One step at a time, chef Prabhat Prawin is making changes.
Prawin took over as executive chef at Voco Kirkton Park Hunter Valley in Pokolbin about 10 weeks ago.
The IHG property, rebranded under the Voco label as it refocuses on attracting visitors seeking a more personalised experience, is full of energetic staff from the check-in desk to the bar and restaurant, and all points in between.
Prawin, who came to the resort after four years as executive chef at Marriott properties in Fiji, is taking the resort's "Locavore" restaurant concept, seriously. One of his first accomplishments: developing their own "salt," created from three ingredients grown on the premises: roses, rosemary and chillies.
"We just harvested all of the chilli last week," he says as we stand in the restaurant garden, the plants already bearing new foliage. "We have a rose garden, and rosemary from here. And chilli. All three I combine together and make our own signature salt. We're using it in our bar menu. And we give it to guests as an amenity."
A small gesture for sure, but significant in terms of purpose: one grain of salt at a time.
Hotel guests may also find a small glass jar of honey made on the premises as a gift upon arrival. Kirkton Park maintains a small number of hives, with the 60 kilograms of harvested honey shared between the kitchen and the front office (for guest amenities).
Prawin is keen to increase the output, and notes the property is committed to planting one tree for every conference function held ("Trees for Bees", they call it).
The fenced garden (with healthy passionfruit vines on the fences) is located on flat ground in the front of the property on Oakey Creek Road. It's healthy, if not huge. Already it is being expanded with more soil beds for plants, and another 100 square metres for pumpkins, potatoes and root vegetables.
In Fiji, Prawin expanded the garden at his resident hotel from a half acre to more than three acres and managed to create sustainable production of 11 crops.
At Pokolbin, Prawin is keen to make the resort sustainable in seven plants - rosemary, parsley, mint, edible flowers, chilli, kale and bok choy - and then expand further. Mushrooms are coming soon.
The garden also produces strawberries, snap peas, nasturtiums and cabbage. Prawin not only uses the flowers from the nasturtiums, but the leaves, too.
"I use the leaves, steam them and wrap it around spiced chicken," he says of the nasturtiums. "When you steam up, when you have protein and wrap it, it balances up very, very nice, the little bit of spice in the leaf balances very well."
The property includes a chicken pen, with about 30 birds. It's a work in progress, with plans for expansion of the pen and tripling the number of birds, for egg production.
There is also a pig pen, holding 12 piglets and their mama sow. These animals are not for eating; they are used for devouring food waste on the property. Guests, particularly children, are welcome to help during feeding time.
Prawin, who was raised on a farm in Bihar province in north-east India (and trained in Australia as a chef), is committed to the "locavore" concept and is seeking out more local food suppliers.
The restaurant is far removed from the animal pens, both in terms of distance and sophistication. The main building on the property oozes class and style, the restaurant features deep blue tones and comfortable seating; the adjacent glasshouse is perfect for breakfast in the morning light. The inside bar exudes warmth, and yes, has a fireplace, and a comfy outside area, perfect in fair weather.
When asked, Prawin nominates his favourite dish on the menu he created as the grain-fed 200g tenderloin steak, served with savoy cabbage and leek a la crème, confit garlic, pomme puree topped with wild mushroom thyme jus.
The restaurant has its third Long Lunch with a winemaker (Drayton's Family Wines) on August 24.