In the kitchen with: Mark Ebbels
In the kitchen with: Mark Ebbels
Despite his success abroad, Mark Ebbels’ fond childhood memories of cooking hearty, country-style meals with his family at their Yarra Valley vegetable farm have summoned him home. MiNDFOOD caught up with the Aussie chef to talk food philosophy and sustainable cooking.
Following stints at some of the world’s most notable restaurants – including Michelin Starred Baccanalia and The Fat Duck – Mark Ebbels has recently been appointed Head Chef at the internationally renowned winery, TarraWarra Estate.
Where did your passion for cooking come from?
Growing up on a vegetable farm in a small town I was always surrounded by good food and ingredients. I can recall fond memories at home cooking hearty, country-style meals with my mum and grandmother, allowing the season to dictate our dinner. As a teenager, I then thought it would be interesting to see what a professional kitchen was like.
What is your food philosophy?
I guess as you reach a certain age, that’s when you start to question what you’re doing with your life, and for me, it was about three to four years ago. I realised that I needed to positively contribute to the community and started evaluating both my personal and career choices. During this time, my eyes were opened to the benefits of a plant-based diet, following lots of reading with my partner, Jo. We decided to commit to a plant-based diet, but had concerns that my vocation would make this lifestyle change challenging. I figured to switch careers would be a waste of the skills I had learned and do really enjoy cooking, so I wanted to work on how I could execute both.
At home, it started with changing what we ate and the goods we bought, closely followed by the methods we used to purchase them and whom from. Now the repercussions of what we buy and how we live is an everyday consideration, and something we exercise naturally. My food philosophy involves cooking mindfully, while not compromising on taste, finesse and quality.
How has working at some of the world’s most notable restaurants shaped the type of chef you are today?
The finesse and intelligence that high calibre restaurants develop to achieve what they need to is invaluable to a chef and is something that’s difficult to cultivate on your own. Working abroad, I’ve been exposed to different styles of food that have helped clarify what is important to me in regards to what goes on the plate.
Explain your plastic-free cooking vision?
It’s pretty simple I guess – leave the place better than when you found it. I would like to be able to cook in a way that doesn’t negatively affect the environment, however, sometimes there is not a really clear delineation between what does and doesn’t have a negative impact, along with what is or isn’t sustainable. In my view, if I’m making a concerted effort with the information at hand, then that’s a good start.
My choices in the kitchen are a reflection of my home life. While the road to reducing waste is long, at TarraWarra Estate we’re making meaningful changes to ensure we’re headed in the right direction, including composting food scraps and recycling glass and aluminium. Single-use plastic is the biggest issue and we’re still in the process of using up the sous vide bags and takeaway containers for storage that were in the kitchen when I started.
We are replacing sous vide bags with poaching in flavourful mediums such as stocks and oils using the immersion circulators, and cooking in marinates and controlled humidity using combi ovens. This enables us to keep accurate control of the cooking without using bags. I believe, if chefs are supplied with an avenue to cook and store food that produces just as good a quality product without the baggage, it is easy to get them on-board.
What brought you back to the Yarra Valley after years overseas?
After having been overseas for six years, my partner Jo and I were ready to move home. We wanted to start a family closer to family and friends and in an environment where we could grow our own food and build our own home.
What’s your vision for the TarraWarra Estate restaurant and its food going forward?
Continuing TarraWarra Estate’s commitment to championing seasonal and local produce, I’m looking forward to letting the quarter acre on-site garden inspire an ever-changing menu. Plant-based ingredients will shine and I’m passionate about encouraging the kitchen to operate as sustainably as possible. My plastic-free cooking vision and values align with TarraWarra’s desire to reduce its waste and environmental impact, without compromising on taste and presentation.