OzHarvest responded to a special request to cook for the town of Cudgewa in Victoria alongside acclaimed Aussie chef Clayton Donovan. Our wonderful chefs Mark Hamilton and Renzo Velarde shared their experience helping the local pub, Hotel Cudgewa, cook for a community devastated by bush fires.
Arriving in Cudgewa, we were warmly welcomed by the Fair family – owners of the local pub – Tracey, Ralph, Carol and sister Kate. When the fires came they had to leave and didn’t know if the pub would be there when they came back. The fire stopped 10-20 metres from the back of Hotel and then jumped the road, miraculously leaving the pub unscathed.
Renzo and I were bowled over by the turnout of over 150 locals at the Hotel Cudgewa on Friday night. Thanks to Humpty Doo Barramundi we barbecued fresh fish and great big field mushrooms, served up with a delicious salad of roasted carrot, spiced cauliflower, quinoa and smoked salmon. There was plenty of food to go around and we were joined by an awesome folk punk band, called Whiskey Dram, who entertained everyone with live music at the front of the hotel.
The past two weeks have been pretty tough for Cudgewa, some families have been evacuated three times. There were people who had to leave their house and everything they owned behind, and go back just to leave again, having to do that three times is pretty tough.
Despite the devastation, the fire has galvanised the community and brought everyone together. Friday night was a chance for everyone to talk to each other and share experiences, some had not seen each other in a few years! Their resilience is truly amazing and we felt humbled as we talked to locals who have lost their houses and are still out helping to rebuild the community.
On Saturday we served up some lovely cottage pies that we had cooked in Sydney earlier made in the week. Lots of people were out helping to fix fences, so Hotel Cudgewa spread the word over Facebook that a free lunch was available. There is such great community spirit in these challenging times and we were happy to help provide sustenance and bring people together.
In the evening we helped host an 80th birthday celebration at the Hotel for Linton Vogel – a farmer whose 80th had been postponed because of the fires. Although Linton and his family were able to save their house and a neighbour’s property, he had lost 40 cattle and 60 sheep in the fire. The loss of his animals hit him very hard. He is a really strong man with a good sense of humour and we were delighted to cook up salmon, couscous salad, and a delicious mud cake for his belated birthday.
The village band got together at the party with a guitar, banjo, and even someone playing the saw! If you haven’t seen someone playing the saw, they use the saw like a violin and it makes a weird ghostly sound.
Being able to cook great food for this community in need was an honour, it was a huge team effort with many partners donating produce to make this happen. The people of Cudgewa absolutely loved the food – they even joked that they didn’t want us to go.
It was a rainy morning in Alexandria as we loaded everything into our yellow van – kitchenware, delicious food, compostable plates, forks and knives. After driving for two hours, the rain disappeared and it was 15 degrees. As we swapped driver seats at Goulburn, I found a beautiful brown and yellow feather that I put on my hat and took as a sign that everything would be OK!
As we passed Batlow, the scenery changed dramatically. It’s one thing for someone to tell you a story, and another to put yourself in that situation seeing the damage and destruction. We arrived safely at the hotel after driving through ash and smoke and were greeted warmly by the family and their five dogs!
After settling in to our rooms, we changed into our OzHarvest clothes and got to work. We were soon joined by Clayton Donovan, a great Australian chef and friend of OzHarvest, who decided to put the barbecues in front of the pub even though there was a chance of rain. “How many chances do you have in your life to cook in front of a pub next to a cool band?”
We chatted and cooked in the rain to feed everyone in the local community. One guy approached me and told me he hadn’t seen all his neighbours for years and was happy that we had brought everyone together. After a wonderful speech by Mark everyone grabbed a plate and enjoyed a delicious dinner made with love.
For someone raised in Peru, this was a real Australian experience for me; country music, dancing, barbecues and people everywhere was so different for me. It was a beautiful, productive and great day that I will always remember.
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