For those who have visited our Cellar Door, you’ll be familiar with the expanse of lush greenery, on-site growing gardens and, of course, rolling vineyards surrounding our beloved winery. These are key elements to our sustainability efforts, a promise that we’ve made to both the region and its patrons for our continued success.
From locally sourced lamb to fragrant homegrown rosemary and thyme, Executive Chef Sean Townsend has taken advantage of our homespun delicacies to craft a premium sustainable Hunter Valley dining experience at our Cellar Door.
We recently sat down with Sean to discover the secrets behind the sauce. We delve into each menu element of The Wood Restaurant and explore his passion to please both palate and planet with some of the best food in the Hunter Valley.
Early on, Sean developed a talent for fine wine and exceptional food. This much is clear from his mouth watering dishes and artful presentation, no doubt influenced by his extensive experience at Muse Restaurant, Muse Kitchen and Melbourne-based French restaurant Comme.
Having grown up with the farming and ‘support local’ culture that the Hunter Valley thrives on, Sean was adamant that he would bring a true farm-to-table experience to Brokenwood as the foundation for his culinary work.
‘Local growers and farmers are at the crux of our farm-to-table experience,’ says Sean. ‘We rely on their techniques, their growing ability, their passion. To some, it might just be a potato, but to us and our farmers, it’s the best potato in the Hunter Valley!’
Since arriving at Brokenwood earlier this year, Sean has demonstrated his vibrant visions for a sustainable dining experience. He’s expanded our on-site Chef’s Gardens, committed to minimising single-use plastics Cellar Door-wide and championed locally sourced and grown produce in every dish he’s crafted.
Sean truly embodies the Hunter Valley’s rustic charms and homegrown flavours, all while designing delicious dishes in tandem with our exceptional wines. Together with his team and the Brokenwood winemakers and sommeliers, Sean has created a memorable Hunter Valley dining experience that can be enjoyed for years to come.
Perhaps the most essential ingredient in Sean’s Hunter Valley dining experience is his relationship with local growers.
‘The majority of the menu is sourced as locally as possible, and it’s all homegrown Australian produce,’ Sean assures.
Brokenwood has always been proud to support local New South Wales farmers, not only to foster a family-to-family network, but also to showcase the unrivalled quality produce they’ve provided for decades.
‘Local growers in Wollombi grow a lot of our produce, as well as some local growers throughout the (Hunter) Valley,’ says Sean. ‘Their produce dictates what our menu is based around. A lot of the farms are very family-oriented - next generation, third generation - so it’s great to support fellow family businesses in the community.’
Hunter Valley dining has been built around these decades-old farming businesses, and Brokenwood remains a key component in the region’s sustainability efforts for this reason.
When looking at how a dish transforms from farm to table, we first asked Sean where he gets his ideas.
‘We get inspiration from our growers,’ he says without hesitation. ‘We approach them with: What’s growing well right now? What’s in the soil? How’s the season looking?’
Once Sean harnesses some basic ideas of in-season local produce, he brainstorms how to fuse these with best-practice sustainability methods - all layered beneath his foundations in European and French cooking.
‘Take a piece of Armidale lamb, for instance,’ he says, eyes alight. ‘I’ll slow cook it in a Brokenwood red wine overnight, which will then double as my sauce. Throw in some rosemary from the on-site garden and that’s half the dish done using all sustainable practices.
I’ll take some beautiful butternut pumpkin and potatoes from the guys out at Wollombi, along with some fresh honey harvested at their farm, and that’s the side dish sorted.
Looking at local dairy farmers, we might find some nice blue cheese or brie or feta from Binnorie that can pair with the pumpkin component.’
And that’s just one dish whipped up in a storm of bright ideas: butternut pumpkin from Wollombi; honey from the same farm; feta from Binnorie just ten minutes down the road; Armidale lamb from our friends up north, and locally sourced roasted potatoes. Everything is seasoned and garnished with fresh herbs and spices from the on-site Chef’s Garden - and that’s just one example of the artfully crafted dishes on offer at our Cellar Door.
