Timing is the whole lot, and the proverb couldn’t be extra correct for Elsa Marie and Julian Might. The 2 cooks labored in eating places throughout Sydney and Paris earlier than returning to Australia to journey alongside the New South Wales South Coast in a van, swapping the kitchen for working the land. It was right here on the South Coast, particularly in Moruya, the place Chez Dominique all began.
Principally French and slightly Italian, Chez Dominique serves the kind of bistro meals Might and Marie prefer to eat themselves. The pair’s culinary experiences each right here and abroad do many of the speaking, nevertheless it’s what the dishes are comprised of that units the idea aside. Greens are sourced from native growers and proteins from farms the place animals spend their days grazingvast pastures. Marie and Might know the place the whole lot they prepare dinner with comes from, a few of which is grown in their very own yard backyard, which isn’t one thing many cooks can say.
Hospitality speaks to Marie concerning the couple’s path to beginning Chez Dominique, the ups and downs that include staying true to an unwavering culinary ethos, and the way they ended up cooking in a pub.
Julian Might and Elsa Marie have hung out in among the world’s most esteemed kitchens. It began at Pinbone in Sydney for Might earlier than he moved to Europe to work at Brawn in London and Baest in Copenhagen, ultimately returning to Sydney (through France) the place he settled in at 10 William Avenue. Marie’s background is equally as far-reaching, studying from culinary greats together with Man Martin (Grand Vefour) and Betrand Grebaud (Septime) in Paris. However curiosity started to stir, and the chef determined to journey to Australia to be taught extra about farming, meals, and wine through a winery in South Australia, completely different farms in New South Wales, and alongside Analiese Gregory at Bar Brosé in Sydney.
Someplace alongside the best way, Marie and Might crossed paths, and the 2 later determined to maneuver to Marie’s residence nation of France and open La Vierge in Paris’ twentieth arrondissement. The bistro was successful, however the couple all the time deliberate to return to Sydney.
“We wished to open a restaurant with our pal Andy who’s a sommelier and labored at 10 William Avenue as properly,” says Marie. “On the finish of 2019, we had been in Sydney and Julian was again working at 10 William Avenue and I used to be at Fred’s. We had been searching for a venue and we discovered one, however then covid occurred.”
The pandemic led to a whole swerve in route — the restaurant thought was scrapped and a van was bought as a substitute. “We determined to go and work on farms,” says Marie. “We have now all the time cherished rising and we wished to be taught extra, so we went on a six-month journey alongside the coast to work on completely different farms. We ended up in Moruya and a few good associates had been simply beginning their farm. We thought it might be good to settle someplace and we actually fell in love with the world.”
On the finish of 2020, Might and Marie determined to get again into cooking through personal dinners beneath the identify Chez Dominique. “I used to be lacking cooking and we thought we might carry meals to individuals,” says Marie. That’s how Chez Dominique all began — phrase of mouth. Folks knew us from being on the markets. There was no marketing strategy — it was simply, ‘Let’s strive it’, and it labored very well.”
Residence eating led to pop-ups and a residency at a close-by B&B, however a non-public dinner for Merivale CEO Justin Hemmes resulted in one thing a lot larger.
“We knew he was buying venues and he requested if we had been occupied with working in Narooma,” says Marie. “We thought we wish to do it brief time period as a result of our idea is simply too small scale to slot in with Merivale in the long term. We’re very excessive with the produce we use, and we knew it couldn’t final as it’s such an enormous venue.”
The brief however candy stint at The Whale Inn was a optimistic expertise for the pair, who had been in a position to get again into the swing of cooking for a wider group of diners once more.
“It was a tremendous alternative for us to have that publicity and we got the liberty to do our meals … Merivale trusted us, which was very nice,” says Marie. “We had been busy on a regular basis and cooking meals that individuals weren’t fairly used to. We like to mess around with classics due to my background and Julian’s obsession with French meals. Folks might have hated a pig’s head terrine, however they had been digging it and it was good.”
The Air Raid Tavern is considerably of a hub for Moruya locals — together with Might and Marie, who immediately clicked with the venue after they visited. “We got here to the pub after we first moved right here and fell in love with the place,” says Marie. “It has artwork and books in all places and a tiled bar — it doesn’t appear like anything you’ve seen in Australia.”
Marie struck up a dialog with the homeowners after realising the pub wasn’t serving meals. “I requested them if we might do it and so they stated they didn’t actually wish to,” she says. “We requested a few occasions, and so they didn’t know us but, so we simply centered on personal dinners.” A name got here round a 12 months later with the suggestion of a popup. “Two months was six and we simply saved doing it. We’re actually comfortable to have the ability to prepare dinner for everybody now.”
