Fleurieu cookbook a feast for foodies

McLaren Vale foodie Rojina McDonald fell in love with the culinary delights of South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula simply by growing up in the food and wine region.

Adopted from Sri Lanka as a baby, she was raised on an olive grove between McLaren Vale and Willunga, and remembers jumping the neighbour’s fence as a child with her sister to fill their pockets with pistachio nuts.

Now the baking queen and self-publishing entrepreneur has taken her passion for the Fleurieu’s food scene and poured it into her first book, Faces and Food of the Fleurieu.

Launched recently, the coffee table cookbook profiles 80 restaurants, cafés and producers across 29 towns on the Fleurieu, helping to shed light on the region’s gastronomic delights.

Written by local writer Heather Millar and illustrated with photographs by Josie Withers, the book tells the story of each business owner and shares recipes featuring local produce and signature ingredients.

The duck a l’orange dish by Ryan Callaghan of Au Pair Restaurant in Willunga.

“What makes the Fleurieu is the food and wine, a good quality olive oil, the produce, the vegetables grown throughout the region, and the agricultural industry as a whole,” Rojina says.

Among those featured include The Salopian Inn with its steamed tofu and Asian greens dish, d’Arry’s Verandah with a Yuzu-cured tuna with smashed cucumber, the Willunga Farmer’s Market with lemon, almond and ricotta cake, and Coorong Wild Seafood with a pan-fried Coorong mullet and buttered potato, kale and capers recipe.

Faces and Food of the Fleurieu has received praise from Australian cooking royalty Maggie Beer, local author Heather England and leading winemaker Corrina Wright of Oliver’s Taranga, and is already available in 60 places across the Fleurieu, as well as book stores, visitor information centres and airports.

Rojina came to appreciate the Fleurieu’s food sector as a teenager when she worked weekends at the McLaren Vale Continental Deli and Café (now Mullygrub).

She says customers would line up out the door, waiting for their fix of fresh, regional produce. She remembers the cream blobs formed on top of Alexandrina Milk while making coffee and the smell of the freshly baked bread delivered to the deli by Andy Clappis from Italian restaurant Our Place at Willunga Hill.

Katelijne Van Cauteren of Three Monkeys café in Willunga features in the book.

“The deli was one of those proper continental delis where everything was local including the bread, cheeses, milks, condiments and preserves, sandwiches, cakes and home-cooked lunches,” Rojina says.

“I worked there for four years and still to this day people say to me, ‘Hey! You’re the girl from the deli!’ and I still recognise their faces too. That really taught me about how important and special regional produce is.”

Rojina then went onto work at a number of other local cafés, restaurants and in retail before hitting hard times and being diagnosed with anxiety.

To reset her mental health and wellbeing, she spent time at home and began baking cupcakes. It started with a batch of 20, then word got out and the orders started pouring in.

“I started baking 20 a week, then 150, then 200 a week out of my little kitchen in McLaren Vale. I was delivering them to my sister’s florist, the hospital and businesses in the main street,” Rojina says.

“I did that for about two years and was dubbed the cupcake queen and awarded the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award by the McLaren Vale Business Association.

“That’s when I got back into food and it really helped with my anxiety, I think something like that has to happen to push you in the right direction.”

Rojina switched her mindset and adopted the power of positive thinking, becoming inspired by best-selling self-help book The Secret, which she says has changed her life.

Among her personal goals was meeting Maggie Beer, winning a scholarship at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and writing for a food magazine – all of which she would later achieve.

In 2013 she set off for Le Cordon Bleu in London to complete a certificate in basic patisserie and that’s when the idea for a cookbook featuring the Fleurieu’s food producers was born.

“I met all these people from around the world and I was trying to explain to them where I was from. I thought if only there was a coffee table book that showcased the beautiful beaches, the food and the stories of the Fleurieu,” Rojina says.

She kept the book idea in the back of her mind and returned to Australia before life took over and she welcomed her first child, Orion.

Rojina McDonald grew up always appreciating fresh produce from the Fleurieu region.

In 2016 Rojina had settled into motherhood and was working part-time when she decided it was time to reignite the cookbook idea. So she set about gathering local support, started her own company Soul Publishing and got local food businesses to fill the pages.

A successful crowdfunding campaign earlier this year raised $16,000 to push pre-orders and help cover printing costs.

The 29-year-old says orders for Faces and Food of the Fleurieu have been tumbling in, giving her the confidence to plan for a second edition in early 2019, this time profiling the region’s beer, wine and spirits.

