The Great Aussie Wheatbelt Road Trip (part 2)
YABBIE DABBY DOO!
And so Taste Master fans, we leave the Kulin Bush Races for the 90km drive south to the town of Kukerin. My travelling buddy Chris is behind the wheel, allowing my mind to drift as I take in the rolling crop fields, the famous wildflowers of Western Australia and the serenity of an open road….. What’s tonight got in store? Are we really fine dining in a shearing shed? Why did I put all my money on that horse?
Tonight’s destination is the Nenke Family Farm where we’ll be attending the 11th annual Cambinata Yabbies Extravaganza.
The Nenke family business was formed in 1990 by husband and wife Michael and Mary who were running a sheep and wheat farm at the time. An out of the blue telephone call trying to source yabbies for a Perth restaurant turned Michael’s long-time hobby of catching these fresh water crustaceans into a full blown family business, and they haven’t looked back since.
But just what IS a yabbie?
Basically they’re like mini lobsters. Sweet and delicate with a firm texture, versatile and unique to Australia. The Nenke’s yabbies are environmentally friendly, being sustainably farmed and not wild caught. But best of all, yabbies are a gourmet product and great for the discerning chef looking for ways to explore and create with these delicious little fellas.
CAMBINATA YABBIES EXTRAVAGANZA
The Extravaganza is like nothing you’ve ever been to before. It’s a black tie event in the middle of the West Australian Wheatbelt, where you camp in the farm paddock and fine dine on a seven-course yabbie inspired feast, all prepared by a top chef……..in a shearing shed.
But what looks somewhat dilapidated from the outside is quite the opposite when you enter.
It was a surreal moment as guests emerged from their utes and campervans dressed to the nines in tuxedos, bow ties, heels and evening gowns, all heading to the corrugated shed across the field. Once inside it was a complete transformation. Tardis like, not in size but style. It was decorated to complement the Australian Outback, with farm icons, hand-crafted candelabras, wildflowers and an antique grand piano. Candle-lit enchantment and excited expectation, people travel from all over the world for the evening and the same staff come back to help every year (our waiter flew in especially from Canberra, and another from Singapore!).
But what made the evening even more remarkable was the extraordinary cooking of Xavier Poupel. With just a small team at hand (including wife Janette, like the Nenke’s it’s a family business) the French-born Great Southern chef and mastermind behind Terroir & Table managed to conjure up exquisite delights such as Tammin trout with yabbie tempura and poached fillet of Kerrigan Valley beef for more than 200 guests with consummate ease.
Most of the flesh in a yabbie is found in its tail, and the steamed Cambinata yabbie with jus vierge was a particular highlight (as was the refreshing oriental styling of wonton yabbie with miso jus). With all seven courses (excluding dessert) on the menu complemented by yabbies, Monsieur Poupel excelled himself, with every offering different, and every mouthful unique.
Not only is it an amazing evening with every single guest being treated like a part of the family, if camping the night you’re invited for breakfast of farm-fresh eggs and bacon. We were also taken on a tour of the whole yabbie farm in the morning, I got to drive one of the biggest tractors I’ve ever seen AND myself and the family have been invited around for Christmas.
What lovely people.