Home ContentReview:  Sophie Zalokar’s “Food of the Southern Forests”

Review:  Sophie Zalokar’s “Food of the Southern Forests”

Published : June 23, 2016

Words: Simon Owen


Sophie Zalokar's "Food of the Southern Forests" was first published in late 2014 to some local acclaim, but it seems very timely to re-visit it now on the cusp of The Truffle Kerfuffle 2016, which I’m looking forward to this weekend (24 & 25 June) and will report back to you next week!

The Truffle Kerfuffle is probably the pinnacle of marketing events in the Southern Forests' calendar, but I doubt there will be a more delightful or meaningful enduring piece of marketing for the region than this lovely book.

In short, Sophie has managed to produce quite a rare piece of work.  It is, all at once, a well researched and extensive survey of what the area has to offer, a beautiful collection of anecdotes which connect the people of the community to the produce and a selection of recipes that will offer something meaningful and inspiring to everyone.

It is a food book which captures all that is important about food to those that love it .... which after all is the target audience.  It is also, and attractive to my mind, modest whilst clearly demonstrating a cook that has pretty much every base covered.

It begins with simple dedication to the primary producers of the region and the back of the jacket and the accompanying promotional material offer enthusiastic endorsement from the likes of Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer and Kylie Kwong. That's half of the most influential group of female cooks this country has seen in the last 50 years. One of the recipes pays tribute to Chui Lee Luk and I cannot imagine that Christine Manfield or Gay Bilson would not have been thrilled to lend their support.  That would cover the field.

When you understand that Sophie is a protegé of the Beer kitchen, a whole lot falls into place. It's a bit like watching the foal of great breeding skip around the paddock.  Good genes.

The Southern Forests is a relatively new 'concept' though it has been doing most of what it is doing now for the last 50 or 60 years, and again owes much to our earlier welcoming immigration policy.  Add to that the glamour kids of truffles, marron and some 'exotics' like finger limes, betel leaves and saffron and you have a region that covers the full range of terrestrial fruit and veg as well as beast, fish and dairy.  

The cache of Margaret River has been steadily and skilfully developed, but if one were looking at 'produce', there's just no competition.  Margaret's has fine wine, some simply wonderful meals and the odd speciality product.  Yallingup Woodfired Bread, venison and chocolate being some examples, though none of them with any rationale that connects them to the terroir.  The actual area is, however, agriculturally poor by comparison.  Dairy and potatoes are the history and there's only the odd cottage industry to offer a contrary argument.  

Southern Forests on the other hand has been the vegetable drawer and fruit bowl of WA for as long as memory serves.  Excepting the factory farms of the outskirts of Perth and the wonderful sub tropical offering of Carnarvon.

So very much the poor cousin of its groovier neighbour, this book is both welcome and seminal in redressing the balance and, dare I say, setting a standard.  There is no publication that champions the Margaret River region from the food perspective, and there probably won't be.

So what to make of this bounty ... . There is a really considered balance of recipes in Sophie's book and, as mentioned earlier, pretty much anyone that has a bit of a passion to do something in the kitchen with something available locally is catered for, …. well.  There is also an engaging legacy throughout to the influence of the ethnicity and traditions of the locals that have made this all happen despite ‘fashion'. 

Roast Chicken, Apple, Leek, Juniper, Speck, Bay Leaf + Apple Saba might just be the quintessential Sunday dinner from the region, or for any, and as approachable as it is impressive. Balance this with the sublimely simple Pickled Plum, Ham, Washed Rind Cheese + Rye Tartine.

At the other end of the scale, Spiced Betel Leaf Fritter, Marron, Air-Dried Beef, Salmon Roe + Caraway Flowers offers an exotic challenge for those that seek it, inspired by the previously mentioned Ms Lee Luk.

From the Anglo Saxon feel of Beef Cheek, Field Mushroom + Pickled Walnut Pie through the middle eastern use of labne (pronounced 'lab née'), pomegranate molasses and zaatar or Macedonian, buckwheat and bagna cauda (the divine garlic and anchovy based 'fondue' of Italian origin); all seem perfectly brought together at the same table.

There is the exquisitely delicate Tomato Water, Tomato Confit, Preserved Lemon, Avocado, Basil Oil + Nigella (the seed presumably, not the Siren). 

For those of that persuasion, a range of simply delicious sounding deserts is available. Not my priority, but important nonetheless.

This is a beautifully produced book thanks to the perfectly judged photography of Craig Kinder that genuinely places you in situ.  Most importantly, it is a food book with both purpose and substance, and sadly that is a quality that is rare amongst the easy, fast peddled food porn that seems to dominate the new found lust of the market.

Food of the Southern Forests is published by UWA Publishing and is available at good book stores for $59.99.


All images Craig Kinder

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