Head chef at Highline at the Railway Hotel, Simon Tarlington, creates food with a ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy. With a focus on fresh, sustainable ingredients, each dish prepared at Highline is delicious, full flavoured and prepared with minimal wastage. Former chef de partie at Quay Restaurant in Sydney, Simon himself was a Young Chef of the year finalist in 2014. After being brought on in 2015, Simon has brought a youthful rejuvenation to the Railway Hotel and it’s menu offerings.
When did you know that the culinary field was the one for you?
From a very young age I loved cooking, spending time in the kitchen with family and friends are some of my fondest memories. At the age of 14 I started my apprenticeship and when I became a fully qualified Chef I knew there was no turning back.
In the Highline Restaurant you focus on a paddock to plate experience. Why is this important to you?
Throughout my career I have learnt to really respect all produce. I get a great deal of pride satisfaction out of being able to use the freshest seasonal produce available in my cooking. Planting a seed and eventually using the finished product on a dish inspires me to make the most of what I am using. I love visiting the farm and spending time in the orchard or vegetable patch planning what I will create in the future.
Where do you find inspiration when creating new dishes?
When receiving produce from the farm (Oak Valley), I try to use this in the most creative way possible. Having a constant supply of seasonal produce forces you to use a lot of different cooking methods such as curing, drying, freezing, fermenting and pickling. When you get to work with products that you have planted, seen grow and harvested you want to highlight the produce as much as possible.
Does your love of cooking run in your family?
My mum and dad were always good in the kitchen. Growing up there was a different home cooked meal on the table every night. My parents experimented with food and were very adventurous when finding new flavours. My Grandparents were European immigrants, so food was always at the centre of every family gathering.
How important is food presentation in your restaurant?
I believe flavour and texture is everything. Until this is right on a dish I don’t even start thinking how it will be plated. If the dish is cooked correctly and the flavours are well matched the presentation will follow.
How can tableware affect a dining experience?
I find that once I have created a dish in Highline I like to select tableware that will emphasise each component of the dish without having to add any extra garnish. From a customer’s perspective seeing different plates for different dishes can change the way they think about food. The colour, shape and texture of a plate can represent where that produce has come from. Contrasting colours can really highlight a dish which is why we lean toward natural earthy tones and dark coloured plates to visually enhance the food.
If you had to be remembered by one dish, which would it be?
Rather than being known for one dish I would like to be remembered for the overall experience that I have created in my restaurant. I would like to be remembered for having created a fantastic, memorable dining experience that people will tell all their friends about. I have learnt when anyone goes out for a meal they are not just looking for great food but great wine and great service.
What are your most used ingredients and why?
There is not one most used ingredient in the kitchen and I don’t think we ever will be. Whenever we create a menu we look at every dish individually and who that works with every other dish. We like to have a balance in the menu of as many different flavours as we can without any one flavour dominating, this is also reflected in our use of proteins- using beef, lamb, pork, seafood and from time to time game. My goal is to encourage our guests to think about what they are eating and wanting them to come back for more.
Who is your culinary idol?
Peter Gilmore at Quay in Sydney. Peter opened my eyes in terms of understanding the importance of truly fresh produce and encouraging me to my own judgment on how to use it. He taught me to think outside the box when creating a dish and not limiting my thinking to one style.
Where in the world can the best cooking be found?
I believe every country cooks something amazing and that no one country is better than another (England for roast dinners, Japan for rice dishes, Korea for hot pots etc). I have been taught to be open minded when thinking about produce and how to create a dish. In my kitchen we focus on not being narrow minded as there as so many amazing cuisines and techniques that we can and should use to create the best dish possible.