A new concept has been developed to help unearth and market our local produce industry. We speak with Rowan Kos about the Manning Valley Produce Dinner.
Where did you grow up?
Near the top of the Bobin Valley, especially in the creeks. I schooled at Bobin Public School then onto Wingham High, graduating in ‘93.
Was there a significant moment when you realised the power of local produce in the Manning Valley?
Much more than a specific moment, it’s history that carries the power. With our family being rural I was fortunate to truly live off the land for a time with my parents, and looking back now, we really enjoyed the best of it.
I was very lucky yet we can all enjoy some of that fresh local produce today.
I think we need to look back into the past and get back to basics a little in order to truly appreciate how great the Manning Valley can be. It’s great to be out in the countryside touring the Valley.
Tell us about your dream project, the Manning Valley Produce Dinner and how it all began?
I finally returned to the Manning after a Sydney-based hospitality career, and before too long I began to see how I could assist the local industry through doing my best. I’ve started the dinner on the behalf of many and it’s great to see the shared goals of locals coming together to make this a success.
Take us through the process for the person dining, from ticket purchase to dessert …
Well perhaps begin with a coffee as you secure your ticket early at Raw Sugar Cafe, or while buying local at Granty’s Fruit and Veg, Wingham. It’s not a long wait until the feast that is The Manning Produce Dinner. You arrive that evening at Bowers Cafe and Gallery on sunset and mingle with nibbles and ginger lime bitters, taking in the art exhibition and beautiful countryside view west up the Manning Valley.
At the call to take your seat, you join a group table of eight marked with a unique floral arrangement. The guest producers are introduced and you might enjoy some conversation with the cheesemaker or other featured producer at your table, as Steve and Mary of Wallambah Vale wines pour for you, complementing the surprise entree dish.
After entree the farmers all switch tables and the main course is soon served up in a country style feast of several dishes. It’s a great opportunity to sample the fresh seasonal produce prepared by Chad and Cynthia, who after the main, are introduced to the room.
As you await your dessert, some keen non-driving folks call for bottled wine to share, the farmers switcharoo once more, and the mix of desserts arrives with the prevalence of raspberries being quite welcome. After dessert its the perfect time to sample some fruit and cheese and mingle as fingers are crossed for the hamper giveaway.
Some would argue that buying locally is too expensive or too much effort, but is this really true?
Buying local is actually a vote for lower prices and higher quality. Shopping locally is an environmental solution. Looks can sometimes be deceiving, quality is the true value. Shop local. That’s community.
Why are you so passionate about local produce?
A career in restaurants and bars has taught me that great local produce is the lifeblood of hospitality. A good food establishment is nothing special without quality local produce.
I just can’t forget the efforts of my parents and so many other people, striving to put good food on the table. It’s always great to see the local economy working for the benefit of the whole community.
It’s now no secret that we are getting stung on grocery prices and quality by the corporations, so it’s with passion that I recognise our locals.
Where do you hope this project will be in a year’s time?
I could imagine seeing some small producers growing considerably alongside the dinner. I would hope to see a lot more recognition of local producers in a year’s time, and continuing success for our leading cafe and restaurant businesses.
Do you think the Manning Produce Dinner will put us even more on the map as a ‘dining destination’?
Yes, most certainly. Local chefs are eager to work in a classic country fashion with some great produce, it makes for an extra opportunity to showcase the valley’s bounty. I’m sure some locals will also choose to have more of a holiday right here in the Manning with some great food and country accommodation available.
Chad and Cynthia will be cooking with produce from all over the valley. After the dinner we shall publish details of what they used. The team in the kitchen will also be challenged to incorporate featured produce into the dishes they create.
Diners will share the table with some of our select producers, a unique opportunity for a yarn.
Our featured producers for this dinner are…
Wallambah Vale Wines – Steve and Mary Heap are locals who began their first winemaking venture in 2008. They were hoping to capitalise on the burgeoning local tourism industry and realise their passion for wine and local produce.
They are now producing chardonnay, chambourcin and a chambourcin rose, with verdelho grapevines nearing maturity.
All wines are handcrafted at their Firefly vineyard. It’s not far from Nabiac for those keen to take a day trip up the Wallambah Valley. Steve and Mary are great hosts.
Saxbys Soft Drinks – This iconic local soft drink producer needs little introduction, however it’s a pleasure to acknowledge the company’s outstanding contribution to local industry, not too mention consistently great drinks. The latest Saxbys drink is indeed a world class pre-dinner drink and mixer.
Bowarra Bio-dynamic Beef – Bruce and Belinda Robertson are pleased to be supplying bio-dynamic certified fresh beef for this dinner. Finished on mixed pastures for real flavour, their beef goes out in fresh packs to lucky customers both locally and in Sydney.
Koorainghat Berries – Ron Humphries farms seasonal berries in a valley running through the Koorainghat forest. He is currently offering a limited supply of raspberries, available from Granty’s at Wingham.
Marrook Farm – David and Heidi operate a bio-dynamic certified dairy farm on the Bulga Plateau near Elands. They have been producing high quality yoghurts and cheeses for over 10 years now, receiving accolades outside the region. It’s always possible to buy their yoghurts here via local grocers, yet with cheese demand running hot, we are quite fortunate to be featuring their unique quality produce at the dinner.
Manning Valley Free Range Eggs – This company represents a fantastic local success story, pioneering the free range industry with six farms now in operation. Manning Valley Free Range Eggs provide us with the best fresh eggs, and have been forging the Manning Valley brand through hard work and great produce. It’s a pleasure to welcome them to the table.
A Bella Vita florist of Wingham is proud to be colouring up the dinner.
I would sincerely like to thank both Focus and Barrier Signs for their support of our local industry.
Thank you Rowan.