Best recent dining experience: I’d have to say Alcove in Braddon. The whole experience was gorgeous. We had the pairing menu ‘Apart together’. The combinations and techniques, flavours, ambience, the service, everything was just perfect.
Favourite cuisine: I don’t really have a favourite cuisine; my love of food is grand! I am always experimenting in my kitchen at home trying different cuisines from around the world. But if I had to pick, it would have to be Asian and Italian.
Most embarrassing pantry or fridge item: Oh dear, I’ve got a few to list. They include instant noodles (I always jazz them up with a fried egg, shitake and Lap Cheong, dumplings and chilli oil or some Kimchi), and let’s not forget my besties, MSG and Heinz ketchup (I know, I have no shame).
What ingredient can I not live without: I’d have to say tomatoes, spices and sugar. I cannot bring myself to pick one.
Next big thing in the Canberra food scene: There has been a massive shift in the Canberra food scene over the last couple of years. From street food to market stalls to fine dining and wine bars – the choices are ridiculously broad and so exciting. I can see a new trend slowly making its way to the capital-immersive dining experiences.
Favourite place for lunch in the ACT: I don’t really have the time to go out dining, especially with my never-ending schedules as my days are constantly overlapping, but when I do, I love to go to Ming’s Pantry in the city – everything on their menu is delicious.
My go-to coffee spot in Canberra: I am always at work, so I get my coffee daily here.
Favourite coffee? I love a simple long black.
A must-try on our menu: All the items are delicious, but the spinach and ricotta gnudi with citrus sautéed chard, cashew crumb, Parmigiano-Reggiano, as well as the cardamom pepper-crusted beef flanks with Hasselback potato, celery remoulade with mushroom jus are a must!
From our café, the Korean Fried chicken burger and the box gum grazing steak sandwich are two delicious offerings.
Our most-used ingredient: Everything in abundance, but maybe sugar, butter and eggs.
Our most authentic dish: We don’t really have an ‘authentic’ dish, except for the delicious Canberra Cake created by our own one and only Janet Jeffs served on the café menu.
Overall, all our dishes are authentic, as we deliver premium paddock-to-plate dining and dining event experiences with established local experiences and a strong commitment to the community, using locally sourced, sustainable, and ethical produce across all our menus. All chefs can add their own twist to a dish as long we are true to ourselves and our values – that is what will make a dish authentic, in my point of view.
Our top pick from our desserts: From our current restaurant menu, the Eton Mess, and from the Café, the apple crumble macadamia tart.
Biggest culinary influence: All the people I worked with have been inspiring in my career, but the most influential would be Hironobu Fukano, Elizabeth Falkner and Jessica Prealpato.
Jessica is the first woman to win the world’s best pastry chef, doing ground-breaking work in the dessert world.
Favourite cookbook: Larousse Gastronimique and Desseralité by Jessica Prealpato.
Who I admire in the Canberra food and wine scene: Janet Jeffs, the director and executive chef of Ginger Catering, and John Leverink, owner and head chef of The Boat House Restaurant in Barton and Ramen Daddy at Verity Lane Market in Civic.
What’s the special of the week at National Arboretum Canberra: We don’t really run weekly specials except, occasionally, in the restaurant and the menu changes with the season, which makes things more exciting.
Where am I travelling to next: Mauritius. It is a small island in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Madagascar (where I was born). I am finally making my way there for a well-deserved four-week holiday with my family. Sunshine, sandy toes, dancing, island food, endless rum, and cocktails here I come.
Dream destination? I’d love to go to Morocco and the Caribbean.
Death row meal: There’s a dish back in Mauritius called the ‘magic bowl’ or upside down bowl – this dish is soooo yummy!
First, you grab the biggest bowl you can find in your cupboard, then you place a fried egg in it, topped with a generous amount of Chop Suey (a traditional Mauritian kind of stir fry), then fill the bowl with piping hot jasmine rice and finally flip the bowl on a plate. I then serve it with my own stash of fermented red chilli paste and a bottle of gin – now that would be my last meal before I meet my maker.
My least favourite food: Definitely the weird, ready-made sauces in jars. They just look suspicious.
My favourite vegetable: Eggplant. I love it and cannot get enough of it.
COVID-19 response: Every single industry took a hit, and it was awful for everyone. There were enormous losses all over the world. Those who made it to the other side adapted to the new normal and cannon-balled onward. I became a primary school teacher overnight and it was no fun. The respect I have for teachers grew tremendously – seriously, how do they put up with my kids? I teach big kids at work, but let’s say it was very challenging to say the least.
My top recipe tip: The pleasure of the palate can be enhanced by playing on varied factors, including acidity, bitterness, saltiness and spiciness. For example, combining dark chocolate, tarragon, and lime. Remember to always be bold and think creatively.
The National Arboretum is open from 9 am to 4 pm daily. It is located at Forest Drive, off Tuggeranong Parkway, Weston Creek, Canberra.