Robert Jones pulls an apron over his red long sleeve shirt to serve a freshly smoked trout in the Tuki Trout Farm restaurant.
A staff member had caught the trout from one of the farm’s ponds that can be seen through the restaurant just 10 minutes before.
He then prepared the trout and cooked it before Robert presented it to the customer in his signature ‘performance-like’ style – first offering him the cheek of the trout, and explaining the process as he takes the flesh off the bone.
While this fish was caught by a member of staff, many visitors to the Smeaton farm decide to catch their own before sitting down at the restaurant to eat it.
It is a link that directly connects the consumer to the produce on the farm in what Robert describes as a ‘hunter gatherer’ type way.
“It is very good for your soul to have that connection to your food,” he says.
“I think hunting and gathering hasn’t been embraced. We worship the supermarket too much.”
Every item served in the restaurant is sourced from the Tuki farm; trout, seasonal vegetables, lamb and beef, with a registered butchery on farm.
Produce is also sold directly to customers and to restaurants and cafes in the region.
Tuki was a working farm before adding the restaurant, trout fishing and accommodation options for visitors more than 34 years ago.
“We went into tourism when people didn’t think about tourism much and we went into regional food when people didn’t have a great appreciation of regional food,” he says.
“These days people are very discerning on where their food comes from… here they can have a full connection on a working farm… We are the producers, we are the hosts and we cook and serve to our guests.”
While Tuki has a long established relationship with customers and buyers, the farm will join a new Ballarat initiative designed to promote the region’s producers and connect them to chefs, venues and consumers.
The team behind new food festival Plate Up Ballarat is preparing to launch Eat, Drink, West in March – a web directory of ingredients and farms that will access to local producers via one channel.
Eat, Drink, West director Kate Davis says she identified a need and demand to connect local producers to chefs, cafes, restaurants and consumers after the 2018 Plate Up Ballarat event, while many chefs continued to ask where to find specific local ingredients.
“We have had the desire and a push from both sides – from chefs and cafes saying it is a product they will use and from the producers saying ‘yes you can help us connect’,” she says.
“Consumers want to go to farm gates, want to visit cellar doors and want fresh produce. Chefs who are busy want local produce but don’t have time to go and find it. We have found especially the smaller primary producers are so busy within their business they don’t have time to go out, market it and sell it.
“We can connect everyone and be the story of food in Western Victoria as well.”
The Eat Drink West website will provide details of a producer’s location, opening hours, website link and map, along with the dining venues which include the produce on their menus. It is expected to be launched in March.
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