Food nourishes, fuels and comforts us – but it also tells a story.
The narrative potential of food is something Charlie Carrington, the head chef at Atlas Dining in South Yarra, called upon when creating a special three-course menu for the Melbourne Cup Carnival (October 30 to November 6).
His brief? Create a series of sustainably sourced dishes (inspired by Lexus’s first electric vehicle) that prompt guests to consider their personal impact on the planet.
It was a project Carrington – a sustainability advocate in his work as a chef – approached with enthusiasm. Humans dump eight million tonnes of plastic waste into the ocean every year, poisoning marine ecosystems. To highlight this pernicious issue, Carrington created a dish featuring a layer of “edible plastic” – a gel made from seafood offcuts – covering a selection of sustainably sourced seafood: Murray cod, smoked eel and marron farmed in Western Australia. Completing the dish are samphire and its cousin sea blite, bower spinach, and toasted nori paste. “Seaweed is one of the ingredients that will thrive in the future,” predicts the chef.
The result is a “thought-provoking dish that tells a beautiful story,” Carrington says. It shows that “we can enjoy seafood – just a bit differently to what we’re currently doing”.
In his efforts to understand more about sustainable seafood, Carrington regularly relies on GoodFish, an initiative by the Australian Marine Conservation Society that uses a traffic light system to rate a fish species’ sustainability. “At our restaurant, we wouldn’t use anything that’s not on the green list,” he says. “Seafood is like any industry – there are bigger players who call the shots, and you can’t believe everything you read. They’ve done a really good job of dissecting the information that’s out there and making it really clear and accessible for chefs to then make better choices on their menus.”
The second dish, “soil regeneration”, focuses on the joint issues of soil health and land degradation. Intensive monoculture farming – where farmers grow a single crop on a piece of land – damages ecosystems and leaves soils depleted. “Growing a single crop like corn takes all the goodness out of the soil without giving anything back,” says Carrington.
More sustainable farming practices see producers – frequently organic and small-scale – fostering biodiversity and growing multiple crops on the same site. “We wanted to tell that story … [and] create a dish where all its different elements are things that could grow in the same plot of land,” Carrington says.
The dish features grass-fed beef fillet alongside seasonal vegetables and foraged herbs and greens. “Beef would have to be one of the most contentious things when talking about sustainability,” acknowledges Carrington. “But if you’re using a grass-fed, small-scale supply, it’s something I believe people will enjoy in the future – maybe in smaller amounts. I really enjoy eating beef, but I think going for quality over quantity is the answer.”
Dessert takes inspiration from the damp and dim environs of the forest floor. “Mushrooms” made from ganache and dipped in white chocolate and cocoa butter pop out of edible soil. Chocolate bark, chocolate mousse and berries finish the dish. “We wanted to do something that is really chocolatey and rich and decadent,” says Carrington.
Taken in its entirety, Carrington’s Melbourne Cup menu – a showcase of innovative techniques and sustainable produce – points to an exciting future for food. For Carrington, it’s a future that is local and seasonal – “doing things the way they should be done, instead of using the farming techniques that have come with mass production.”
Carrington views seasonality as a catalyst for creativity rather than a limiting factor. “Local and seasonal ingredients are generally the most delicious. From a chef’s point of view, it makes it exciting. It leads you to create something that’s well thought-out because you don’t have every choice under the sun.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Lexus. Learn more about Lexus’s first electric vehicle, the Lexus UX 300e.