Tasting and touring 'Down Under'

15 April 2016

From watching kangaroos jump across a sheep paddock to walking on Manly beach, a group of seven "food influencers" from the United States will head home this weekend after a week long immersion in all things Australian.

MLA's North America office organised the tour to illustrate the paddock-to-plate journey of Australian grassfed beef and lamb to the group comprising restaurateurs, media, corporate chefs and food industry advisors.

This week, the group went from Sydney restaurants to watching a carcase being broken down at the Manildra Meat Company's Cootamundra, NSW, plant.  The Cootamundra component of the trip included visits to lamb and cattle enterprises owned by Doug and Barb Tozer, Phil and Margie McGeoch and James and Emma Baldry.

We caught up with two participants to discover their tour highlights.

Robert Sisca, Corporate Executive Chef at Providence G on Rhode Island, won his spot on the trip after taking out an MLA-sponsored Australia grassfed lamb recipe creation competition with his lamb neck ragu. Robert oversees three restaurants and a function centre with 100 staff preparing a minimum of 500 meals a day. Currently, Providence G is serving Australian spring lamb tartare - diced raw lamb mixed with herbs, cornichons, eschallots and a raw quail egg, served with purple potato chips.

What Robert will take home: "This trip will have a big influence on my menu planning - already I'm thinking of simple dishes which celebrate food at its freshest, just like I've tasted here in Australia. I've always been a lover of Australian and US lamb and have made it my business to visit as many farms as I can, wherever they might be. The flavour profiles of Australian and US lamb are different so I use them according to the dish I want to create. Just recently we hosted a large function and I served Aussie lamb lollipops (cutlets) and everyone said they were their favourite thing on the night. I've learnt a lot about traceability and the quality assurance which goes into producing Australian red meat."

Pam Smith is an Orlando based nutritionist and menu/restaurant developer and has worked with some of the largest food outlets in the US including the Hyatt Hotels, Disney, Darden Restaurants, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52. She has recommended Australian grassfed beef and lamb for years for its better calorie and fat profile and omega 3 content. The latest trend, according to Pam, is wholesome, fresh food with good traceability and nutrient content - but not at the cost of flavour. The focus must be on what to put into dishes, not what to leave out.

What Pam will take home: "I've loved learning first hand the amazing story of Australian farming and processing – the passion and commitment to giving the best quality of life to their animals, including their care of the pastures. It was fascinating to see how Australian farms grow crops which can feed the animals in winter and then go on to produce a food crop at the end, like grain or oil -- it's a beautiful symbiotic cycle.  I just fell in love with the farming families we met.  It was also vital for me to see the humane treatment at processing and the respect shown for using every part of the animal – I am taking back an incredible story."

Peter Millard, Manildra Group Director, who joined the tour for two days, said the company saw hosting the group at the Cootamundra plant, which processes 4000 head of small stock a day and employs 260 staff, as a win-win.

"North America is an important export destination for Manildra and we can learn from people who are leading the way in their food and restaurant sector just as much as they can learn from us," he said. About half of the meat processed by Manildra is export destined, with the Middle East and North America the two largest export customers.

"We've always had a policy of opening our doors to visitors and I think this tour really appreciated the transparency along the Australian supply chain."

More information: Catherine Golding E: cgolding@mla.com.au


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