Talk to anyone about the top Tassie restaurants and without fail Stillwater is always on the list. One of the first Tasmanian restaurants to tap into the produce driven style that is now considered critical in all serious eateries, Stillwater is a great showcase for the amazing fare being grown and produced in Tasmania. Head Chef Craig Will has now been at the helm for almost 6 years during which time he and has continued to build the reputation of Stillwater, and been a major driving force behind the emergence of the Tasmanian culinary scene.
1. How would you describe your style?
I describe my cooking style as minimalistic but technical at the same time. I rely on the ingredient that I am using to be at its upmost peak in quality, second rate is not good enough. I like to embrace new waves of cooking styles and food trends so you will see a lot of pickling, fermenting, slow cooking, seeds, nuts, raw etc on my menu
2. Where do you get your inspiration from?
I take inspiration in day to day life for my cooking, whether it is something that I have cooked at home which has sparked an idea that I can work on, or if it is a conversation with a friend or colleague that starts the creative juices flowing. I also like to garden and grow many different vegetables, herbs and flowers in my home and work garden that gives me inspiration.
3. What was the first dish you included on the Stillwater menu when you became head chef?
The first dish that I put on the Stillwater menu when I took the reins almost 6 years ago was a squid ink noodle, spanner crab, coconut and nut oil dish. It had the perfect balance of salt and sweet from the ink and crab and was heightened with the richness of the coconut.
4. What dish have you been most proud of?
The dish that I am most proud of is a dish of ‘Southern rock lobster with mandarin peel puree, celery jelly and creme fraiche’. I was able to use a by-product (mandarin peel) - my favourite fruit - and turn it into something truly unique, and as it turned out, it went very well with seafood. The celery component gave the dish a touch of earthiness, touching on the ocean and earth philosophy. I would use the celery leaves to make celery salt to season the dish with.
5. Stillwater is now a destination restaurant, what do you feel attracts people from outside Tasmania to come all the way here to experience it?
Stillwater has been an icon in the north of the state for almost 16 years and has a good reputation for fine food and excellent service. When speaking to mainlanders and colleagues of mine in mainland restaurants, when Tasmanian restaurants are mentioned it always includes Stillwater as a go to destination, and that is something that cannot be bought.
6. What Tasmanian produce are you enjoying at the moment?
Periwinkles which are hand dived by a local guy Alex Isles, I remember eating them as a kid and haven’t seen them until recently. They have two different textures making them unique in my eyes. They are certainly an acquired taste though.
7. Do you feel Tasmania can produce home grown chefs or do you feel tehy need to have experienced cuisines and work outside of Tasmania?
Tasmania can certainly produce great chefs without having to travel for long amounts of time - I am an example of that as well as former mentors and colleagues. Of course travel does not hurt and I always encourage my apprentices to do so, and I am now in a position where I can travel and experience new cuisines and cultures to build on my skills.
8. What are the must have items in your pantry/kitchen?
The musts in my pantry are of course salt, vinegars, oils and spices, you can make just about anything then
9. How would you describe the Tasmanian food scene right now? What can we do to make it better?
The Tasmanian food scene is in a good place at the moment, we have more people immigrating to our state, from mainland Australia and overseas, bringing with them new food ideas, cuisines and skills to teach us. It has changed dramatically in the 16 years that I have been in the industry. We can only keep building on this idea that is Tasmania
10. If you could only eat one style of food for the rest of your life what would it be?
Japanese or Italian food I could happily eat for the rest of my life
11. What dish would you cook to impress your wife?
Cooking gnocchi for my wife always puts me in the good books, but anything I cook for her makes her happy
12. Fish and chips or Sashimi?
Sashimi over fish and chips if I had to choose
13. What are three dishes or techniques you think every aspiring chef should master?
Aspiring cooks need to learn discipline, patience and knowledge to be a great chef, the rest is easy
SOUTHERN ROCK LOBSTER, MANDARIN PEEL PUREE, CELERY JELLY, CRÈME FRAÎCHE AND CELERY SALT
Serves 6 entree size portions
1x700g Live or green southern rock lobster
1 bunch Celery
100 ml Crème fraîche
150 g Sea salt flakes
50 g Sugar
4 leaves Titanium strength gelatine leaves
1 pinch White pepper
micro greens for garnish
600 g Whole Imperial mandarins
1.3 lt Water
50 g Sugar
150 g Mandarin peel from Part 1
2 tbsp Water
1 tbsp Lemon juice
100 g Mandarin peel from Part 2, drained
3 tbsp Cream
1 tbsp Mandarin juice
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tbsp Water
1 tbsp Unsalted butter
1. Pick all of the leaves off the celery stalks and place into a dehydrator and dehydrate over night until crispy or you can dry the leaves in the sun for a couple of days. Once dry, place leaves into a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and blend until a fine powder is achieved, mix through the sea salt flakes, store in a brown or green jar to prevent the salt from loosing its colour.
2. Using a juicer, juice the celery, measure quantity, you need one leaf of gelatine to every 100 ml of liquid i.e.. 400ml = 4 gelatine leaves. Soak gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes, heat celery juice slightly warmer than blood temperature with 15 g of sugar, squeeze liquid from the gelatine and add to the celery juice, stir to dissolve, pass through a fine strainer and set in greased trays about 4 mm thick. Place into fridge, once set use a round cutter to cut out circles to be draped over the lobster medallions.
3. In a mixing bowl, place the Crème fraîche, zest the lime, lemon and orange using a fine grater and add to the Crème fraîche, add remaining sugar, the juice of the lime and a pinch of the celery salt and white pepper. This is best made a day in advance to allow the mixture to stiffen up.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, if using a live lobster place in the freezer for 2 hours to dispatch humanly. Place lobster into the boiling water, and reduce heat slightly, for a 700 g lobster, cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and refresh the lobster in ice water, cool for 30 minutes. Remove all of the meat from the shell and slice the tail into 1 cm thick medallions, chop remaining meat and arrange on top of each medallion, set aside in fridge until required.
For Mandarin Peel Puree
1. Peel mandarins then bring the skins to the boil 3 times in a cold water start to remove all bitterness (remaining mandarins can be juice and frozen for other uses). Place blanched peel into a clean saucepan with the water and sugar and cook for 30 minutes. Stain and discard liquid.
1. Bring all ingredients to a slow simmer and cook for 10 minutes, remove from heat and refrigerate mixture over night
1. Warm all ingredients together in a saucepan, but don’t boil. In a blender, blend warm mixture until a fine puree is achieved, if small lumps remain, pass through a fine sieve. Cool mix and it is now ready for use.
You can plate this dish any way you desire, but it is best if you use small amounts of the mandarin peel puree as it can sometimes be too over powering.
Imperial mandarins are best for this recipe as they have a distinct flavour, they are in season through the colder months, so this can be made and frozen for later use. Other varieties of mandarins are in season for the best part of the year and this recipe can be made with them.