“It will showcase 40 prominent wineries, breweries and distilleries and will tell their stories,” she says.

“Many of McLaren Vale’s wineries have been around for years and handed down through generations. We want to complement these stories with beautiful photography, brewery tips and gin recipes.”

For more information on Faces and Food of the Fleurieu, visit the website.

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Fleurieu alpaca farm a hit with overseas visitors

One of the last sounds you’d probably expect to hear as you wander down a quiet road in the reaches of Hindmarsh Valley is a chorus of excited voices speaking loudly in Mandarin.

But thanks to one of the Fleurieu Peninsula’s newest tourism ventures, there’s a good chance that that’s exactly what you will hear down one particular road.

Softfoot Alpacas, run by the Retallick family, is an innovative, multifaceted enterprise that’s attracting attention in China for its wool, the alpacas themselves, and its range of boutique farm tour experiences.

Softfoot Alpacas owners Gary and Sandy Retallick.

If you spend any time with the Retallicks, you’ll soon discover that they don’t do things by halves. Once they develop an interest in something, they have a tendency to dive headlong into it (quite literally in some cases).

“If you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly,” says Clancy Retallick.

Unlike sheep or cattle, alpacas have soft feet (hence the farm name), meaning they have a minimal impact on their habitat.

For this reason, soon after buying the property Sandy and daughter Clancy decided to buy an alpaca off their neighbour.

The purchase sparked an interest and almost before they knew it, they found themselves in the Peruvian Andes, assisting local villagers in a traditional muster of prospective breeding stock.

Softfoot Alpacas is popular with overseas visitors wanting to experience authentic farm life and premium alpaca wool and products.

Today Softfoot is recognised as a producer of some of the world’s finest alpaca fibre and breeding lines.

A visit to the farm’s trophy room is overwhelming for the sheer number of prizes and awards that the Retallicks’ animals have won.

“I think of it in terms of wine,” Clancy says. “When people think of premium wine, they think of Penfolds. We like to think of Softfoot wool as the Grange Hermitage of alpaca wool.”

But while they are justifiably proud of this achievement, it is only part of their story.

After a number of visits to the farm by Chinese business partners, the Retallicks realised that they had more to offer than just their fibre; they were able to give their visitors a unique, authentic Australian experience, which has proved immensely popular.

Softfoot Alpacas tourism manager Sophie Xie.

A chance meeting in Victor Harbor led Clancy to Sophie Xie, a Shanghai native who had recently moved to Australia.

Clancy quickly recognised that the combination of Sophie’s cultural background and expertise in marketing represented a valuable opportunity, and Sophie is now a key member of the Softfoot team, in the role of tourism manager.

“We’re so lucky to have found Sophie,” says Clancy.

“She’s uniquely qualified for the role and she’s been such a valuable addition to our team.”

Their ongoing success has also enabled the family to explore, with typical Retallick energy, their shared passion for conservation.

The farm is home to the Softfoot Sanctuary, a sophisticated, self-funded operation designed to safeguard and ensure the genetic diversity of a number of threatened marsupial species, and contribute to re-wilding areas where populations have been decimated by non-native predators like foxes and cats.

Header photo is Softfoot Alpacas tourism manager Sophie Xie.

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Quality at every turn for SA surfboard builder

South Australian surfboard shaper Mark Benson is keeping the local industry (not to mention the surfers themselves) afloat, by focussing on quality over quantity.

SA surfers are a hardy bunch, braving cold water, heavy Southern Ocean swells and the occasional toothy visitor in the pursuit of the perfect wave.

Of course, to do this, a surfer needs a board and Mr. Damage Surfboards, based out of Port Elliot on the southern Fleurieu Peninsula, has a strong local following amongst those who take their surfing seriously.

Mark Benson works on one of his masterpieces. Photo by Andy Alford of Photograffix.

The label was originally founded by local surf-culture icon Syd Willmett, whose surf shop, Southern Surf, still operates in the town’s main street.

Syd sold the shop and retired to Queensland many years ago, but the Mr. Damage brand lives on in the safe hands of owner and head shaper Mark Benson.

Mark got hooked on surfing at a young age and developed a habit of dropping into Syd’s shop after his regular lunchtime surf sessions.

Syd must have seen something special in his young visitor, because he eventually offered Mark a job, which included a three-year, informal apprenticeship in the surfboard shaping trade.

He didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of a long and distinguished career.

Mr. Damage Surfboards has built a loyal following. Photo by Andy Alford of Photograffix.

In the early 1990s Mark also made the move north, earning his stripes alongside some of the country’s most respected shapers.

