and focaccias. Carter estimates that around 700 balls of dough are rolled each week, keeping two part-time staff occupied with only that task.
Perhaps counterintuitively, pizza is the dish that actually requires the longest preparation time.
There is a five-day prove on the dough, something that Carter picked up from “all that best Italian chefs” that he has worked with.
The longer time enables the natural sugars in the flour to ferment and, together with a tiny amount of sourdough starter, it makes for a lighter dough with an “authentic bread flavour” and a distinctive leopard print to the cooked crust.
Being in charge of the kitchen, he is looking to “create a chameleon” that can cater for everyone and entice guests to try every aspect of the food offering.
“They can have a pizza, relax on the grass and listen to music on a Sunday and, if they’re curious about our other offering, they’ll come again to experience the restaurant.”
Sidewood’s hospitality in welcoming guests to feel at home is obviously working.
“We have a lot of regular clientele, who come up every weekend to enjoy our hospitality, whether they’re in the restaurant or kicking back on the grass.”