ALASTAIR McLeod realised cooking should be about shining a spotlight on food producers, and not ‘bloody chefs’ in the same place he discovered a passion for his craft — France.
It was around six years after he began working as a 19-year-old in kitchens, who didn't really have a passion to cook, but simply wanted a job.
“In France, we were cooking with ingredients that were sourced very locally — long before it became somewhat hipster. We were using local ingredients, we were cooking only the dishes from the region, we were only serving wine from the region. It was a real sense of parochialism,” he explains.
“If I were back in the restaurant that I worked at (today), the menu would be the same. They would see no need to follow fashion, they’re using ingredients that have been grown there for centuries, cooking dishes that are part of the culture, part of the DNA of that particular region.
“Whilst the French are very dogmatic and have a real sense of time and place with their cooking, I like that. It was never about the bloody chef. It was about the produce, the producer — the chef was merely a tradesman and it really resonated with me.”
It is a philosophy that he is proud to embrace all these years later as a proud Samford local and celebrity chef with a platform to, hopefully change the world — one meal at a time.
In the nearly seven years he, wife Ashleigh and their family have lived in Samford, they’ve connected with local producers and the wider community.
They’ve gone from living in inner city Brisbane where they didn’t know their neighbours, to knowing everyone around them and hosting Samford Harvest dinners in the Samford Farmers Hall every quarter.
“Ashleigh and I have done this off our own bat, created the website, created the conversation, created I like to think of it as change in consideration from whence your produce comes,” he explains.
“The last one sold out in under two hours. As much as it is about food, it’s about community and it’s very little to do with me. I am merely the cook, I am the tradesman. It’s about shining a light on the farmers, the growers, the producers of the region. We have them on stage, they talk about what they grow, why they grow it, why they like living there. Everyone walks out a bit tiddly, they walk out an inch taller with their chest out.”
Through the dinners, their catering business AL’freshCO, and his role as presenter on The Great Day Out, Alastair has formed close bonds with many local producers including Loop Growers’ Alice Star and Phil Garozzo, Millen Farm’s Arran Heideman, Blue Dog Farm’s Jacki Hinchy, Luvaberry’s Mandy Schultz and Basilea’s Sarah Heath.
Alastair says he has a sense of responsibility, when cooking with their produce not to mess around with it, cut it into odd shapes and overshadow its flavour.
“We clearly identify with our business there’s no link between how tricky something is and how delicious it is. What that speaks of is of confidence, having the confidence to just allow the ingredient to shine,” Alastair says.
He says the Moreton Bay region is home to a diverse range of food producers and it’s important we support them, so they are there for generations to come.
“The average age of a farmer in Australia just over 100 years ago was 21, the average age of a farmer in Australia today is over 70. Where’s that going to end if we continue to import over half our fruit and vegetables and 70 per cent of our seafood?” he asks.
“It’s a complex thing and it’s going to be hard to change the whole world, but we can change our own individual worlds and our households.
“There are a lot of layers to it, but the solution is right under our noses and that’s our mouth and choosing what we put in our mouth. It does take a slight change in golf swing to say I’m going to go up to Millen Farm, I’m going to do my shopping there every Wednesday rather than just stopping at (the supermarket in) Keperra on my way through.”
Alastair believes there are moral, financial and ethical reasons why we should seek out local produce. He loves the romance of waiting for strawberries, asparagus and broccoli to come in to season, and he loves that home cooks at his demonstrations are keen to learn more. “The conversation seems to be not how did you make that, but where did those ingredients come from?,” he says.
“Whether people are acting on that, I’d say there’s still a gap there. There’s work to be done on all aspects of what we’re choosing to put on our family’s plates. I think the conversation is changing.”
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