Around the Kitchen Table with Dan Gedge, chef at Leeuwin Estate
The award-winning head chef at Leeuwin Estate restaurant in the Margaret River, Dan Gedge shares his favourite food and wine pairings and the lessons he learned working under Rick Stein.
Originally from England, Gedge followed the well-trodden path to Australia 13 years ago and, after a brief stint in Melbourne, headed for Margaret River in Western Australia. He’d fallen into cheffing after a post-school summer holiday in Cornwall, where he got a job at Rick Stein’s fine diner, The Seafood Restaurant.
“I initially took a job in the kitchen as a dishwasher,” Gedge recalls. “I was completely honest with Rick later on that I had no idea who he was.”
At Leeuwin Estate, Gedge works closely with head winemaker Tim Lovett to craft a menu that complements the annual vintage while showcasing the very best produce from Western Australia. The approach has earned him recent accolades from The WA Good Food Guide, including 2023 Regional Chef of the Year and spot for Leeuwin Estate on the 2024 Top 100 WA Restaurants list.
Q: You started your career working for Rick Stein. What did you learn that helped pave the way for what you’re doing now?
I was fortunate to work at a time when Rick was still very present in the kitchen. He wasn't necessarily on the stove, but he was always stopping and showing us how the dish should be prepared and eventually taste. Rick taught us a respect for produce, which has stuck with me forever. We bought the best olive oil, the best fish, the best lemons. I learned respect for the food and the restraint to know when to stop and just let the produce shine.
Q: At Leeuwin Estate, it’s equally important that the wine can shine. How do you approach the menu with that in mind?
For us, the whole process starts with the wine. Our winemaking team and the restaurant team all sit down, we try the wines, and from there we kind of work backwards. We have a look at what produce is available, what's in season, and what could go well with the wine, and we create that way, which is quite an exciting way to do it.
I've tried to align my food style with the winemaker, Tim Lovett, who talks about always allowing the purity of fruit to shine in our wines. We work with the best. I think that’s our winning formula – we are aligned in that process.
Q: Do you have a favourite Leeuwin Estate wine for this summer?
The Art Series Chardonnay is always our go-to, there's normally one or two dishes paired with it. It's quite an easy one for us to pair, especially with my love of seafood. During the winter months, it can pair with truffle, or it matches so well with umami-rich dishes – dashis and seaweeds or nuts.
The other one is the Art Series Riesling, with bright fruit and amazing crisp acidity that’s perfect for crudo or ceviche-style seafood, perhaps scallops or a beautiful fish. That wine just knocks it out of the park.
Q: How much of your produce is locally sourced?
Almost everything that’s listed on the menu comes from Western Australia. We’re creating food with a sense of place and we're very proud to stand by that. We've got abalone from Augusta, we've got great Western Australian scallops, we've got incredible prawns, which all come from within the state. Margaret River Wagyu is a staple on the menu, and sometimes we’ll have a local lamb.
We try to follow that through by making everything on the estate – our olive oil is from here, as is our cream that we make the butter with. Our guests come from all over the world, so for them to be able to sit here and eat produce that is taken from the waters or the ground here is a very important thing.
Q: What else do you enjoy about working at Leeuwin Estate?
I think it's the history of the winery and the beauty of this estate; it's incredible. I wander down into work, past the dam and all the vines and it's stunning. It’s also steeped in history – you walk past the concert wall of all the artists that have played here over the years, including Sting and Ray Charles, and there's so much that's happened here. It's always been a very highly regarded place for many reasons. Around the country and around the world, the Art Series Chardonnay is probably one of the most iconic wines in the region.