By Leigh O’Connor.
Being surrounded by her Maltese heritage showcased the importance of good food to Hentley Farm Executive Chef, Clare Falzon.
Meals were associated with tradition, family and memories and this upbringing ignited her own passion for cooking from a young age.
Now in charge of the kitchen at this iconic 17-hatted dining destination in the Barossa Valley, Clare’s career began as a 15-year-old washing dishes at her local Italian restaurant in Sydney.
After a day of decadence in the Barossa, make sure to visit Hentley Farm
for picturesque views and an interior reflecting the landscape with charming stone walls, timber logs, glossy furnishings and a sleek bar holding the promise of sampling estate wine.
Completing her apprenticeship at a club, Clare says she was cooking very basic food but loved being in the kitchen, the satisfaction of cooking a new dish and having good service.
"When I completed my apprenticeship, I moved overseas and lived in London and Amsterdam, where I started working in five-star hotels and Michelin restaurants. I fell even more in love with food and restaurants, learnt how far I could take my profession and what could be achieved,” she tells AGFG.
"I also spent a lot of time travelling throughout Europe and the Middle East, where I experienced so many different foods and cultures and greatly appreciated the effect food has on us all.”
Moving back to Sydney, Clare developed more unique skills, such as charcuterie, baking and cheesemaking while working at Nomad, building up relationships with producers.
"That is why I moved to the Barossa Valley and Hentley Farm – so I could work closely with a community producing exceptional produce. Living and working in this region being surrounded by fresh, seasonal produce – both grown and foraged – is exciting and inspiring. It challenges me to create something new every day.”
Clare describes her cooking style as respectful and purposeful where produce is concerned, highlighting key ingredients and also letting subtle flavours lift each other and shine in their own light.
"I love the creativeness, discovering something new. There is always something to learn and then share with our guests; the relationships between restaurant teams and guests can be very special.
"From exposing a diner to a new ingredient, or how to use it, to going out of our way to make their day a little bit more special, it can be very rewarding.”
For those who like a lean protein packed with flavour punch, try Clare’s recipe for kangaroo loin, pickled baby cucumber and soy dressing
. Make sure the kangaroo is at room temperature before cooking and check the timing as it can become tough and stringy if over-cooked; the pickled cucumbers add taste and texture, along with the soy, mirin and rice wine dressing.