Southern Ocean Lodge Executive Chef Asher Blackford took the reins of the kitchen in July 2017, bringing with him a personal approach to food and a fresh drive to work with local food and beverage producers from Kangaroo Island and broader South Australia.
It’s a connection between produce, people and plate that is at the heart of the dining experience at each of the Baillie Lodges properties, which also include Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island and Longitude 131 at Uluru Kata Tjuta. The so-called Culinary Philosophy was developed by founding Executive Chef Tim Bourke and owner James Baillie to offer guests an essential ‘taste’ of each remarkable destination.
Described in Australian Gourmet Traveller as having an ‘earthy, witty, wise’ cuisine style, Asher was immediately taken by the diversity of the landscape on Kangaroo Island and the food and beverages it produces. Asher was first struck by the rolling green pastures of the island, reminiscent of his home in Maleny, Queensland, and by the incongruity of the neighbouring thick native eucalypt forests, rugged limestone coastline and wild seascapes.
Asher is inspired by his surroundings and brings the landscape to the plate in its appearance, taste and emotion. A keen forager, Asher conceives dishes that recreate a precise natural location and the experience or memory attached to it. For example, he may combine King George Whiting caught fresh off the coast of American River with samphire or sea herbs foraged from the same location.
Asher’s particular food belief is around sustainability – environmental and economic - and in the local and whole food philosophy of American author Michael Pollan, with his ‘you are what you eat eats’ look at the food chain. Having a close working relationship with Kangaroo Island’s producers feeds neatly into this approach, as does a dedication to using the whole of each product, from ‘nose to tail’ or ‘root to shoot’.
If asked to choose a favourite ingredient, Asher nominates seafood, so guests can expect Kangaroo Island’s already spectacular range of fish and seafood – from local oysters, freshly-caught kingfish to sustainably-farmed barramundi - to be singing on the plate.
At Southern Ocean Lodge, the world-class, daily designed menu is fundamental to the guest experience, and Asher is excited to be part of a bigger picture.
“For me, food is an emotional experience. Putting together the day’s menu is really about adding taste to the guest’s experience of Kangaroo Island and about creating enduring, happy memories of a stay at Southern Ocean Lodge,” Asher said.
Asher most recently worked as Executive Chef at Peppers Mineral Springs Retreat in Daylesford, Victoria, and before that at Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley Resort in the New South Wales Blue Mountains. Asher’s role at Southern Ocean Lodge will be his third at a Luxury Lodges of Australia property, having also spent time in the kitchen at Lizard Island in North Queensland.