Government House serving up Queensland on a plate
The verdant fields of France’s Loire Valley are a long way from the hilltops of Paddington, Brisbane but for chef Paul Newsham all roads have led to Government House.
The French-trained Briton has found a home among the gum trees of the Fernberg Estate, the official workplace and residence of Queensland’s Governors.
And now our native trees are, in turn, making their way into his pot and being served up as fine fare at all Government House functions.
“We’ll use wattle seeds, hibiscus, and riberries from lilly pillies grown on the property… you can’t get more Australian or local than that. We’ll preserve it, pickle it, dry it,” he says.
Mr Newsham says it’s all part of fulfilling the brief of preparing meals fit for Her Excellency the Honourable Dr Jeannette Young AC PSM and guests, while also showcasing the best ingredients Queensland has to offer.
“The brief was to provide food befitting a Vice-Regal standard, and it’s stipulated in my job description, and to use 85 percent Queensland-sourced. But I’m in the 90s now,” he says.
Top-quality stockyard beef from Rockhampton, Longreach lamb, vegetables from Mapleton, milk and other dairy produce from South-East Queensland’s Scenic Rim, fruit from Brisbane’s Rocklea markets.
It has all made its way onto the Government House menu, to be enjoyed by attendees at functions celebrating the achievements and contributions of Queenslanders.
Not to mention carrots and beets - and herbs and flowers for garnish - grown in the gardens around the Queensland Governor’s official residence, the Fernberg Estate.
“I do push boundaries in order to get that excellence. To me, to provide food befitting a Vice-Regal standard I need to be finding the best produce and delivering it to the Governor,” Mr Newsham says.
But for this accomplished chef, who worked in Michelin-starred restaurants overseas and ran the kitchen of a five-star hotel by age 26, the Governor’s palate is one of many he must consider.
“We’ll tailor-make functions around guests, to let them know that we represent them,” he says, using the example of a recent visit by the Queensland Country Women’s Association, a Governor’s patronage, for which he adapted recipes from their own cookbooks.
"We're really fluid and we try to keep our fingers on the pulse. We still know our realms of what we can and can't do.
"I go out into the industry and learn, what the French call a stage (traineeship) – I go to friends’ restaurants, their kitchens, and work with them… immerse myself without my phone buzzing.
"It's all about learning – what I learn there comes back here."
However, when planning meals fit for, say, a King, Mr Newsham must remain mindful of tradition and the demands of high office.
"King Charles is very classical. He utilises a lot of the produce from the Duchy (of Cornwall) estate, so he’s very big on flapjacks and Welsh cakes. And the times that he eats are very specific. It’s very regimented, because his program is."
It follows that for the dignitaries and high office holders he frequently caters to: "I guess they find favourites and stick with them – they don’t eat anything too left-of-field because it might upset their tummy.
"For us it's all about lightness – I don’t make heavy food."
The Vice-Regal couple expect, where possible, local produce that is also healthful and has been grown and transported sustainably.
Frugality is also a consideration, says Mr Newsham.
"Formal dinners give us the scope to bulk purchase on certain cuts of meat, and because the prices have gone ballistic, I like to use a prime cut and a secondary cut," he says.
"So working on a 180g of beef (per portion), that’s 80g of sirloin and 100g of a cheaper secondary cut, such as rib cooked slower and longer.
"The Governor also likes that we’re utilising the beast."
Bread is made in-house, understandably given that Mr Newsham spent time working in boulangeries (bakeries) in Paris and regional France.
Fruit and vegetables from farms that use or follow organic practices are preferred. He has proposed that a bigger patch of the Fernberg Estate be put aside for herbs and garnishes to supply what is essentially a 24/7 kitchen.
And his favourite dish thus far?
“Male zucchini flowers – just the stalk – fill that with either local prawns or lobster or Moreton Bay bug, shape it into a cone, steam it lightly and serve it with yellow squash, zucchini, dressed with chorizo oil and chive oil, candied pumpkin seeds and smoked paprika, put in the hot box and it turns crisp.”
Let’s just call it Queensland on a plate!