Iain Robertson’s Wagin duck, mulberry and nettle at Cullen Wines.
Duck with Mulberry at Cullen wines
The Australian 12:00AM February 22, 2018
By John Lethlean – Food writer – Melbourne – @JohnLethlean
Like so many chefs in the southwest/Margaret River region of Western Australia, Iain Robertson can look back and say: “It must have been the lure of the sea.”
Robertson, who joined winemaker Vanya Cullen at her family’s Wilyabrub vineyard last year to run the restaurant kitchen after 13 years cooking elsewhere in the district, goes further than the predictable love of surfing, although that is one of his passions. He is also a keen angler and spearfisher.
He has a spine-tingling story of squid jigging at Dunsborough on Geographe Bay one evening when an unwelcome visitor of the white pointer variety, “bigger than the dinghy”, came up to take a look. Good time to be in a boat.
“Living in an area surrounded by wine and gourmet produce brings out the best in the local chefs,” says Robertson, who has achieved a style that is refined yet unpretentious. And the ocean is a constant source of energy and inspiration, he says.
For a certain kind of chef, Cullen is a dream gig because the emphasis on viticultural primacy extends to organic produce for the kitchen. It also helps that Cullen’s international reputation means Robertson is pairing his food with vin that is anything but ordinaire.
“Embracing Cullen’s forward-thinking organic and biodynamic philosophies has provided my greatest inspiration so far,” he says. “Our amazingly knowledgeable gardener maintains and supplies us daily with a variety of interesting ingredients from heirloom vegetables, saltbush, purslane to fat hen, ensuring our menu is ever-changing.”
“To me this dish represents both the history and principles of Cullen Wines. The dish incorporates mulberries from the mulberry trees that line the driveway.” Planted more than 40 years ago, their gnarled forms dominate the estate’s entry on Caves Road.
“In summer you’ll find both children and adults clambering over the trees picking the delicious, messy fruit. For the kitchen, it’s a call to action. The mulberries are both pickled and fermented to extend their use beyond that short season.”
The stinging nettle is grown in the biodynamic vegetable gardens. It is cultivated for the restaurant kitchen and used in the vineyard to vitalise and enliven the soil, nourishing the vines as a rich source of iron and silica.
This dish features the “amazingly tender” whole duck from Wagin Duck & Game, a poultry product dominant at the high end of WA restaurants. The farm is at Wagin, southeast of Perth. “Their free-range practices, allowing the ducks to roam in a natural environment, complement the philosophies of Cullen,” says Robertson.
All the other ingredients are picked from the garden daily.
“We bone out the whole duck, then brine the breast and legs separately,” the chef says. “The breast is lightly cold smoked, cooked sous-vide to medium and rendered in the pan to order. The boned-out legs are compressed and cooked at a low temperature overnight to retain moisture and texture, then crisped in the pan to serve. The bones of the duck are roasted to make an essence so the whole bird is used in the dish.”
It’s a modern take on the old roasted breast/confit leg combo.
“The mulberries are juiced and fermented for at least three months to make an emulsification that is stored and used the following summer. We also pickle the firm pink mulberries to make a ‘caviar’ for this dish and use the ripe mulberries fresh to bring richness and sweetness to the dish.”
Stinging nettle leaves are triple-blanched and refreshed to maintain their vibrant colour and herbaceous flavour, then blended to make a sauce.
“We finish the dish with a savoury wattle seed granola to add texture and fresh-picked mustard leaf with some pickled mustard seeds, just for a touch of acidity.”
At the restaurant, this duck dish is paired with the elegant Cullen Diana Madeline, a wine grown on the Wilyabrup estate that, in the 2016 vintage, is a blend of 93 per cent cabernet sauvignon, 5 per cent merlot, and 1 per cent each of malbec and petit verdot.
“The dark fruit notes and hints of spice complement the earthiness of the dish,” says Robertson’s boss. And this we can attest to; there is a “same page” thing happening at Cullen between kitchen and winery that makes this one of the district’s must-visit estate restaurants for unpretentious wine dining in Margaret River.
As a main course, $38.