A past MasterChef contestant has gone back to her original place of work but former marketing manager Heather Day is not in the office anymore.
When the final is won and the shining lights of television fade, the real race towards a future in gastronomy begins. For some MasterChef contestants it is the end of their professional food dreams and they go back to previous lives. For others it is just the beginning. Some land their own TV series or on demo stages around the country, taking the media approach to food. Others release a cook book or two and perhaps their own retail range, and then there are those who are passionate about forging a career in the industry.
For Heather Day it was a little from each. The former marketing manager for Howard Vineyard jumped from the office into a whirlwind media cycle, created her own range of cultured butters under the Hey Day Butter brand along the way, and then finally into the kitchen — landing the role as head chef for Howard Vineyard’s Clover Restaurant.
Tasting and ‘feed-me’ menus require balance above all else, and Clover’s shared banquet is a great way to showcase dishes dominated by fresh ingredients, many of them sourced from the nearby kitchen garden.
Salt and pepper squid is crispy and flavourful; the curls of the seafood rest on bean shoots and are topped with thinly sliced green chillies while a translucent sauce offsets the peppered crust. Fist-sized buns stuffed to the brim with minced Chinese-style pork are devoured with guilty pleasure. Some of the best I’ve tried outside of Hong Kong.
A dish that resembles a giant prawn cracker is filled with salmon, sweet corn kernels and avocado to create a mini poke-bowl. The cracker is actually a crispy shell made using cassava, a root vegetable with a woody flavour. The menu makes the most of classic South-East Asian concepts with an informed, redefined finish.
South Australian seafood is highlighted as the main filling for soft tortillas. The fish is beer battered and teamed with a little salad mix and topped with wasabi mayonnaise. Zingy, spicy, crunchy and fresh. Perhaps a little more Spanish than Asian but a welcome addition all the same, and nicely paired with Howard’s Cabernet Rosé.
The chef’s signature is more evident in seared steak with a pungent and expertly spiced chimichurri sauce. And then a fluffy bao bun is stuffed with a roughly hewn coleslaw of sorts, artfully presented with a sliver of eggplant and bunch of shiitake mushrooms, fried golden. This takes only a few bites to finish, but leaves a lingering earthy flavour laced with spice from a dash of chilli sauce.
Dessert arrives to cool tantalised palates as a sweet vanilla flavour shines through the perfectly formed panna cotta whose dome wobbles only slightly as the dish lands on the table. A single freeze-dried raspberry is a suggestive addition on top, and its sweet and sour flavour creates another delightful combination with finely shaved toasted coconut rounding out the dish. Even in the final course, balance is everything.
Day’s food is simple yet confident, nothing is overly heavy and she isn’t shy about using bold flavours. The combination of this modern Australian take on Asian cuisine with Howard Vineyard wines is certainly a winning match.
Lot 1, 53 Bald Hills Road, Nairne
Open Sundays, 12pm to 3pm
Photography: Sia Duff