Friday, March 21, 2014

On the Road Trip - Australia - Foragers Field Kitchen, Pemberton, Western Australia

After crossing the Nullarbor, from east to west, we finally arrived in beautiful Pemberton late afternoon. We were weary of driving long distances and downright impatient and cranky with one another. We had really underestimated just how ‘bloody far’ it was to cross the Nullarbor Plain and then the vast state of Western Australia to arrive in the Southern Forest region and our next stop Pemberton. 
Our only saving grace that afternoon was the comforting thought, that due to the caravan parks having a seven night minimum stay over the Christmas/New Year period and the impossibility of booking anywhere, we had opted out of the tent and booked three nights accommodation, in a self contained, farm chalet at Foragers Field Kitchen in Pemberton.  

We were warmly greeted by chef and co-owner Sophie Zalokar and told we would be staying in the end chalet right on the bushland, known as 'Truffle', sitting alongside but amply spaced apart from the other farm chalets 'Maron', 'Chestnut', 'Angus', 'Delaware, and 'Hass'. 

Our chalet turned out to be far more luxurious than we were expecting, magnificently crafted by the other half of this talented team, co-owner, cabinet maker and husband to Sophie, Chris Zalokar. What a delightful sight it was for us worn out travellers to see fresh linen and plump pillows! A knock on the door an hour later, with Sophie delivering freshly baked sour dough, hand churned butter and home made strawberry jam, as our complimentary breakfast basket for the next morning, seemed to evaporate the tension of our long drive, in an instant.

Pemberton is one of the largest towns in the Southern Forest region, surrounded by national parkland filled with imposingly tall and yet wonderfully endearing Karri trees, it truly is a beautiful place.

All this aside for a moment, the real reason I was visiting Pemberton was to stay at Foragers Field Farm Kitchen and Cooking School. I was keen to eat and enjoy Sophie’s food, this lady cooks with enviable talent, coupled with simplicity and an undeniable passion for local produce. I had come across Foragers on the web, when we last visited the Margaret River region of Western Australia three years back. However, since that brief sojourn did not allow for a trip to Pemberton, I still had the desire, lodged in my travel sub conscious, as something yet to be experienced. We were ever so fortunate to be there for New Year’s Eve and had booked in for what proved to be a very delicious, shared table, many course meal, with more of the freshly baked sourdough and hand churned butter on offer in between.
We had spent our first day in Pemberton, taking it easy in our new luxurious surrounds, it had been sometime since we had experienced such comfort, so why get back in the car we thought, instead we lapped it up. Our slow morning, included a breakfast cooked by me of poached eggs, tomatoes, avocado and vintage cheddar, served on the home baked sourdough. This was enjoyed on the lovely little deck of our chalet overlooking the farm and forest. 

In the afternoon we took a stroll around the Foragers property, to see the farmhouse, the kitchen garden, the orchard, the many farm animals ranging from a variety of hens, ducks, a jersey cow, a pet rabbit named Reggie and some very contented looking Wessex Saddleback pigs. 

There was also an abundance of wildlife, happy to be observed from a distance, including vibrant, emerald green parrots and inquisitive kangaroos.

That evening, New Year’s Eve, we got dressed in our finest, leaving our rubber thongs, sunhats and fly swats in the chalet, we grabbed a bottle of McLaren Vale Sauvignon Blanc from our camp cellar door stores and meandered up to the restaurant for dinner. It was such a special night, I felt incredibly thankful for the year 2013 that was about to end, for all the hard work, successes and challenges it had presented us all as a family. I was also grateful for the opportunity and privilege to be doing this road trip together. Finally, I was ever so excited for the great pleasure of being cooked for that evening, particularly by someone who inspires me to grow in my passion for food. 
The dinner was a shared table experience, with Sophie showcasing the local produce of the surrounding region.

We began with a glass of bubbles and a delightful morsel, Cauliflower & Parmesan Croquettes. It has been sometime since I have eaten a croquette, these were delectable and nothing like the stodgy potato ones, we were taught and attempted to perfect in my first year of the Commercial Cookery Course some twenty seven years ago now! 

