“I realised that day the value of the humble spud,” laughs Tasmanian-born Italian-raised chef and Electrolux ambassador Massimo Mele. He’s recalling the time he joined Erinvale Potato farmer, Wayne Adams in the back of the harvesting truck, in Tasmania’s Tamar Valley. Swapping his kitchen whites for work clothes, Mele felt more soil, than chef. “I literally had more dirt in my ear, nose and hair than the potatoes,” he says.
It marks a new beginning for Mele. After 20 years cooking across some of the country’s busiest and best kitchens, he’s turned his focus local – the closer to his Hobart home the better. Opening a new studio kitchen and producing garden, where he plans to host a series of intimate cooking experiences, Mele says local produce is more important than ever. “After working in kitchens for years, I get more excited about where the produce comes from, who grew it and how it needs to be treated,” he says.
Mele believes it’s the feeling of community and close proximity to stunning produce that sets the Tasmanian food scene apart. “There’s a sense of pride among the growers. People love to share their produce and enjoy watching others enjoy it,” he says.
It’s this pride and passion that appeals to him in a producer, also looking for the shared values of integrity, honesty and a sense of humour. “Passionate people always grow the best produce,” Mele says.
The chef’s guiding food philosophy is to cook with produce that’s in season, believing “half your work is done as you can taste the difference and that’s what gourmet is.” Meanwhile, practicing sustainability everyday for him means mindful moderation – only planting what you can eat – and only buying and cooking what you need, using energy and water efficient appliances, such as those offered by sustainability leaders Electrolux.
Here, Mele provides his insider’s guide to Tassie, with a local’s look at 4 of his many producers.
Run by Iain and Kate, this small Tasmanian business produces handmade farmhouse goat’s cheese from the milk of their Swiss Toggenburg dairy goats. Not only passionate about producing the highest quality food, they are also passionate about improving the ecology of the landscape, with their farm recently announced as being carbon positive. “I love their goat curd – we use so much at the restaurant. We serve it with beetroot and fried potatoes. The Big B is another favourite alpine cheese. A little chef’s secret? It melts perfectly in a toasty,” says Mele.
Situated in north-eastern Tasmania, just 30km from Launceston, Lauren and Michael run a one-acre market garden using organic and no-till principles. “You won’t find better produce,” says Mele, adding, “Lauren and Mike are growing some of the most delicious vegetables in Tassie.”
Predominately a sheep farm in central Tasmania, Will Bignell and his family have been farming the land for over 200 years. “My first Dark Mofo back in 2016 I met Will. He gave me a tour of his farm and I got to use his produce for the event. Since then, every year I use celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and horseradish. He often invites me to pick up produce at his in Bothwell, usually he waits for me to arrive and then we go digging together,” says Mele.
Run by the Hume family since 1894, Arundel is a mixed operating farm with a singular purpose – to ethically farm products and reinvest to fortify the long-term sustainability of the ecosystem. “I have purchased their lamb box, basically, a whole animal cut up ready to go. Then you have a mixture of slow cooked cuts and grilling. I really love their mutton as well, for lots more flavour and texture,” he says.