15 November 2013

Thomas Ege, Executive Chef, Peppers Beach Club and Spa, Palm Cove

Palm Cove is at once a sleepy, yet sophisticated holiday spot in tropical far north Queensland. The picture-postcard-perfect swaying palms and sea breeze on the ocean-front esplanade are a given. On the other side of the street, lush gardens bloom with showy pink bougainvillea, giant red hibiscus and the ubiquitous orange of the many bird-of-paradise flowers, thanks to frequent tropical downpours.  Many of the hotels and restaurants along Williams Esplanade have built their awnings and decks around the majestic melaleuca trees that shade the footpath.
Deference to the rich natural environment is palpable here, and was part of the drawcard for German-born Thomas Ege at Lime and Pepper Restaurant, in Peppers Beach Club and Spa. In Stuttgart Ege worked in a fine-dining restaurant with capacity for just 24 diners, where the focus was on quality, and the rich array of local produce.
“I got to know local hunters, so they would bring me a wild boar, or deer, or venison and we would butcher the animal ourselves, and create a menu accordingly,” Ege says.
“For the couple of weeks in the year that we could get yabbies from a nearby creek, there’d be yabby dishes,” he says.
“I knew people who grew beautiful walnuts; they had just a few trees, but it was perfect for a restaurant of that size, and as fresh as can be.”

When the Global Financial Crisis and changes to tourism taxes took their toll on the German restaurant scene, Ege sought new challenges in the Cayman Islands for a year, before Australia beckoned.
He spent his first year in Australia running the kitchen at Sassafras Creek in Kurrajong Village at the foothills of the Blue Mountains, with his wife Petra running front of house.  
He and Petra discovered the idyllic hamlet while travelling the length of the Queensland coast on their honeymoon, and jumped at the chance to call it home.  While this is undeniably fertile landscape for produce, incorporating that produce into a restaurant menu is not without its challenges, as Ege discovered when he took over the kitchen earlier this year at Lime and Pepper Restaurant, in Peppers Beach Club and Spa.

Working with local seafood was something German-born Ege was excited about when putting together the new menu. He was confronted with a startling realisation; distribution and supply-chain logistics are such that much of the locally caught seafood eaten at all those restaurant tables overlooking the sea in Palm Cove has travelled the long journey to Brisbane and back.
“The biggest challenge in far north Queensland is the distance produce has to travel if it isn’t sourced locally – it compromises freshness.”

Ege set about finding a way to source fish from local fisherman; and before long Wahoo starting making an appearance on the menu – a firm reef fish similar in flavour and texture to mackerel. Apart from the appeal of freshness in sourcing such fish directly from fisherman, there is the added appeal of offering diners a less common option.       

“So many restaurants do Barramundi up here – so I think it’s good to offer something different.” 
Ege currently serves olive-oil poached Wahoo with Mareeba pineapple and ragout, and black and red Nepalese rice. He says it also lends itself well to a light, ceviche style dish with coriander and finger limes – perfect fare for the steamy tropics.

Although Ege’s European influence is evident, he has wasted no time in immersing himself in the region’s produce to arrive at unique menu that is well suited to the climate. Lemon-myrtle- marinated Grimaud duck breast comes with orange risotto, vanilla foam and asparagus. Wattle-seed mascarpone cream is served with char-grilled pineapple, local finger lime pearls and a Cointreau espuma.
It’s a long way from the wild boar of Bavaria, but with his contagious energy and versatility, Ege brings a fresh approach to resort dining, tropical far north Queensland style.

*Miss Morag was a guest of Peppers


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