The farming chef

Green Lifestyle magazine

Chef Steve Earl couldn’t find the local produce he wanted for his new restaurant, so he decided to buy a farm to grow his own gourmet food.

Steve Earl

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Making the sea change to farm life was never going to be easy, but three years ago restaurateur Steve Earl took on a lot more than he bargained for. It’s been one seemingly impossible dilemma after another for Earl to source food locally for his restaurant La Bimba on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria.

“There’s a list about a kilometre long of challenges I’ve faced since buying my own farm to grow my own produce for the restaurant,” reflects Earl. “The biggest challenge is that I didn’t realise how much time the farm was going to need. Animals don’t run to a roster – when they require attention, they require it there and then. Plus, there’s the large vegetable garden and an orchard to look after.

“I never thought that I would actually have a farm of my own. But the idea for the restaurant was to use local produce from The Otways, and when I went in search of local produce I was quite shocked at how scarce it was. Animal ethics are really important, and I wanted to know how the animals are being treated and that they’ve been able to indulge in their natural instincts. So, out of frustration I thought, well, bugger it, I’m going to buy my own farm and try growing my own produce.”

Earl explains the trouble he had understanding the timing of the seasons and knowing when to plant what. Not knowing if his plants and trees would be fruiting at the right time made it hard to plan menus.

“What we can’t source locally, we try and grow on the farm, at least to supplement certain dishes, and to highlight the seasonality. We know we can’t grow enough produce to be able to provide 100 per cent of the produce for the restaurant,” he admits, adding that quite a few more small farmers and producers have popped up in the Otways region recently.

Earl has discovered a beneficial closed-loop relationship between restaurant and farm. “We basically don’t have any green waste; we feed the chickens at the farm, and also Deloris, my Wessex Saddleback truffle-finding pig, eats very well!

“I don’t profess to be a guru or anything, but I find that it’s often more important to buy something locally, even if it isn’t certified organic or biodynamic. If you know that person and you know that that product has been grown in a manner in which you accept, then supporting local producers and local economies is what’s most important. To me it’s about the spirit of the law as opposed to the word of the law, and I think sometimes common sense is lost because we get carried away with buzz words and gimmicks.”