By Julietta Jameson
Kate Sumner loves nothing more than when one of her food-growing neighbours introduces something new to their harvest.
Sumner is a chef on Kangaroo Island with a 50ha property producing veggies, herbs, berries and other bits and pieces that she uses in her labours of love. But she calls in the spoils of her fellow KI producers when she’s catering for visitors in their holiday homes, or creating a wedding or birthday feast in the beautiful dining space off her commercial kitchen, or leading a band of visitors in a cooking class.
Lately, she’s been enjoying cooking with partridge, pheasant and guinea fowl from a small Kangaroo Island grower.
“I’ve been using it for high-end dinners. It’s a fantastic little product that you can have lots of fun with. They’re gorgeous little birds, beautiful meat and you can do lots of different things with them.
“Also Island Pure make this beautiful labneh. They’ve been doing it for six months and I use that quite a lot and of course, there’s the lamb, pork, beef, seafood …”
That’s really just for starters. Kangaroo Island is a place that punches well above its weight when it comes to exquisite niche produce. It may be Australia’s third-largest island, (after Tasmania and Melville Island), 112km southwest of Adelaide and officially a part of South Australia, but it has only 4500 residents with a third of those in the settlements of Kingscote and Penneshaw.
That leaves plenty of wonderful farm land that is fed by a pure environment – clean, fresh Southern Ocean air and rain and plenty of sunshine.
Once, a mostly wool producing land, savvy Kangaroo Islanders recognised the potential in that special terroir and it’s now a cornucopia of premium produce.
It’s really got it all. Those stunning ocean beaches and rugged slopes constitute some of the most picturesque wilderness in Australia, maybe even the world, attracting visitors from all over the globe.
But they’re also ideal for growing, harvesting and creating and the islanders have capitalised accordingly, producing amazing honey, free range eggs, ducks, geese, beets, herbs and lettuces, olives, grapes, apple cider, horseradish, cherries, dairy goods, wines and even award-winning spirits, as well as dukkahs, chutneys and other such goods, including those made by Sumner’s kitchen.
Then there are the spoils of the ocean: abalone, oysters and the succulent local freshwater crayfish, marron, and of course, fabulous grass-fed meats.
“The producers that are taking the primary product and turning it into something else are really passionate about what they do,” says Sumner. “Most of these concerns are really small and everything is hand-collected, handmade and hand-processed. Nothing is mass-made and I think that’s what makes a lot of the products here really special.”
Farmers’ markets – an abundance of Kangaroo Island Food
But up until recent times most of it was exported or only available at Kangaroo Island’s high end property, Southern Ocean Lodge.
Now, there are cellar doors, farm gate shops and local chefs such as Sumner presenting all that beautiful food to visitors on the island.
Hannaford & Sachs is another company which supplies self-catering packs and cooks in-villa.
“It’s a big island and people don’t always have the time to race around, collect all their ingredients and cook themselves,” says Sumner, who suggests the island’s caterers may be a great way to sample the offerings of the producers.
But, she says, “The supermarket stocks the honey and some things, but the meats, the lamb and beef and pork are a little bit hard to get.
There’s also the Kangaroo Island Farmers’ Market at Penneshaw and a smaller one at Kingscote, on a couple of times a month.
Sumner’s cooking classes involve heading to the main market, which she helped found, collecting ingredients, using them to cook in the Kangaroo Island Source kitchen, then enjoying the results with a glass of wine in her kitchen dining room with its jaw-dropping sweeping coastal views.
The wineries are also great places to savour KI’s finest.
Chapman River Wines has a great kitchen and beautiful bohemian lounge space and verandah with lovely outlooks, perfect for sampling the wines and some locally sourced nibbles over a long session.
While you’re in the zone, don’t miss the funky little tasting bar at KI’s internationally recognised distillery, KIS, or Kangaroo Island Spirits. The gin, using Kangaroo Island juniper, is sublime.
The lucky few who get to stay at Southern Ocean Lodge need make no effort at all to experience the best of Kangaroo Island produce.
Outstanding cuisine using local ingredients has long been the hallmark of this award-winning, world famous luxury retreat.
It also offers a hugely popular Food Safari, hosted by much-loved chef Maggie Beer, who leads guests across the island, visiting the like of the Sheep Milk Dairy, Southrock Lamb, and the oyster farm at American River.
Then there’s the yearly FEASTival, which from 2016, will be aligned with Tasting Australia.
Its founder, Nick Hannaford, says from then on, the festival, which had celebrated KI produce in ways found across most events of its kind, would focus on its, and Kangaroo Island’s strengths.
Ask a local
From inception two years ago, the FEASTival included “Table Surfing”, a series of dinners hosted by locals at their properties, pairing with KI wine producers such as Hazyblur, Snowdragon and The Islander Estate Vineyards. From the next festival, this will be the mainstay.
“We’re creating some exciting itineraries for next year,” says Hannaford.
“And we have realised that the Table Surfing is what makes us unique; unique dining venues in the homes of local food lovers, producers, chefs who want to create and share. It’s about connecting people to the essence of Kangaroo Island: meeting the personalities, discovering the food, in amazing locations that play to the island’s trademark wilderness and history.”
There are plenty of ways to experience Kangaroo Island’s array of produce, but one thing Sumner recommends as a must, is a bit of forward planning.
And to not be shy in reaching out. There’s a great visitor’s centre with farm gate trail maps available that you can download from their website before you arrive on the island.
Or you can ask pretty much any local. “Ring me, or any of the cellar doors, for instance and tell them what you’re interested in and we’ll offer you advice and leads. Everyone is so generous with their time and we want people to enjoy the island. Have a little bit of forethought about where you want to go, just because of the distances you have to drive.”
Whichever way you choose to experience KI, just make sure you grab a table in the restaurant at the Ozone Hotel in Kingscote, which dishes up just about the best, freshest, most generous seafood platter full of local catch you’ll encounter anywhere.
You can find lots of great information on Kangaroo Island’s Visitor’s Centre website, which includes details on how to get there, where to stay, the various regions of the island and what’s in them.