Q&A with Celebrity Chef Matt Moran

November 6, 2013

Celebrity chef and leading restaurateur, Matt Moran, ditches the chef whites and embarks on a foodie adventure, that sees him get down and dirty, discovering some of the best produce and farmers the east coast of Australia has to offer in his brand new series, Paddock to Plate, on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.

After 20-odd years in the industry, the series sees Matt encounter a few food ‘firsts’ – milking a fresh water salmon; spit roasting a rare breed black pig; facing his fear of bees and sharks; truffle hunting; making goat cheese; cooking and tasting ostrich for the first time.

Matt reveals to SHE’SAID’ why his journey of discovery was not only exciting but at times, an emotional one.

Do you think country folk make better chefs/cooks because they have more of an affinity with the land and produce?
Nope! The reason being, I grew up on the land and everyone says to me ‘Geez Matt, you’re a good cook. You must have that romantic story to tell about cooking alongside your Grandmother and your mother…’ But no. I grew up eating meat and three veg. My Grandmother – who was the most beautiful woman in the world, God bless her soul – I reckon she used to put the lamb roast on the day before I got there and the Brussels sprouts on three days before! I tell people I think I started cooking so I could actually get a decent meal!

In an ideal world, do you think all apprentice chefs should do a similar journey to what you have just done to discover where fabulous produce comes from & the passion of the people behind it?
No! I want to keep it all to myself (laughs). My food knowledge is probably better than average, I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years, I live, breathe all things food but the amount I learnt every day, whether it was big or little things, was unbelievable. I had been using this produce for years and sometimes you take it for granted, you really do. Doing this show, sparked something in my brain, my love for food has skyrocketed since.

The series really takes you back to your country roots. Was there any emotional moments for you?
I’m a big, beefy, boofy guy but there really were some emotional moments for me. Lola and Mal Orr, digging potatoes out of the ground at 70 years of age (Episode 3, Wednesday November 20), fifth-generation potato farmers with an annual income of 25 grand, sitting on land worth absolutely millions and millions of dollars. They could sell it, put the money in the bank and live off the interest for rest of their lives. When I asked them why they did it, they said “Because we love it!” That makes you emotional.

Going back to the farm I was born on in Tamworth (Episode 7, Wednesday December 18), that made me emotional.

Cooking all this amazing food made me emotional. It’s a feel-good show.

Every episode there are mind-blowing stories. The real heroes are the people I meet. Incredibly passionate human beings who love what they do. It’s not about the money, it’s about producing the best thing they can. It brought tears to my eyes. Professionally, it was the best 3 months of my life. I feel blessed and am incredibly grateful I got to do it.

Although you’ve been a chef for 25 or so years, the series introduced a few food ‘firsts’ for you…what was the most memorable or surprising?
It was bucket list stuff! Digging for truffles! Getting abalone off the bottom of Bass Strait! Making Holy Goat cheese, it goes on and on! Riding a horse in the Snowy Mountains and cooking the crew bacon and eggs over an open fire on the Snowy River. None stand out more than the other. Every episode was incredible.

Why is it important for Australian’s to know where their food comes from?
People want to know. It’s not a trend or fad. People want to know what they’re eating, where it comes from, how it was grown, whether it’s sustainable, whether it’s been looked after, whether it’s been killed properly. Brands are becoming more popular. People recognise brands and know what’s what. People’s food knowledge has improved a lot in 20 years.

Do you think the large supermarket chains have a lot to answer for?
I can’t go there…but what you’re seeing now, are people being independent. People like Peel Valley Milk in Tamworth, when they got deregulated, owner and dairy farmer Malcolm mortgaged himself to the hilt and built himself a factory. He’s got this super breed of Jersey cows – you put a fork in his cream and it stands up! He pasteurises the milk himself, he bottles the milk himself and he goes out and sells it himself. You can buy it for the same price – or even cheaper – than what you can buy milk at Coles or Woolworths. I am telling you, you don’t taste milk like that anywhere else. It’s incredible, it really is.

How can the average Australian shop and cook more seasonally and locally?
Farmers markets. Talk to the people who are actually growing it and doing it. Learn about what you’re eating. Find out what’s the best. And the folk growing it also often know how to cook it too!

The perception of small artisan producers is that their produce is expensive. For families on a budget, how would you encourage them to support local farmers/businesses and utilise the produce in their weekly meal planning?
I don’t think they’re more expensive. You’re helping them. Farmers certainly aren’t greedy.

If you are on a budget, what are the ‘must have’ pantry or fridge items you need to splash out on to improve the taste of your cooking?
You need a good oil, good butter and good salt. Coming into summer and BBQs, start using secondary cuts. Don’t get lamb chops, get a leg or a shoulder, bone it out, marinate it and whack that on the BBQ. It’s going to taste better and it’s not going to break the bank.

Did this journey improve you as a chef?
I think it improved me as a person! (laughs) I love food and I have done a lot of reality shows – and don’t get me wrong, I am grateful beyond belief for what those shows have done for me and my profile which helped me make Paddock to Plate – I wanted to get back to cooking. I am a cook. The integrity of the produce, these beautiful people and it’s shot beautifully.

Will we be seeing anything from the series on plates at Aria or Chiswick?
Chiswick maybe. It’s not Aria food. I tried to keep the integrity of what we were doing. It’s simple food. Everyone can relate to it, get something out of it and be able to do it themselves.

You only covered the east coast of Australia…do you have plans to venture further afield?
I am a very ambitious person – everyone knows that! I wouldn’t have seven restaurants and businesses if I wasn’t ambitious. When we looked at doing this series, we thought if this is successful, we need to carve Australia up. We did Victoria and a little of NSW in the first series. There’s Tassie, South Australia, Western Australia, Far North Queensland  and the Outback all needing a series of their own.

How do you find the time to do everything you do?
I am very lucky. I have a very understanding family. I have amazing people who have been with me for 15 years and believe in what I do, which allows me to go off and do those things. It all regenerates back into the businesses. People say ‘Well, Matt if you’re not at Aria, who’s cooking?’ and I say ‘The same people who cook when I am there!’ I was filming this in two week stints. It’s my love and my passion.

Christmas is just around the corner…what do we need to be putting on our tables to support local producers? What products/dishes from the series are perfect for Christmas?
The Tamworth episode (episode 7, Wednesday December 18) is a bit of a Christmas episode. We used Quast Turkeys. I am a traditionalist. I love turkey and ham with all the trimmings for Christmas. I cook all day in the kitchen on Christmas Day. Those Quast Turkeys were some of the best turkeys I’ve tasted in my life!

Paddock to Plate, starts Wednesday November 6 at 8.30pm, The Lifestyle Channel on Foxtel. 

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