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Top Barossa chef Mark McNamara gave us his insights as to what makes being a chef in a wine region so rewarding, and how he works to bring regional food and wine together. With an innate knowledge for local and seasonal produce that spans decades, McNamara leads the fine-dining experiences at the home of St Hugo. Mark established himself in the Barossa over two decades ago and was inducted as a ‘Baron of the Barossa’ in 2005 for his efforts to build awareness of local produce and regional cuisine. Truly passionate about the region’s culinary richness, Mark champions a food philosophy built on local provenance and seasonality. “The food and wine in the Barossa is some of the finest in the world, and I am thrilled to create an exciting and delicious dining experience which showcases the wines in the beautiful home of St Hugo,” says McNamara. Mark appreciates that at St Hugo, the wine comes first. He shapes each dish entirely around the flavours that work with each individual wine to ensure a seamless dining experience that allows the wine to truly shine.
What’s the best thing about being a chef in a wine region?
Mark: "Firstly, there is an unfettered access to great produce and a deep respect for food that exists in a real way in the country, how its grown and where it comes from just for starters. Hardly surprising really when farming of one kind or another and winemaking are the backbones of this community.
More so though, as a chef living in a wine region like the Barossa, you can’t help but become immersed in the amazing melting pot of food and wine that has been quietly bubbling away here for the best part of two hundred years.
Built on centuries of peasant culture and adapted to the land, the food of this region has evolved over time with our wine, in a kind of symbiotic way melding with local traditions and meshing with our wines to become seamless expressions that reflect terroir and lifestyle just as any great wine region."
What’s the secret for making food and wine work well together?
Mark: "It is no mistake that the best food is found in the great wine regions of the world. Often simply looking at where a wine is from in the old world you can easily discern what to eat, the experiments have been done over centuries and time has polished these traditions into much loved classics.
In the multicultural new world, wine culture is still very much evolving, some cuisines pose challenges for traditional matches but really the key is simple, it’s all about harmony and balance. Just like a wine maker ensures a wine has balance then so too should the cook. When a dish relies too heavily on one component it will inevitably be out of balance with fine wine.
Some flavours affect how wine behaves on the palate so drastically that they really need to be used with restraint and moderation. For example, while common in much modern cuisine, vinegar, chilli and hot spices, sugary and overly salty food are just some examples where too much of a good thing can be unkind to wine."
What makes you different to other chefs?
Mark: "First and foremost, it is that I am very wine centric, making sure wine looks its best and preparing food that allows it to shine is something I take great pleasure in. It would be very rare that I would not think which wine will be best with these flavours when planning a meal, rather than starting with the premise of what can I do with these ingredients."
What’s your favourite dish on your menu at the moment, and why?
Mark "It’s probably a very simple medallion of grilled eggplant with an olive, almond, caper and fresh herb tapenade, all great seasonal south Australian produce finished with a Persian flourish of roasted cumin, pomegranate and fresh barberries. Firstly, because it goes so well with modern Barossa GSM, but secondly it is so clean and fresh, as a chef there’s nowhere to hide, no tricks or sleight of hand, just great cooking and superb produce that talks of region and the season."
In your opinion, what makes Adelaide, South Australia a Great Wine Capital?
Mark: "Proximity: Adelaide is the hub and entry point from which to access to so many exceptional wine regions and passionate, innovative, quality wine makers and their wines.
Arts and Culture: Adelaide a city that loves good food and wine, treasures its history and traditions and promotes the arts, something it has in common with many if not all of the great wine capitals.
Multiculturalism: Adelaide does multiculturalism better than most cities, our central market is home to just about any ingredient you could want to accompany fine wine and there is always something new to discover around the corner with great restaurants and bars many with a strong local wine focus..
Wine consumption: I genuinely believe we consume wine differently in and around Adelaide than they do many other “non wine cities”. Here, wine list in pubs and restaurants reach beyond just the big names to feature smaller unique producers and wine referenced vernacular like Riesling O’clock replaces beer O’clock with a bottle of wine being the most common social lubricant at least among the people I know across all sections of the community."