In September 2012, Chef Gavin Baker took a few days off from opening restaurants on the west end of Collins Street in Melbourne and took his nomadic restaurant concept, Mist, to the Adelaide Festival. The project, which originally premiered in a ski town in the Rocky Mountains in 2008, celebrates local foods, flavours, artists and traditions. We caught up with the chef to learn more about what made Mist:Adelaide special.
How does a Melbourne-based, chef-turned-CEO end up cooking a degustation dinner in an outdoor kitchen in Adelaide? My business partner and good friend Pete Evans stopped to eat in Bistro Dom while passing through Adelaide and had a chat with the chef, Duncan [Welgemoed]. Duncan mentioned that he was putting together dinners for Lola’s Pergola and needed 10 chefs from around Australia. Pete’s familiar with The Mist Project and suggested Duncan get in touch with me. Once Duncan had seen some of our work with past Mist events he thought the concept would be a great fit.
Mist dinners are inspired by their location – what influenced the menu for Mist:Adelaide? The reason I wanted to take Mist to Adelaide for Lola’s Pergola was because it was an opportunity to connect with a group of like-minded individuals; whether they were winemakers or farmers or foragers, there’s a very strong food community in Adelaide. The menu was very much inspired by my initial visit to the area: spending time with Duncan and some of his friends including Taras and Amber Ochota from Ochota Barrels and the guys from Alpha Box & Dice Winery; foraging with some of the best foragers in Australia; spending time with seaweed experts; it would take a lot more than 8 courses to capture the wild spirit of the people and the places, but I’m happy with how the experience translated to the menu.
What were the menu highlights? Before I started work on the menu, I spent hours in the South Australian Museum in the Aboriginal culture collection, specifically the hunting/gathering food section – getting back to the earliest roots of what food entailed in that region, looking at what was available and how people made the most of it. Certainly foraging was a highlight, so I wanted the menu to have a strong emphasis on foraged ingredients. Our pig’s head terrine had between 15-20 components that were foraged from Basket Range, from wild radishes to carrot flowers to wild rocket and parsley seed. For our 6th course we made a last-minute decision to cook using a traditional Australian hangi. We marinated local, organic chicken with smoked chillies and garlic and ginger and coriander and all sorts of different flavours, big chunks of sweet potato and some wild lemon leaves that we foraged from the trees, wrapped it all up in banana leaves and buried it/baked it in the earth.
What about highlights of the experience in general? What made Mist:Adelaide so special was the sense of community. All the artists that came together to make everything from props for the tables to making the actual tables themselves; Duncan and his staff; the winemakers; the kindness and generosity and sense of community was just wonderful. It was really, really good to be part of that. More often than not when you’re in the restaurant business you expect that people will come in ready to pass judgment – they’ll place you above or below an experience they’ve had somewhere else, take some photos, blog about it - that’s how we’ve evolved as a restaurant community across the board. But my experience in Adelaide wasn’t like that at all. This was 150 diners, about 12 staff between my team and Duncan and his crew - and no ego anywhere. It was just good, and a lot of fun, and a wonderful thing to be a part of. Quite frankly, I think the industry needs more of it.