One of Sean’s main priorities when arriving at Brokenwood was to hone and tend the on-site Chef’s Gardens to abundance.
‘Brokenwood was already very passionate about sustainability and the gardens when I came on board,’ says Sean. ‘I wanted to continue that and really make [the gardens] thrive.’
With four different plots around the property, Sean was excited by the possibilities available in each section.
‘Walk in [to Cellar Door] and you’ll see our first garden with rosemary, thyme, mint, nasturtiums and borage,’ Sean lists. ‘Down the back is our corn, zucchinis and pumpkins. The greenhouse has all of our soft herbs like parsley, chives, lettuces and different flowers, and in the last garden we grow our snow peas and sugar snaps.’
Sean attributes the beauty and rich soil of the land to such an abundant growth ability on-site, which boosts his creativity in the kitchen.
‘When you’ve got the space, the gardens and all the tools, there are no restrictions. We can have a lot more fun.
Sean and his team venture out the various plots at least twice a day to pick fresh herbs and vegetables for their dishes. Nothing goes to waste, either - Sean uses his creative flair to implement every component into a sumptuous culinary twist, roots and all.
Scraps from the day’s cooking are then composted to feed back into the gardens. It’s a perfect sustainability cycle that allows each plot to thrive and every dish to exude a flavour that only the highest quality produce can create.
Sean has also taken the lead in ironing out the majority of single-use plastics in produce, deliveries and anything kitchen related.
‘Products and produce that come in now are around 80% reusable,’ says Sean. ‘We’re currently trying to finalise that last percentage to get rid of all single-use plastics at Brokenwood.’
Composting has always been a priority at our Cellar Door, too, but Sean has been pushing the boundaries since his appointment to make this bigger and better than ever.
‘Everything unused from the kitchen is either turned into a byproduct or put into the compost,’ he says.
As with all aspects of our Cellar Door, Sean’s menus are also built around wine. It’s a fine balance - seasonal produce is championed in each dish, but everything must be malleable to bend and flex with seasonal wines.
What’s drinking well at different stages of the year is a foundational factor in what goes into that season’s menu. Collaboration is key here, which fortunately is something that the Brokenwood family excels at to deliver artfully exquisite results.
‘Brokenwood first and foremost is wine driven’ says Sean. ‘Menus are always crafted around the wines. Each vintage plays a huge part in our dinner menu [at The Wood].’
‘There’s so much work involved - everyone brings so much knowledge to the table when it comes to wine and cooking. We take time to lock down ingredients and flavour profiles to pair with wines that are really shining that season.’
This is evident in the beautifully paired wines brought out with each course during dinner at The Wood. Start with a glass of 2016 Tallawanta Vineyard Semillon beautifully matched with new season green asparagus, cultured crème, last season orange & avocado seed. Move onto a succulent plate of crystal bay prawns paired with our 2021 Indigo Vineyard Chardonnay. Next, let the wood roasted Red Gate Farm quail melt in your mouth along with a glass of 2022 Brokenwood Tempranillo, before finishing with a sip of sweet 2017 Sticky Wicket Semillon to complement new season cherries, white chocolate cream & dacquoise dessert.
We asked Sean what his favourite Brokenwood wine is right now - perhaps an unfair question that simply can’t be narrowed down to a single vintage.
Looking for the ultimate Hunter Valley dining experience? Discover The Wood Restaurant’s brand new summer menu at our Cellar Door. Experience a carefully crafted four-course dinner with artfully paired premium wines and the finest fresh summer produce from our local growers.
The Wood Restaurant is open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays. Reserve your table now.
Prefer a day trip? Cru Bar + Pantry features a vibrant selection of Sean’s lunch items, including wood fired pizzas, Kingfish sashimi and Hog’s Head charcuterie grazing boards. Book a tasting then join us for a delicious bite to eat for lunch.
Book a seat at Cru Bar + Pantry, open daily from 11am.
Enjoy great wine responsibly and have fun this summer at Brokenwood!