Our starter featured the famous local marron, Maron, Pickled Samphire, Wood-roasted Baby Carrot, Avocado & Buckwheat Salad. The flavour combinations just worked, the tenderness of the marron, plump perfectly ripe avocado, the crunch of the carrot and buckwheat, plus the zing of the pickled Samphire, made for a both refreshing and delicious dish. 

The best was really yet to come with the arrival of our main, Duck Confit, Spiced Blueberries & Parsnip Cream, Baked Spaetzle with Leek, Summer Salad greens & Mustard Vinaigrette
It is a talent in itself to cook duck well, this was perfectly done, succulent on the inside, crisp on the outside and coupled with the parsnip puree and the pickled, spiced blueberries it was a celebration of flavours gathering together in my mouth, it was faultless! 

I would have been happy to stop right there, however my very enthusiastic new friend that I was seated next too, apparently a regular guest at Sophie’s events, primed me that the dessert was always her favourite and I should get ready. Out came a stunningly simple creation, Poached Peaches, Lavender Honey Cream & Salted Lemon Shortbreads, the peach standing in all it’s elegance, surrounded by a sea of honey, lavender cream and a melt in your mouth shortbread as the crown, it was superb.  

At the completion of the meal, Sophie emerged from the kitchen, rang the bell to get the contented diners attention and proceeded to warmly and passionately, share her inspiration for each dish and the local produce that had been featured. To say I enjoyed every single minute of this evening would be no exaggeration, so inspiring, such a highlight of our adventure so far for me.
After farewelling our fellow diners and thanking Sophie & Chris for their brilliance and such a lovely evening, we departed the dining room back to our chalet. Being that it was New Years Eve and now only 11.30pm, we decided to drive five minutes into the main street of Pemberton to see their famed NYE midnight fireworks display. Standing on the footpath outside the local pub, in this small country town, amongst about three hundred other locals, tourists, backpackers and revelers, we witnessed a grand effort by the local blokes. Those letting off the fireworks were donned in welding helmets and masks to save injury, as they scurried to and fro lighting the crackers, it was simple, it was loud, it was perfect. We returned to the car and back to the comfort of the chalet, content in the knowledge we had heralded in 2014, with what would probably be, a never repeated and most unique New Year’s Eve celebration for us.
New Year’s day arrived and we went exploring the Pemberton treasures, with a visit to Warren National Park and a drive to the Bicentennial Tree and along the picturesque Heartbreak Trail. We did not climb the sixty five metre high Bicentennial Tree, our excuses being that Jake was still recovering from his recent surgery and health drama, Mr G is not keen on heights beyond reasonable doubt and my motherly common sense prevailed, that it was indeed fraught with great potential to fall. We instead sat at the bottom and looked up, watching a young, enthusiastic pair of backpackers successfully do the climb!

The heartbreak trail was a lovely drive, stopping and getting out at regular intervals to see the beauty of the Warren River, kick the football and explore the remote camping and fishing spots on offer.

Later in the day we walked through the town of Pemberton, with its wide main street, heritage cottages and barrels of potted colour lining the footpaths.

This gorgeous Jacaranda tree in full flower, the backyard clothes line filled with lots of colourful washing drying in the sunshine and the painted outhouse beyond, was a wonderful pop of colour amongst the dry dirt roads and towering Karri trees of Pemberton.

Our time in Pemberton was drawing to a close, on our drive back to the chalet we spotted emus by a dam on a neighbouring property.

And a delightful road side vegetable shack.

We enjoyed our final evening of extravagance in the chalet, refreshed and ready to hit the road again, in a much happy state of mind, than how we had arrived a couple of days earlier. As the light began to fade, the kangaroos came out from the edge of the forest to forage for their tea. We had packed the car and boat ready to depart in the morning, to head south to the bottom of the coast of Western Australia to Peaceful Bay. What awaited us was to turn out to be some of the most beautiful coastline, beaches and bays Australia can boast and we had all the time in the world to enjoy them.

Foragers Field Kitchen

Sophie & Chris Zalokar
1 Roberts Road
(cnr Roberts Rd & Pemberton Northcliffe Road)
Pemberton WA 6260
Telephone: (+61 8) 9776 1580 Facsimile: (+61 8) 9776 1503 Email:

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