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A macadamia moment with Gavin Hughes

Where did you grow up and how did you get to where you are now?

I was brought up on a Scottish cattle farm. I moved to Australia in 2000 and now live in the Northern Rivers district with my wife Tash and our two sons. I started at The Byron at Byron as sous chef in 2004. To be honest I had never been that keen on resort restaurants, and I thought I might only be here about six months. But then I was promoted to head chef and I soon realised it was a great challenge.

Where do you look for inspiration when you are creating a menu?

I think about food a lot when I’m on my bike, riding through the Byron Bay hinterland. It’s also where I find a lot of menu inspiration. We do a lot of honesty box roadside shopping up in the hinterland. The small grower really inspires me – they may not have vast quantities of produce, but it’s really important for me to try and showcase these guys. I will stop at an honesty box on the roadside to buy produce that I’ll use that night in the restaurant. Never steal from an honesty box though – that’s bad karma. Even a Scotsman wouldn’t do that.

What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?

Salt!  

Which ingredients are you loving right now? 

Local strawberries and blueberries are amazing, and fennel. We have local asparagus starting and peas are awesome at the moment. I love broccoli, cauliflower, passionfruit, pineapples and heritage tomatoes.

How closely do you follow food trends?

I do follow the trends but I’m very conservative about what I can incorporate here and what I can’t. I won’t tackle something if I can’t do it justice. It does excite me and there is a place for it, but not in my heart too much.

Do you remember when you first tried a macadamia?

As soon as I moved here, I was keen to discover which ingredients could connect my menu with the local area. Being surrounded by macadamia orchards, I began to use them more and more. Recently we used them in macadamia brittle as part of a chocolate marquis dessert and as a macadamia custard in a bush trifle. And I’ve discovered that they make a great puree that goes really well with one of our local free-range pork dishes. I also love macadamia oil. It’s got a higher flash point than other oils, it’s great for sealing off pieces of fish and chicken and it’s really lovely to cook with.

What’s your favourite way to enjoy macadamias?

I like them spicy. They’re also great caramelised with just a little bit of sugar

Can you share the secret recipe for your signature spiced house nuts?

Every Thursday when I go to the farmers’ markets, I buy five kilograms of whole macadamias that we then roast and mix with lemon zest, sugar, salt, smoked paprika, chilli and a little bit of toasted cumin. Delicious! 

Where is your favourite place to eat, anywhere in the world?

My mum’s house. There is nothing like going back home to Scotland, sitting in her tiny house around the dinner table having one of my mother’s Sunday roasts. It’s always so tender. I don’t know how she does it.

What do you like to cook at home? 

My wife does most of the cooking at home – she’s a chef too. But every Monday night I do a roast chicken with roasted sweet potatoes.

You have a great Instagram account (@gawieh). Can you tell us the story behind it?

Instagram has really helped me connect with my family. I don’t just want to be showing off about the food I cook. I want to be more sincere and honest than that. I’m addicted to photography and Instagram. I’ll be driving along and I’ll see something out the window and stop and say ‘Where’s the camera?’. And the kids say ‘Oh no not again!’. I drive them crazy. The thrill of getting that magical shot – I get a kick out of it.

What’s your favourite TV show or movie?  

The Shawshank Redemption. That movie really captivated me. I have a fear of going to prison so the whole idea of being locked up is enough for me to be a good boy for the rest of my life. I’m not much of a movie person and I don’t watch much TV but that movie drew me in.

If you were an ice cream what flavour would you be?

Salted caramel! I find that flavour weird but I keep going for it. I still get a surprise every time I have it.

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