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A bountiful harvest: how local celebrity chef is embracing change

Posted: 8am 06 May 2020

It’s time to break out your best cutlery, and the tablecloth you’ve been saving for that ‘special occasion’, because Samford Harvest has launched a new at-home dining service.

Harvest@Home is the brainchild of celebrity chef Alastair McLeod and his wife Ashleigh McLeod, who also manage catering business Al’freshCo from their home in the Samford Valley.

We caught up with Alastair and his family while they were on the road delivering their buy-online, enjoy-at-home meals. Now that’s a house call with a (delicious) twist!

Industry shake-up

At this time of year, Samford Harvest would normally be busy preparing for weddings and other large-scale events, but COVID-19 swiftly pulled the brakes on those plans.

Alastair admits that when your core market and business model is turned on its head overnight, it can be “very confronting.”

But after dusting themselves off, he says they got back to doing what they do best – cooking.

If you’re looking to create memorable dining moments at home (or, let’s be honest, you’re sick of the mad dash to the grocery store between work and homeschooling) Harvest@Home is the answer.

Gourmet mains, light meals, sides and drinks can all be ordered online at the click of a button and delivered to your door in time for the weekend.

Being the fine food-lovers we are, the idea is being embraced by the Moreton Bay Region community.

“There’s been a real sense of excitement from customers,” says Alastair. “This is something different from the usual takeaway – this is an occasion.”

Restaurant-quality meals at home

What’s on the menu, you ask? Harvest@Home dishes include salmon wrapped in prosciutto with crushed minted peas; beef, pork and chicken meatballs; boneless shoulder of lamb with ancient grains and pomegranate; slow-cooked beef cheek; and Indian King prawn and eggplant curry.

Alastair says caramelised pumpkin with Verjuice, a la Maggie Beer-style, is also on the cards.

“It’s not just a ‘take the lid off the tub’ situation,” he says of the hearty meal choices, which are changed up every week to showcase seasonal produce.

Much more than your standard takeaway, Alastair explains there is a “commitment” from the buyer, where there are one or two easy steps to complete at home and make the meal really special.

All he asks is that there is to be no TV watching while you sit down to enjoy, relax, and celebrate with family. Cheers to that!

Green shoots of recovery

While, like many businesses across the country, the corporate aspect may be slow to emerge for Samford Harvest, it is starting to see the green shoots of recovery.

“We’ve already had Zoom meetings with brides and grooms…there’s lot of talk about future plans,” says Alastair, who normally caters for 30 to 40 events in an average year.

Times are undoubtedly tough for many but, with his usual upbeat outlook, Alastair insists that “this too shall pass.”

Having spent many years in the fast-paced food industry, the chef and presenter is no stranger to a little improvisation in the face of change.

In fact, turning the heat up has merely fuelled his desire to succeed.

“This necessity to be nimble…you have to be able to react quickly,” he says.

The food ambassador may be a regular on television programs like Queensland Weekender and Ready Steady Cook, but sweeping floors and changing light bulbs are certainly not outside his job description.

Instead of shutting the doors, Alastair’s taken on even more responsibility and hit the road running, along with his wife and young daughter, to personally deliver meals.

Then, it’s back to the kitchen to work his magic.

“As a chef, I’m finding a real sense of purpose,” he says. “It’s soulful.”

It just goes to show that remuneration isn’t the key driver at play, but rather the unwavering passion, dedication and collaboration from businesses right across the Moreton Bay Region.

While sourcing produce locally is the obvious (not to mention, tastiest) choice, Alastair adds that it also comes with a good deal of responsibility and respect.

“Recent weeks have really crystallised that unyielding connection between chef and producer.”

Samford Harvest has forged working relationships with many Moreton Bay Region producers, including Blue Dog Farm, LuvaBerry, and Loop Growers.

Millen Farm planning a bigger, bolder return

Another producer with strong links to Samford Harvest, and doing its part in keeping the local supply chain alive and well, is Millen Farm.

With its regular markets on hold, the Samford Valley-based community organisation has announced home-delivered (or click and collect) Farmers Market Boxes.

As lead farmer Arran Heideman explains, once social distancing was introduced, the move to an online platform became a priority – a modern problem called for a modern solution!

And it’s paid off.

Arran says Millen Farm is now able to reach even more customers by delivering as far as Warner, Ferny Grove, and Ferny Hills for the first time.

“We’ve stepped over the range, so to speak.”

The boxes – which feature leafy greens, fruit and vegetables, along with optional extras like Little Tree Bake and Brewhouse sourdough, eggs and raw honey – are already proving a hit.

So much so, Arran says they will continue even when regular markets resume.

“Running a small farm allows you to transition sideways, or even in a completely different direction, quite easily and quickly,” he says, revealing there are some exciting plans in the works.

With many Moreton Bay Region locals getting back to basics and trying their hand at cooking and gardening to beat the isolation boredom, Arran looks forward to jumping back into workshops next year.

“For us, there’s plenty of opportunities moving out of this for people to learn new skills.”

In addition to equipping city-dwellers with gardening know-how, and building on its food box delivery service, Millen Farm hopes to return to its original Samford Valley site in an increased capacity.

“We now have the opportunity to come back stronger, and even bigger and better than before,” Arran says.

“We are in the process of getting ahead of the game.”

Get in touch, find out more

Are you a budding gardener with a green thumb? Millen Farm is always on the hunt for volunteers and new ways to collaborate with local producers.

If you’d like to order a Farmers Market Box or find out more about work opportunities, head to the Millen Farm website or Facebook page.

To experience a taste of luxury dining at home, check out Harvest@Home for prices and delivery locations. Fresh is undoubtedly best, and this is your chance to buy local and support local.

Want to know more about how our community is supporting those doing it tough? Head to our blog

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