2 minutes with Sophie Zalokar
Occupation: chef, co-owner and cookbook author
Business: Foragers Field Kitchen and Cooking School
When was the moment that you knew food would be your career?
I didn’t have a single epiphany kind of career moment, but it wasn’t too long after starting work with Maggie Beer at the end of 1984 when she was defining her legendary paddock to plate style that I realised food could be just as rich & creative as the visual arts, which at the time was where what originally wanted to study.
Your business Foragers sounds wonderful, tell us about everything you do there?
The concept of Foragers came about through my love of exploring the connections & relationships between food, people & place. Culinary tourism/travel is a wonderful vehicle for that, so Foragers offers self-contained chalet accommodation & a set-menu long table dinner once a week on a Saturday night. There’s a different menu each week, which draws on the diversity of local seasonal produce & also the culinary heritage of the Southern Forests region. I also offer occasional demo cooking classes with different themes but also draws on local produce. We have though come to the decision to put Foragers on the market as our children have now grown & it’s time to move on to other creative endeavours.
The Southwest of WA where you live is called the Southern Forests, what's unique to this area's food bowl?
The climate, soil & water resources make it possible for an incredibly diverse range of high-quality produce to be grown. During the main summer growing period the temperature drops at night, which makes a significant second-to-none difference to the flavour & quality of the produce. Marron is the most unique endemic local product. There are so many other wonderful local primary products; black truffles, fingerlimes, apples (including the wonderful new Bravo variety), milk & cream, potatoes, avocados, Angus beef, heritage tomatoes, eggplant & pumpkins, brassicas etc. The list is endless!
Tell us about your dish you are cooking at Food by Women next week...I heard you are using buckwheat from your neighbours?
My dish, Buckwheat, Potato & Kale Galette with Fresh Cheese, Sage & Garlic was a recipe that I developed for my book Food of the Southern Forests that was published in 2014 by UWA Publishing. It came out of writing about the Della Franca family in Pemberton who have grown buckwheat for over 50 years from seed they brought with them from the Valtellina region in Northern Italy. They live 2km away from Foragers. One of the traditional ways of preparing buckwheat in that region is Pizzocheri. A very hearty baked dish of buckwheat pasta, potatoes, cabbage with a gratinated cheese topping & served with sage & garlic brown butter. I kept the integrity of the dish by using pretty much the same ingredients but instead created a kind of rustic open pie instead. A kind of evolution but not changing the flavours or hearty simplicity of those wonderful flavour combinations.
24 hours in Pemberton, what do we do?
Stay at Foragers & breakfast on toasted sourdough, homemade jam, local sparkling apple juice & good coffee at your leisure in your chalet. Take a brisk walk around beautiful Big Brook Dam before driving along the Karri Forest Explorer Drive to the Beedulup Falls & then into the Warren National Park to have a picnic lunch & test your nerve by climbing up the Bicentennial Tree for an amazing forest canopy view. Head a little south towards Northcliffe a take a look at the amazing sculptures at the Understory exhibition before travelling a little further to Windy Harbour, stopping at Mount Chudulup along the way & then onto a rousing view of the rugged southern coast from the Tokulup viewing point. Make your way back to Foragers for a late afternoon nap, pre-dinner drink & short walk across to The Field Kitchen for dinner. After check out, head north towards Manjimup & check out the truffle story at Truffle & Wine Co. before driving a little further to visit the Guadagnino family farm shop for local produce to take back to the city or onto another beautiful South West destination. Oh & just before you hit the highway head to Southern Roasting Co. in Manjimup for a fantastic coffee.
You can follow Sophie on Instagram @sophiezalokar and @foragersfieldkitchen