As Brisbane’s most prodigious rockstar chef, Alastair McLeod is a true city culinarian. With a background that covers quite a few countries around the globe, his multicultural diversity sees Torres Strait Islander, Sri Lankan, Danish, Filipino and Spanish blood running through his veins. Belfast-born, European-cultured and Brisbane-formed, Alastair represents a melting pot of cultures, where his emphatic and pleasantly lilting Irish accent brings kitchen staff to a standstill and table guests into a world of foodie discovery and experimentation. And with a mother famed for her career on the radio waves and on the stage as an actor, singer and musician, he brings these ingrained traditions in performance to the kitchen and the table, where his food remains a tribute to fresh produce, innovative techniques and cutting-edge presentation.
Some decades since first wrapping his hands around his kitchen knives, Alastair’s experiences across the world have honed his hunger for culinary freedom and innovation into an acute charge. He initially exercised his blades in restaurants across Europe, from La Fregate in Collioure, France to The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow, Scotland; his cuisinier skills particularly being ground by Michelin-listed restaurants, Roscoff in Belfast Ireland, and Da Giovanni in Torino, Italy. His restaurant expertise remains renowned throughout Brisbane, thanks to previously illustrious stints at Bretts Wharf and Tank Bar & Laneway Dining where his most recent foodie foray into catering, markets and a product line sees the launch of Al’FreshCo onto Brisbane’s foodie scene. Add this to his media commitments with ABC Radio, Channel 10’s Ready Steady Cook, Channel 7’s Queensland Weekender, his work with Brisbane News and such charity duties as Variety of Chefs Ball, and Alastair has quite the hefty kitchen munitions to keep honed.
With all that in mind, we thought it was time to aim the spotlight on Alastair’s Top Regional Flavours Dishes.
These dishes are a love letter to the very best local Winter produce. In Ireland, Winter was a season I endured all year round. But the beauty about Winter in Queensland is that it’s a prolific growing time. Winter ingredients make me cook in a different way: with a lower heat, a bigger pot and much less frippery. The results are dishes as delicious as they are unfashionable, yet full of goodness, texture and depth.
Mashed potatoes made with organic Lockyer Valley Dutch creams are a culinary moment. Add kale and green shallots, and you have a dish that the Irish have enjoyed for hundreds of years. Today it continues to provide ballast for almost every Irish table and fine dining restaurant alike.
LOCKYER VALLEY RIBOLLITA
The Ribollita is a lusty, hearty soup that fortifies and fuels. The name translates to ‘re-boiled’ because it was originally made by re-boiling leftover minestrone and bread. It makes terrific use of Winter greens – think kale, broccoli, cavalo nero or rocket – and the consistency should be somewhere between a soup and a stew.
ROASTED CARROT CAPONATA
Caponata is an Italian dish of eggplant and tomatoes, characterised by an ‘agro-docle’, sour-sweet sauce. Substituting the eggplant for carrot – or even pumpkin – makes for a terrific accompaniment to roast chicken. Cinnamon adds a terrific layer of flavour that accentuates the carrots and tomatoes.
SLOW COOKED LAMB, CARAMELISED BEETROOT, WHIPPED GOATS CHEESE
This lamb could not be simpler. Place a boned lamb shoulder in a baking tray, combine extra virgin olive oil, crush garlic, bay, thyme and rosemary in a bowl, then pour or scatter over the lamb. Season generously with sea salt and freshly milled pepper, cover and bake. Local beetroot can be prepared in myriad of ways – even raw. I did it recently by cutting it into gossamer thick slices and caramelised it with sugar until it wilted.
WINTER SALAD OF CAULIFLOWER, BROCCOLI STALK AND CELERY
Salads are not just the preserve of summer. This salad has texture and colour, and is the prefect expression of Winter with a dressing of anchovy, capers, lemon and garlic to give it real vitality.
Photo Credit: courtesy of Lockyer Valley Regional Council