In the chef’s kitchen at Saffire Freycinet

As Executive Chef of the Tasmanian luxury lodge, Saffire Freycinet, Paddy Prenter is tasked with overseeing a diverse menu for guests from all corners of the globe. We spoke with Paddy during a recent visit to the property.

LT: Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I’m from Hobart originally, starting my apprenticeship in local pubs – quite humble beginnings, and I moved around quite frequently during my early years.

I think that’s helped me now, with my repertoire and knowledge of food and cuisines, and working with a diverse range of people over the years which has really benefitted me working here, having guests from all over the world, and tapping into what is trending for them.

I’ve spent a few years in Melbourne, working in hatted restaurants for the McConnell Group and Hammer & Tongue, and that’s when I really started to push myself and progress, seeing where food can go and working with some really talented individuals and teams.

I also worked at Franklin in Hobart, one of Australia’s top restaurants. I started at Saffire in mid-2018 as the sous chef, until October 2022 when Ian Todd, former Executive Chef moved to Fiji with his family and I stepped up into the Executive Chef role.

LT: What’s the size of your team and where do they come from?

We have a team of about 15 staff in the kitchen. The team dynamics have changed a lot since I first started and after the pandemic. When I first started, we had a lot more international workers and probably a bit more transient; whereas I’ve been very lucky for the past 12 months to really hold onto my team which is actually really nice as you’re able to build relationships and progress together, which is fantastic.

There’s one breakfast chef; two for lunch and anywhere from five to seven working on dinner, depending on occupancy, menus, and special occasions.

LT: What’s your approach to your menu design?

At the moment, there are about 17 different menus so there’s a lot of food that leaves the kitchen. With our a la carte menu, I try and keep it as seasonal as possible. We might make a few modifications and the dishes are always evolving, but I tend to change things around with the seasons. On any given night, we might have 11–14 different degustation menus leaving the kitchen in one service and that’s just with all the changes due to dietary requirements and preferences.

We’ve got a lot of guests from the US at the moment, but other times they may be from Eastern Europe or China — I try to keep the menu as diverse as possible to try and attract people and give them variety.

Our ethos in the kitchen is we don’t want the guests eating the same thing twice during their stay. This means if someone stays for five, six, or 14 nights, we’ll do a brand new degustation menu for every single day that they are here.

It’s a luxury resort, and we have incredible produce, but I do like to keep the kitchen as sustainable and waste-free as I possibly can — but it’s always a battle, if I have 40 people tonight, I need to have 40 degustation menus ready because it’s not something I can do on the fly.

We also supply staff meals for the resort staff. We always have leftovers so we’re not just throwing things out willy-nilly. We always think about what we’ve got, how we can use it in another way. We do a lot of pickling and fermenting and in the lounge as well, we do the canapés and snacks which change daily; so if there are leftovers from ingredients that aren’t used in the previous degustation menu, I try and think of how I can repurpose those ingredients and turn it into something that is still going to be delicious and something the guest hasn’t seen before.

LT: What are your influences on the menu, which cuisines influence you as a chef?

I love Asian cuisine, but I kind of look at it as modern Australian. I think Asian cuisine in Australia is such a big part of our everyday life and in more recent times, it’s come to the fore. The Japanese way of eating and their care and affection coming through is quite incredible. The way they treat food and respect the product is amazing. I also love Italian and French cooking and the classics — it’s a fusion of everything and trying to make it your own.

We’ve got people in the kitchen from mainland Australia, also people from Taiwan, China, and France and we really encourage people to cook what they know, love, and are passionate about. The flexibility in the menus allows us to play around with flavours, see what works and what doesn’t. For me, as long as things are consistent for that particular service, the guest isn’t going to see it again during their stay — so the next time that dish comes around on the menu, we can make changes. It’s very flexible in that sense.

I’ve done a lot of travelling through South America and Asia. As a chef, you’re always constantly interested in food, there’s not ‘one way’ of doing anything.

LT: What produce and ingredients can you source on-site?

We source our honey on-site, which is an amazing thing to have access to. We do have a kitchen garden currently being reworked. We usually have guests out on the deck in great weather, having a few barbecue lunches. It’s only very small but we’re re-tiling and replanting a lot right now. Usually, there are lots of perennial herbs and garnish flowers. I’d love to get some cucumbers and chilli, too. We’re also inundated with white tea trees or ‘kunsai’ around the property, which we utilise into oils or chocolate; we also use lavender found on the property. There are some sea herbs from down on Muir’s Beach on the menu tonight, so the guys will go down to the beach and forage the sea herbs.

We are considered a remote location and ordering and reliability of the product needs to be of a really high standard, but being two hours away from the nearest city, ordering can be quite a challenging aspect of the job.

LT: Which suppliers do you work with?

We’re part of The Federal Group, so we do have some relationships with bigger suppliers for things like fruit and vegetables, meat, and seafood. All my pork comes from a little farm, Longname Farm, which is at Little Swanport. Our lamb comes from Wild Clover near Launceston; my seafood comes from a seafood vendor, Ashmores, who sources sustainable and ethically caught seafood from all over Australia.

I’ve requested that all my fish come from Tasmanian waters but I still have Mooloolaba prawns and Fraser Island spanner crab, for instance. Part of the reason behind that is due to our diverse guests, people might come straight to Saffire and it might be the only place they see in Tasmania, but they want to eat Australian prawns — I still need to be able to deliver the product that people are asking for.

We’re really lucky with our oysters, which we source from the Freycinet Marine Farm; and there are incredible oysters too from Mellshell, just over the river. I can order that day by day, as we’re so close, which is fantastic. Where possible, I try and keep it as Tasmanian as I can. The foundation of my menus is Tasmanian-sourced.

LT: What sustainability measures do you put in place in the kitchen?

Along with the new kitchen garden, we’re in the process of getting a new compost machine to allow us to do more composting and put it back into the garden, which will be fantastic for our waste. We’ve gone with all ‘green’ bags, liners, bamboo wipes, etc in the kitchen. We’ve just installed an e-water system so that all our water in the kitchen will be chemical-free, using essentially a water and salt solution to clean our kitchen and equipment with, which is huge — it’s a way forward. We’ve still got a long way to go but we’re taking it one step at a time. As mentioned earlier, we try and repurpose ingredients too.

LT: How do the cooking classes hosted for guests work?

They are a one-hour demonstration. We do three classes a week, which are rotated around the more experienced staff, and I leave it up to them to cook what they’re passionate about. I think it’s great for confidence among the younger staff. Guests who attend take home the recipe in their departure bag and we normally do a kitchen walk-through at the end of it. We do really encourage opportunities for guest interaction with staff – it’s so nice to be able to have those meet and greet opportunities and it’s really nice to put smiles on people’s faces.

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