Ginger Catering is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a very special lunch at the Arboretum on Sunday, 29 May, that will feature dishes from their archives and showcase local growers.
Executive chef and owner Janet Jeffs began her career in 1975 as a pot-washer before taking on a fine-dining apprenticeship and working with culinary legend Maggie Beer at Pheasant Farm.
Her first Canberra establishment was the highly regarded Juniperberry at Red Hill shops before Ginger Catering took over the space at Old Parliament House.
They’ve been at the Arboretum since it opened in 2013 and this will be the setting for a special lunch that celebrates Janet’s career and the growers who have provided the ingredients along the way.
“Ginger Catering has always had a strong direct relationship with our growers,” Janet Jeffs told Region Media.
“Many have been with us since Juniperberry… including Boxgum Grazing, Sassafras Nuts and Allsun Farm.”
In fact, Janet now has an intergenerational relationship with Boxgum Grazing as the Hilltops region farm is now being run by the original owners’ son. They’re just one of the many local producers from within the ‘one hundred mile Canberra foodshed’ that will supply produce for the event.
Janet has been promoting conversations with local growers since her days at Old Parliament House when they used to host similar events called ‘taste and talk’.
“We used to do lunches to promote the growers and have the growers come and talk. And we thought, ‘let’s reinvent this’, because there’s a whole generation who have missed out on these growers’ lunches, and they’re a really good way to realise just where your food is coming from and who’s growing it.”
The menu for this event is something of a journey through history, with each course representing a particular era of Janet’s career and favourite dishes from the menus of Ginger Catering.
Janet’s years at Pheasant Farm are represented by canapes of pâté served with juniper berry toasts and spiced quince paste. And the amuse-bouche sees the return of a popular menu item.
“The prawn eggnet was a dish we found hard to take off the menu at The Ginger Room at Old Parliament House; all the flavours are so fresh and exciting.”
The entree and main courses are two Ginger Catering favourites: confit duck en croute with red currant glaze, and beef fillet with king brown mushrooms and Clonakilla shiraz reduction.
Dessert is a whimsical dish that gained notoriety after an unforgettable review: “Mr Curly (named after a Michael Leunig cartoon) was invented at Juniperberry around 1995 and had a few incarnations before finally settling on the sustaining version. It’s a take on a lemon meringue pie, but with a quiff, or big hairdo,” Janet explains.
“Mr Curly was called the ‘ridiculous and sublime Mr Curly’ by Terry Durack, food critic for The Sydney Morning Herald, who gave us our first of six chefs hats.”
In a challenging industry where many restaurants fail to survive even a few years, let alone 20, Janet Jeffs’ continued success is worth celebrating. She has been noted as an inspiration by a number of younger female chefs in Canberra, and credits much of her success to persistence and her approach to staff.
“You promote people within the organisation who are doing well and you pay them well. We would be one of the few places that has to pay long service leave!” she said.
“It’s about succession planning and promoting people because if people can’t see a career path, or if they’re not learning stuff, or being paid well, why would they stay?”
She’s concerned about the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry and hopes that events like these will shine a spotlight on the people who grow, cook and serve food.
“You’ve really got to take care of your growers and be really respectful of food and what food means. And I think people are starting to get more and more aware of that, which is great.”
‘Our Kitchen, Our Growers’ lunch will be held on 29 May from 12 noon to 3 pm and includes five courses and matching local wines for $150. Bookings are essential.
The National Arboretum grounds are open daily. More information can be found on the website.