My friend generously invited me to lunch at Martin Boetz' new project, Ruschcutters, which defines itself as "a total food hub with a true sense of spirit and community. ". The restaurant purports to serve food sourced from the Hawkesbury region, including Boetz' own farm.
I am of course pleased to see new and visible advocacy of local food and fresh produce, especially, in the light of the ridiculous Shepparton fiasco ongoing here in New South Wales. And I am pleased to see another high-profile chef committing himself to these issues.
The result, unfortunately, is uninspired and uninspiring. The mission is not, as could be anticipated, lost in pretentiousness or preciousness (at least not in the cafe). The food is ok. But reasonable efforts at rusticness, shared tables, simple presentation fails to evoke in any way farms, quality, or alternativeness.
The space is a converted industrial space which includes a cafe, fine dining area (separated by a low wall), and a private dining room secluded upstairs. The advertising also mentions market, but nothing was for sale on a Tuesday afternoon. It smells like money and interior design, not like food.
Perhaps the rub is that this is a social movement, and the more mainstream it gets, the less it engages the consumer in a sense of agency and participation.
Some obvious evocative tricks absent here are: farm and variety names on the menus, photos of farms or produce, references to seasonality.
Oysters were on the menu. I presume they're local, perhaps even the varieties change with supply and season. But the particularity of today's oysters were not described on the menu nor by our server.
For me, a hallmark of my experience of the local food system is a sense of abundance and I think this is something that restaurants may struggle to pass on. When a vegetable or fruit is at peak season, the farmers practically give it away. Restaurants thrive on taking affordable abundant ingredients and making them seem scarce. And yet if consumers are to embrace local food as a better alternative to processed and out of season forms of consumption, transformative educational spaces, which is what Rushcutters aims to be, need to shower visitors witperih the real qualities of the alternative.
At the end of a rather insipid dining experience, I once again read the sign greeting visitors at the front of the restaurant. I wrote it down verbatim: "Our farm-to-table style and fresh produce from the Hawkesbury Region is only fifty kilometers away." Reads like one of those Asian t-shirts sporting random popular words, but lacking grammar and meaning.
I hope this restaurant does not turn out to be another version of Groundworks, where farm is reduced to a style of decor.