South Coast mates, Tess Podger and Zac Hidding have been friends since their days at Eden High. Now they’re restauranteurs changing the shape of the Snowy Mountain’s food scene with the launch this season of Birchwood. This funky den of millennial design is all about flavours and presentation with a tongue in cheek attitude and a love of mountain produce.
Birchwood has been a long time coming in the alpine food scene in Australia, especially in the satellite town of Jindabyne, the access point to Thredbo and Perisher. Good food has come and gone over recent years. The boys from Three Blue Ducks lasted a few seasons at Falls Creek before focusing on their Bronte and Byron Bay outlets and leaving skiers and boarders merely dreaming of those once a day muffin days of yore.
The first restaurant to score a Good Food Guide Hat, the Terrace at the Denman, closed after the award and so did the better priced The Olde Poole in the same hotel. Lake Crackenback’s Alpine Larder has done what it can to pick up the casual dining with design slack and Thredbo’s Burger Bar opened this season.
Now Sydney foodies missing the hipster scene of Alexandria can get a fix on the way to the snow.
SnowsBest chats to Tess about her Birchwood story.
What’s your history, Tess?
Starting in the hospitality industry at the age of 13 I have worked my way from front of house as a waitress, to a barista behind the coffee machine, managerial roles and finally to the kitchen. I’ve been cooking for 7 years now working in a range of establishments ranging from ski chalets, busy cafes in Perth, Sydney, Byron Bay and Merimbula, al a carte restaurants, fine dining hatted restaurants in Merimbula and Sydney and beachside shipping container cafes.
And what about Zac?
Zac having spent the last summer in Merimbula trained under Dan Pepperall of Hubert in Sydney which just won ‘New restaurant of the year’. Zac found himself in the kitchen shortly after leaving school as it was a profession which he could work and travel around the world to follow the winters skiing with.
Having previously done 5 seasons in Perisher opening in Jindabyne was not only a lifestyle choice but we identified a gap in the market for a new, fresh, wholesome cafe. With each years growing awareness of healthy foods, eating well and people’s intolerances and food allergies we tried to create a space with a diverse menu to appeal to everyone and cater to all needs and allergies.
We both love fresh, tasty food and found there was a lack of it in Jindabyne so created a menu and space we would like to eat at. Little did we know that wouldn’t happen very much as we’re too busy and always on the tools.
The alpine food scene has always been quite behind the city trends for quite some time. I feel there is a heavy focus on quick, takeaway and fast food rather than fresh, healthy and tasty dishes during the daytime trade.
We really wanted to provide a city quality, table service rather than order at the counter style commonly found around Jindabyne. A comfortable ‘sit and stay’ kind of place where people can relax and enjoy a meal. We also have a daily changing specials board to have something fresh and different for the regulars, keep us from getting stale in the kitchen and to highlight local, seasonal produce and South Coast seafood.
We both love the snow and mountains and have chased seasons for years in both Australia and overseas. This was a major factor in choosing to open in Jindabyne. The snowy mountains have been our second home in winter for years so it’s a place we’re familiar with and love. I snowboard and Zac skis so there’s always a bit of friendly rivalry there.
One of the biggest challenges of opening in Jindabyne was finding a space we liked and could see potential in. We absolutely love the space we found and it was such a bonus it was previously a food premise so minimal changes to the kitchen were needed. Being young, first time business owners we didn’t have a lot of cash to play with.
Another challenge we have come across since opening is sourcing certain ingredients and equipment. Things take days, if they are available at all, so you have to be super organised and plan ahead unlike being in a city where everything is a little more accessible.
When designing and brainstorming the theme for Birchwood we wanted to create a fresh, clean, white and bright space that was warm and welcoming. We sourced inspiration for the cafe from around the world in our travels and many popular establishments in Sydney and Melbourne. The name Birchwood was a last minute change and came to us from the Silver Birch tree lined street out the front as well as using a Birchwood throughout the cafe in the tables, chairs and bar fittings.
Tell us about the food
My style of cooking has a lot of middle eastern influences through spices, flavours and presentation. I think that style of food is so exciting on the palate with such a busy mix of flavours. If one of my recipes has less than 15 ingredients (8 of those being spices) in it Zac is very surprised.
I absolutely love Yotam Ottolenghi an Israeli born, British chef. His recipes are some of the only recipes i don’t tweak and put my own spin on, he seems to nail each and every one. I love all his 5 books which, surprise surprise are mainly of Middle Eastern cuisine.
I also love the food and books from Mark Labrooy and Darren Robertson the guys from the ‘Three Blue Ducks’ and ‘The Farm’ in Sydney and Byron Bay and have been following Katie Quinn Davies a photographer and food blogger who’s books are simple and produce driven for quite a few years.
Zac’s style of food and influences differ vastly to mine, which really works well as we end up with an interesting mix of flavours and dishes. David Chang from Momokuku who has restaurants in Sydney, New York, Toronto and Washington DC is one of Zac’s main inspirations.
He has a modern, simplistic, asian and street food style. Roy choi, a Korean American chef is another of Zac’s influences. He was the first to make food trucks ‘cool’ again with his gourmet Korean taco truck. Maybe one days we’ll have a Middle Eastern food truck, who knows.
I don’t have a signature dish as such. it’s hard to choose just one. I like making a range of things from desserts, baking and fresh and tasty meals. I definitely have more of a cuisine (middle eastern) rather than a singular dish.
Zac on the other hand is a burger man. All things burgers, talk to Zac. He can make a mean American cheese burger. Maccas eat your heart out.
What have your guests connected with the most?
Everything on the menu sells reasonable evenly. There are a few standouts though, as a quick takeaway option you can’t go past the bacon and egg roll with house made tomato relish and aioli. One of the top eat in dishes would have to be the smashed sesame pumpkin on 10 grain toast with haloumi, wilted spinach and a poached egg with garlic tahini dressing and toasted seeds.
The mega sized banoffee pancake served in the pan is a hit with the sweet tooths or the shakshuka a spiced tomato, chorizo and feta baked eggs is a real treat too. Lunch time, burgers fly out the door. The 150g beef burger or buttermilk fried chicken burger are two of the most popular lunch items.
Closely followed by the nourish bowl with brown rice, zucchini noodles, haloumi, roast pumpkin, grilled tomato, avocado, a poached egg and leafy greens for the health conscious.
Images courtesy of Facebook.com/BirchwoodJindabyne
You’ll find Birchwood Jindabyne at 3/3 Gippsland Street, Jindabyne (02) 6456 1880