Shannon Fleming: A chef for all seasons

Last year, Shannon Fleming quit one of Australia’s top restaurants and headed to the Adelaide Hills. Inspired by his new surrounds, Fleming’s culinary project Forgotten Seasons is a catering company with a difference.

It’s just over a year to the day since Shannon Fleming left his job at one of Australia’s best restaurants, Orana, and moved deep into the Adelaide Hills to Forest Range with his young family. His picturesque property is the base for his fledgling culinary company Forgotten Seasons.

For now, Fleming is taking Forgotten Seasons week by week. He takes on catering work if it’s the right fit and hasn’t had to seek work.

“The whole idea is to keep it fairly small,” Fleming says. “I didn’t want to be overrun with more work again, that would have defeated the whole purpose.”

Fleming splits his work time between catering jobs and casual shifts at venues such as Stone’s Throw. The native food enthusiast also consults for companies such as Something Wild, works closely with Ngeringa and guest chefs across the country. His idyllic Hills lifestyle is a million miles from the pressures of a professional kitchen, an environment Fleming called work for 17 years. When he decided to quit Orana and Blackwood, Fleming’s initial plan was to take it easy and spend more time with his family.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Fleming says. He admits the first few months were tough. He worried about his old place of work and his former team.

“It took me a long time to get over that,” he says. “You want to know what’s going on, you want to know if the restaurant’s going well, how this person is going, that person.”

A few months later Orana was crowned Australia’s best restaurant by Gourmet Traveller.

“It wasn’t my award,” he answers when asked about it. “It was their award. They deserved it. They took the restaurant to another level.”

A couple of events helped Fleming grow as a chef: a big cheffing gig and the move to the Hills. The cooking gig was a Viking-inspired event for Unico Zelo in the middle of winter last year called the Feast of Valhalla, which he completed the same weekend as his Hills move.

“It was very different. It was up at Glen Ewin Estate. Brendan Carter [of Unico Zelo] said, ‘We want to do this Feast of Valhalla event; lots of theatrics, big beasts and fire’.

“I slept one hour that weekend,” he laughs. “Moving up here and just being able to spend more time with the kids, it’s better than being in the city, for sure. It all got a bit monotonous. Now everything is different, every day is different. This is mine. This is my inspiration, my playground. I get to do what I want.”

Although it sounds clichéd, Fleming was able to find himself as a chef in his new surrounds.

“Tim Webber from Manon Farms, he’s a really good chef, said to me just as I was resigning from Orana, ‘You’ll be a better cook once you stop cooking’. I think it’s true. I obviously did Orana, Blackwood, Street; it was a lot of work. I was tired. I didn’t spend enough time at home. Once I stopped and stepped back and took it easy for a bit, I now think I’m cooking better food. I’m thinking about things a bit more. I’m reenergised in terms of imagination and creativity. I’m also inspired by what surrounds me. Things I used to find hard, like coming up with new menus, I’m finding a lot easier. I suppose it’s just having time to think. But I’ve still got that drug — I’m still addicted to service. I still work at Stone’s Throw twice a week ‘cause I need to do it.”

His catering menus are based around the vegetables he gets that day and what he forages. A typical catering gig will involve around four or five courses: snacks and finger food of bread, dips, pickles, sliced meat or cold fish and then meat cooked on fire before finishing with cheese or a fruit-based dessert. This rough outline of a menu is just a tease of what he might cook alongside Rebecca Sullivan for Short Days, Long Lunch, a feast part of Winterfest in Port Adelaide.

Catering is just one part of Fleming’s plans for Forgotten Seasons, as his 20 acres of land contains a hidden paddock, which Fleming will eventually fill with rows of native plants. He wants to highlight native ingredients through cooking and farming. Eventually, Forgotten Seasons will be an umbrella brand for three facets of his business: cater, consult and grow.

“My wife organised a couple of gift vouchers for friends over Christmas where I did a tour through the Hills, go foraging, come back here, sort through it, cook and sit out here and have it for lunch. I want to do that for school groups and general tourists, to have that experience of picking something around here, showing how it goes onto the plate and how you can use it.”

Ngeringa is an example of a company that Fleming wants to emulate.

“They’ve got their beef and lamb, veg and wine all under one banner, under one philosophy. That’s what I want to do here, just with a different style of food. It’s long term but it is something I’m working towards.”

Winterfest
Short Days, Long Lunch: an Indigenous Feast
Sunday, July 15, 1pm-6pm
Hart’s Mill, Port Adelaide
portwinterfest.com.au
facebook.com/forgottenseasons

Photography: Sia Duff

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