A part of the pub’s enchantment is its eccentric nature, which extends past the fit-out to its three-day week. The Air Raid takes care of all of the drinks as per common, and Chez Dominique the meals on Thursdays and Fridays for these searching for a snack or one thing extra substantial. Marie and Might spend every Wednesday prepping for the approaching companies, which sees the cooks feed as much as 80 individuals on a busy night time.
The menu is continually altering and is formed round what’s considerable or out there on the time, which frequently entails a number of protein-centric dishes, loads of veg, and one foundational ingredient: “Every part is designed to be eaten with bread, which Julian makes,” says Marie. “There’s sauces, dressings, vinaigrettes, and many seasonings that need bread. French and Italian is the place I’m most comfy as a result of it’s my coaching and I additionally love Center Japanese flavours; I travelled lots to Morocco and Turkey once I was youthful. We prefer to take individuals on slightly journey with out dropping them with too many flavours and influences.”
Marie and May match intently with Borrowed Floor, Outdated Mill Highway, Stepping Stone, and Little Frogs Farm who present the majority of Chez Dominique’s veg. The remainder comes from their very own backyard and the backyards of associates, with borlotti beans, tomatoes, and tarragon all grown on residence soil.
A pointy eye is forged over meat suppliers, with Marie and Might sourcing from producers preferring to provide their animals the next high quality of life in comparison with those that concentrate on amount. “I can’t simply order random meat from a provider and do not know the place it comes from,” says Marie. “It’s the norm for eating places and it’s the simple manner, however we don’t do this. We ask what’s out there and go from there. It’s dear, and typically there’s not a lot meat on the menu, however I don’t assume that’s a foul factor.”
Chez Dominique solely makes use of beef and pork from Martins Ridge Farm in Conjola, which is run by Ian, Tina, and Rhys Martin. “It’s a tremendous farm,” says Marie, “the animals are grass-fed and spend their days in paddocks. Generally we are able to solely get small parts as a result of it’s small scale, so we simply work with them and construct the menu from there. We additionally work with Department & Burrow in Braidwood for rooster and lamb, and we use quail from Maremma.”
It’s not a enterprise mannequin that’s simple to stay to, however Chez Dominque don’t have any plans to stray from the trail it’s chosen. “Some may say the best way we do it isn’t sensible as a result of we don’t purchase low cost stuff, we purchase dearer produce even all the way down to the sugar and the olive oil we use,” says Marie. “Some individuals may say, ‘You’re foolish! Nobody will discover if you happen to use this’, and I do know as a result of I’ve labored in one million eating places, however I can’t do it.”
Because the kitchen strikes with the seasons, dishes change out and in every week, which is a severe perk for native diners. Vitello tonnato has been reworked with tomatoes instead of veal, with Marie utilizing native tuna for the sauce.
“I confit the tuna myself after which blitzed it with preserved tuna right into a sauce like a mayonnaise and served with tomatoes from the backyard,” says the chef. The basic gribiche has additionally made an look served alongside slow-cooked pork neck sliced like carpaccio. “We additionally ran a pistou soup with summer season greens together with inexperienced beans from the backyard, zucchini, carrot, and celery in a rooster broth. You make a pistou, which is mild on cheese and never nutty — it’s largely garlic, basil, and olive oil — and spoon it onto the broth.”
A Maremma quail dish is emblematic of the change in climate, and was teamed with a sauce comprised of white wine, eschallots, and cream. “You cut back it till it’s actually thick after which add Dijon mustard and a few greens from the backyard,” says Marie.
The Air Raid has offered a launchpad for Marie and Might to as soon as once more make their meals accessible to a wider viewers, however the pair nonetheless have hopes to open their very own restaurant.
“I’m dreaming of a smaller venue, I’ll let you know that,” says Marie. When the area is secured, Might will step out of the kitchen and onto the ground to run the drinks providing, whereas Marie will stay within the kitchen. Nevertheless it’s a piece in progress, given the present panorama. “We have now been trying round right here for some time however there isn’t a lot out there and the market is a bit loopy,” says the chef. “We’d like to discover a 20–30-seat restaurant with an area to develop hooked up to it.”
The opening has develop into considerably of a pipedream at occasions, with the pair dealing with some setbacks alongside the best way. “We had two venues fall by means of final 12 months and that was a bit arduous,” admits Marie. “It units you again and also you assume perhaps it’s an indication to cease trying. However we’re nonetheless hoping to search out that little venue within the countryside, perhaps slightly farm … we are going to simply preserve going. No matter occurs, occurs.”