WARRAGUL // Wild Dog Winery may be well known for its wine, but the food it produces is fast becoming recognised as some of the best in south eastern Australia.
Above: Ed McDowell with his award. Photo: William PJ Kulich. PRN01025
First published in the 14 August 2015 edition of the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. Click here to read the full edition online.
Last month Wild Dog Winery Restaurant was announced as winner of the Restaurant in a Winery category in the 2015 Savour Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence.
Restaurants from Victoria and Tasmania entered the awards, and Wild Dog will now be judged as part of the national competition in Brisbane later this year.
Head chef Ed McDowell told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen the award came as a surprise.
“We’re a member of the Restaurant and Caterers in Victoria, and they send out applications every year to see if we want to enter the Savour Awards for Excellence and this year we did,” he said.
“We have done so every year since we opened except last year, but this year we did and to our surprise we actually won.
“We were actually shocked.
“It’s completely anonymous – we didn’t know when the judges were arriving. They visited in May or June.
“From what I believe they’re non-industry people, so they’re not people who own restaurants or chefs, they’re just people who have a love of food and wine.”
Mr McDowell has put winning down to his and his staff’s constant dedication to task.
“We try to achieve a really high standard of food and service at Wild Dog, and you don’t rest on your laurels from your last service, you just keep pushing yourself for front of house to back of house,” he said.
“I think having that drive to always provide great service and food and experience to the customers is what sort of pushed us and helped us win.”
Public response to the award has been “really great,” according to Mr McDowell.
“From a social media point of view, I think it’s one of the biggest points of interest on our page,” he said.
“We get this awesome award plaque with a plate and, from a marketing point of view for the restaurant and the winery it’s really important.
“Locals are really important to the business. We also get a lot of people coming from Melbourne and from everywhere. Families, just couples from everywhere – national and international.”
Recent years have seen some changes to the way the restaurant works, as well as a continuing push for local produce.
“We changed the style from a full à la carte menu to a somewhat limited set menu, featuring great local produce for a set price,” Mr McDowell said.
“Local produce is really important. From a chef’s point of view and a restaurateur’s point of view it’s important to support local business, local growers, local farmers, and for me the produce in this area is second to none, it’s amazing stuff.
Finding local producers is, however, not a simple task.
“In some cases the farmers end up being customers in the restaurant, word of mouth and you get talking to people,” Mr McDowell said.
“You have a chat with them and you find out they are producing this and you go down to the farm or they bring samples up and you have a look at it, have a play with it and you create stuff with it.”
Local food is matched with local wine, of course sourced from the Wild Dog Winery.
“We do do wine matchings,” Mr McDowell said.
“I’m not 100 per cent experienced in matching wine, that’s for the winemakers – they help us match the dishes to the wine.”
The restaurant business is not one which stands still, and Mr McDowell has started pushing into new flavours. A bush tucker garden planted on site three years ago is now producing fruit from plants including lemon myrtle, mountain pepper, and muntries. Flavoured olives from over 600 trees planted at the winery are also in the pipeline.
“You never stop,” he said.
“You’re always thinking of new ways of doing food and the thought process never ends.
“Food trends are changing all the time and what’s hot this year is definitely not hot next year so you’re always looking for the next thing.
“It sort of never ends.
“With the bush tucker garden, we’re trying to establish some of the ingredients into something we can then sell – a cross between using it in the restaurant on the plate from then letting the customer know they can purchase it.
“The great thing about the garden is it’s open to everyone – you can have a wander through and sample, rip a leaf off, have a smell.”
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