Who is Marie Koenig? I’m the head chef at Ginger Catering.
Best recent dining experience: It would have to be the meal I had at Lamshed’s in Yarralumla. The flavour combinations are superb, simple, well balanced and beautifully executed. I can’t go past the excellent beef tartare, followed by the snapper, fennel, mussel risotto and a selection of their sides.
Most embarrassing pantry item: It’s a close call between those microwavable rice packets (an easy dinner after a long day, despite the fact rice really isn’t that hard to cook!) and the ridiculously large stash of not-great-quality chocolate such as KitKat, Cadbury Oreo chocolate and that type of thing.
Must-buy ingredient: Fresh herbs. In my opinion, beautifully grown fresh herbs are so important and underrated. In salads, with eggs, to freshen up a risotto, in foam form, as an oil – they just add such a clean flavour and lightness. Since I’ve become head chef at Ginger, our herb use has skyrocketed!
Next big thing: I think that while sustainability and local produce have been a strong food trend for a while now, consumers and guests will continue to seek out restaurants and cafes that truly follow sustainable practices and support local producers. Bushfires and COVID have really had an impact on local producers, and customers are becoming increasingly aware and supportive. I think the strong relationships between producers and chefs will become more and more important.
Favourite place for breakfast in the ACT: My partner and I always go to Penny University in Kingston for brunch. It’s easy to take the dog, and the food always hits the spot. My partner usually orders the Katsu Burger – the chicken is deliciously crispy and spicy on the outside with tender meat and great pickles balancing it all out. I’ve tried most of the menu by now, and my favourites would be the Okonomiyaki Savoury Pancake if you feel like something very indulgent, or the Green Eggs & Ham.
My Canberra food secret: The Capital Region Farmers Market at EPIC is not so much a food secret, but there are a few stallholders that I would say many Canberrans still need to discover. Wagga Free Range Pork has a Russian-style salami that is to die for; you can’t go wrong with any of Nonna Maria’s Pasta, and of course, I need to mention my parents’ stall, Ingelara, selling pumpkins and potatoes which you can find on the menu at Ginger at the Arboretum.
Biggest culinary influence: Janet Jeffs, our executive chef and director. Janet’s knowledge and experience are immense. She creates dishes that showcase the ingredients, making the produce the hero without any fuss, and that, in my opinion, is something only great chefs can do well.
Favourite cookbook: I haven’t been using cookbooks much lately, but when I need some inspiration for menus, I’ve been turning to Brae by Dan Hunter. I love the imagination and sophistication of the dishes. It inspires me to think outside the box.
Who I admire on the Canberra food and wine scene: I really admire the level of creativity and finesse that Malcolm Hanslow from Pilot has brought to Canberra and am inspired by Louis Couttoupes who ran the Kiosk pop-up. I’m excited for him to begin his next adventure soon. I also admire the dedication and passion that chef Bernd Brademann from Midnight Hotel Autograph Collection has for seasonal local produce and his ability to let it shine.
What’s on the menu this week: In this dreary winter weather, you need to come to Ginger at the Arboretum to try our chowder. I had the most delicious chowder in an unassuming little restaurant in New Zealand a couple of years ago, and back in Canberra, I had a little play with a few versions of the dish and am very happy with the current iteration. It’s hearty and flavourful while still having a lightness to it, using eastern king prawns and beach pipis, house-made fish stock, my parents’ potatoes, Wagga Free Range pork chorizo crumb and Stepping Stone Farm parsley foam. It’s a warming, delicious entrée.
Where I’m going next: I am planning to venture south to Cooma to try Pha’s Thai for the first time – a restaurant owned by family friends that recently reopened in a new location.
Death row meal: Slow-cooked beef ragu with fresh pappardelle and parmesan. I love slow-cooked meat and fresh pasta, such comfort food! It would be followed by a block of Lindt chocolate and espresso. It makes me feel instantly happy and content.
My COVID-19 response: Ginger Catering went through a few transformations throughout COVID, offering takeaway only, hosting outdoor barbecues, re-opening a refurbished café with a greater offering of sandwiches, pies and salads, as well as hot food options. We finally brought the restaurant back and were able to host functions again toward the end of last year. COVID has really forced us to look at who we are, where we want to go and the importance of our strong relationships with producers and the community.
My really simple recipe tip: Crepes! Flour, eggs, milk/soda water and salt. Sauté some/lots of Ingelara farm garlic, some mushrooms and thyme and throw in some spinach. Fill your crepes with the garlicky mushroom mix, add cheese, and you have a simple, delicious dinner. If you are feeling fancy, stew some apples with cinnamon and serve them with a second crepe and vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Ginger Catering has been providing a premier catering service for Canberra for more than a decade. The group operates Cafe at the Arboretum and Ginger at the Arboretum restaurant and offers catering for large and small events.