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My series on the characters behind The Farm at Byron Bay continues and this week I talk to the five incredibly talented and soulful surfers bringing this food project to life.
Darren Roberston, Mark LaBrooy, Sam Reid-Boquist, Chris Sorrell and Jeff Bennet are the team behind Bronte’s famed Three Blue Ducks cafe. Now they’re fulfilling a lifelong dream of opening a restaurant on a farm where they’re taking ethical cooking and sustainability to a whole new level. From planning a menu around the produce of dozens of Byron Bay farmers to eradicating wine bottles in the bar, this is a restaurant opening like no other.
“We have green beans!” Darren, my fiancé and chef/owner at the Ducks, tells me excitedly, a few days before the first customer is expected at the new restaurant. “This guy just came in with the most gorgeous green beans and I can’t wait to add them to the menu,” he adds, “It’s been such a great day. I’ve found all these farmers around Byron that can supply us with produce.”
Things weren’t so optimistic the day before. Sleep derived and exhausted, the boys were driving around farms in the Byron hinterland, on a mission to source spay-free, local produce for the restaurant. Supplies were either too small, out of season or unavailable. But it didn’t stop them. “People laugh at me when I tell them we’re trying to source most of our fresh produce within a 400km radius,” Darren says, “But we’ll keep trying. This is why we’re here.”
Weeks before opening, the Three Blue Ducks restaurant and grocery store site on The Farm is humming with guys sanding, sawing and painting. Amongst the talented team of tradies and carpenters, you’ll find the five restaurateurs sweating it out.
This is how the Ducks work. One moment, Darren and Mark, the chef/owners on this team, are writing the menu and trawling the hinterland for local produce. Next, they’re painting the joint or buying toilet brushes for the loo. Chris Sorrell, the barista/owner, is teaching the apprentices how to make the best coffee going. Later, I see him sawing shelves on the cafe porch. Sam Reid-Boquist, front of house/owner, is training the floor staff and bogged down with the IT behind point of sale. Hours later, he’s just as comfortable sanding the cafe tables. Jeff Bennett, admin/HR/owner, is responsible for the entire back-end operations from DA’s to HR to sourcing craft beers, but last time I saw him he was tiling the bar. There are no pretences, PR’s or PA’s here. It’s just five guys backed by a “family” of builders, chefs and waitstaff that love food, community and surfing. And they were happy to leave the big smoke to bring a farm to fork idea to life.
To say they’re committed to and passionate about this project is an understatement.
“But hang on, let’s take a step back here,” I hear you say, “why are there five Three Blue Ducks?” Good question. The flagship cafe was founded by Bronte surfers Sam, Mark and Chris in 2010. A year later they lured Jeff, who owned the pizza shop next door, to ditch the dough and become a Duck. A few months later, the busy cafe was crying out for dinners, so Marky turned to his mate Darren Robertson to join the business. They met at Tetsuya’s and since leaving the fine dining restaurant, Darren started his own business Table Sessions, putting on creative pop-up dinners in interesting spaces when the word “pop-up” hadn’t yet reached the culinary vernacular.
How do the five of them get along in the surf and in business? “We’ve all got very different personalities,” Marky says, “But we complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.” Darren adds, “We’re all brutally honest and not afraid to speak our minds. And no one’s greedy.” I’d say that the latter has been particularly important when it comes to five people owning and running a successful business- and taking on their most exciting venture yet, a restaurant on a farm in Byron Bay.
The Ducks food philosophy at The Farm is admirable and simple: source as much spray-free, ethical produce as possible from The Farm itself and locally. But in reality, it’s far more challenging. “We’ve looked everywhere for organic onions in the area but can’t find any, so there won’t be onions on the menu,” Darren says. “Avocados aren’t in season around here either so unfortunately we’re not using those for the moment but I’m excited by this! We’ve got producers all around the area growing stuff for us. There’s ginger, sweet potato and sausages from our own pigs on The Farm, and I just got a delivery of mizuna from Mullumbimby that I’ve added to the menu. So this really is about eating with the seasons and being creative with what we get. I love it.” Marky chimes in, “We’re all so excited about those few weeks when the avo’s will come in!”
While the Three Blue Ducks restaurant overlooks an 80-acre farm growing food, believe it or not, it’s not big enough to supply them, nor is it their objective,”We absolutely want to cook with produce from suppliers and farmers all over Byron Bay,” Mark says.
The menu is produce-focused, innovative, delicious and wholesome. Mackerel is plentiful in the area at the moment so breakfast includes “smoked mackerel, poached egg, chickpeas, labneh, duke and toast.” There’s also “house-made blood sausage, apples, beets, lemon, herbs, fermented red cabbage salad, fried eggs and toast,” and lighter options such as “bircher, amaranth, pearl barley, quinoa, oats, yoghurt, apple, dates, walnuts and honeycomb.”
The lunch and dinner menu is the same with a mix of smaller plates, bigs and desserts. Smalls include “prawns, chilli, greens and macadamia cream”, “kangaroo tartare, olive crisp” and the “dirty bird roll with buttermilk free range chicken, bun, lettuce, pickles and mayo.” Meanwhile, more substantial dishes feature “charred occy grains, pecan, guanciale, oregano, lemon”, “pork shoulder, lemongrass, ginger, tofu, radish, wild rice, lime and peanut sauce”, and “sweet potato, shallot, amaranth, pumpkin, mint, rosella and pomegranate.” The kitchen space isn’t too shabby either with an Argentinian style grill/rotisserie and wood-fired oven in the outdoor restaurant area.
In an Australian first, the bar features 56 taps of Australian craft beers and mostly organic/biodynamic wines. The objective of this innovative idea is to minimise waste by eradicating wine bottles, but also cut down on wine loss by maintaining freshness for longer in oxygen-free kegs. Owner and craft beer expert Jeff Bennett and bar manager Andrew Love worked hard to get various wineries to change their practises in order to stock them at The Farm.
Adjoining the restaurant/bar is the Three Blue Ducks grocery store where you can purchase spray-free, ethical produce, including the Ducks own house-made goodies.
Alongside their passion for local food, sustainability and community, the Ducks philosophy is also about creating a cool, relaxed space where people can have fun. “That’s what it’s all about,” says Darren. “I can’t wait to just sit at the bar with a few cheeky oysters, drinking a beer and watching a band. This is the kind of place I’d want to go to.” Something tells me, a lot of others will too.
Three Blue Ducks on The Farm at Byron Bay opens on Friday 27th March 2015! See you there!