After so many years in the business, Mark can only guess at the number of boards that have passed through his hands.

“I did a bit of calculating a couple of years back,” he says.

“Including boards I’ve shaped or laminated (with fibreglass), I worked out that I’ve made perhaps 15-20,000 so far.”

In 2009 Mark decided to hang up the tools and move back to SA, but it turns out you can’t keep a good shaper down.

A persistent chorus of voices asking for boards, paired with an offer from a friend to finance the set-up of a new factory, eventually convinced Mark to get back in the game.

And so, with Syd’s blessing, the Mr. Damage label was reborn.

When art and surfing collide. Photo by Andy Alford of Photograffix.

The decision wasn’t without its risks, of course. Surfboard manufacturing has undergone a significant shift in recent times, with small producers under significant pressure from big brands flooding the market with cheaply made imported boards.

But partly due to his extensive experience, and partly to an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time, Mark has managed to carve out a niche for himself in Port Elliot.

“People recognise that I’ve put the work in and there are decades of experience behind every board I make,” he says.

“And the people who ride my boards like the fact that they’re made locally.

“They can come to the factory and chat with me about what they’re looking for, and a couple of weeks later walk away with a quality custom board made just for them.”

Anyone wanting to order a board from Mark need look no further than Facebook.

Alternatively, the Mr. Damage Surfboards factory can be found at 44 Hill Street, Port Elliot.

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Fleurieu faces and food revealed in coffee table cookbook

A coffee table cookbook featuring the “faces and food” of the Fleurieu Peninsula is hoping to give greater recognition to the region’s farmers, fishers, producers and chefs.

Willunga foodie Rojina McDonald is publishing The Fleurieu Peninsula: Celebrating the Faces and Food featuring 80 businesses across 25 townships from Yankalilla, Port Noarlunga and Victor Harbor.

The book is set to be released in spring, with a crowdfunding campaign on track to support the inaugural print run of 2000 copies.

Regional businesses include d’Arry’s Verandah, The Salopian Inn, Wild Coorong Seafood, Goolwa Pipi Co, Coriole Restaurant, Small Word Bakery, Fleurieu Milk Company and Pizzateca.

Ellis Butchers in McLaren Vale are featured in The Fleurieu Peninsula: Celebrating the Faces and Food. Photo by Josie Withers.

The farmers, fishers, producers and chefs are featured alongside photos taken by Josie Withers and accompanied with signature recipes such as the slow cooked beef ribs with coleslaw and hot potato (Wakefield Grange) and the lemon almond ricotta cake (Willunga Farmer’s Market).

Local writer Heather Millar has written the stories behind the faces.

Rojina says her idea for a hardcover book was born in 2013 when she undertook a patisserie scholarship at Le Cordon Bleu in London.

“In my travels overseas and locally I realised very little is known about the history and the people in the food and wine business,” she says.

Rojina on a video shoot for the cookbook campaign. Photo by Josie Withers.

“I believe the food and wine industry of the Fleurieu – its people and products – is not recognised to the extent that other regions are, for example the Barossa Valley.

“With the publication of my book, I hope to widely showcase the unique charm, quality and culture of the Fleurieu region.”

A Pozible crowdfunding campaign has been established in hope of raising $15,000 to cover the cost of the printing and distribution.

Pleges of $65 and over will receive a copy of the book, which is to be printed in South Australia.

Rojina says she wants to target foodies and wine lovers locally, nationally and internationally and have the book sold in the featured businesses, at local tourist hubs, cafés, restaurants, markets and airports.

Growing up on her family’s McLaren Vale olive grove, she was always surrounded by the premium produce and pristine landscapes of the Fleurieu.

Rojina grew up in McLaren Vale, becoming immersed in the food culture from a young age. Photo by Josie Withers.

Working in a continental deli in McLaren Vale at the age of 13, Rojina says she became familiar with “local products and faces”.

Years later she ran a popular cupcake business, going on to be named Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the McLaren Vale Business Association and winning the international scholarship in London.

Under her newly established business, Soul Publishing, Rojina hopes to expand the ‘faces and food’ concept to showcase other regions of the state.

A second book, which focused on wine, beer and spirits of the Fleurieu, is already in the pipeline.

Culinary queen Maggie Beer, MasterChef foodie Jessie Spiby and actor Erik Thomson, who lives on the Fleurieu, have each shown their support for the ‘faces and food’ book.

Visit I Choose SA to find out how you can support our state by choosing South Australian businesses, products and services.

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