It is an unexpected request when Derek and Kirrily Blomfield of The Conscious Farmer Grassfed Beef, at Caroona on the Liverpool Plains, propose I cook and photograph their beef. I am keen to improve my photography and with a couple of courses and an entry level DSLR under my belt, I am up for the challenge. Derek personally delivers our boxes of beef, an eigth of a beast. The cuts are portioned and labelled so it is easy to reach into the freezer and plan the evening meal.
I figure the best place to start is my collection of recipes, torn out of newspapers and magazines over 25 years. I gather a sub-set of beef recipes, some old favourites with splodges of meals past a permanent imprint on the page, and other recipes I am saving to try. Now that I am to photograph our meal before it reaches the table I start cooking earlier so I can photograph food preparation, food cooking and the meal plated up. It is an enjoyable process choosing what beef cut to cook, how to cook it, and deciding what herbs and vegetables to add. I take most of the photographs on an old marble table I bought at The Old Church antiques store at Leichardt, Sydney in the mid 1990's. I adore this table, especially for kneading and rolling pastry, even though it is cracked in places. Now it is particularly good for photography, placed underneath one of two kitchen windows, the light is beautiful. When the weather is warm I take the meal outside and catch the glorious golden light of the magic hour before sunset.
It is a challenge to choose platters, chopping boards, condiment bowls, serving spoons and knives to add to the photograph. I surprise myself by what we have on hand, whether it is an heirloom piece, or something we've stored and haven't used for years. Stock from the shop is a clear choice so I reach for the goods I most use in our kitchen, a Falcon enamel roaster, baking pan, pie dishes, pie plates and pasta plate. I bring home a slate platter and timber serving platter, which make lovely earthy backgrounds. Other useful ingredients are cracked pepper, Murray River Salt Flakes, fresh parsley, thyme, marjoram, rosemary and basil, newly dug potatoes, and just picked tomatoes, beans and corn from the garden, metres from our kitchen door.
At every meal the taste of the beef is a revelation. Derek and Kirrily are dedicated to producing grassfed beef of exceptional quality, starting with the health of their soil, pasture and cattle. In 2014 they were awarded NSW Farmer of the Year. I am learning how to cook cuts I have never previously cooked, using Kirrily's information sheet and advice from cook books. I comment to Derek how important it is to educate family cooks how to best cook each meat cut, and bring the best out of lesser quality cuts with slow cooking and added the added flavour of herbs and spices.
We have a few mishaps. I ask Duncan to hold the osso bucco on a tray while I photograph it. He mucks around making a joke about food photography and I watch the cooked osso bucco slide off the serving tray and onto the grass before I shoot a frame. I race against the clock to beat fading light and do my best to make the most of photographing dishes on overcast days. The children prove to be terrible models, looking like they are in pain rather than enjoying their food...and they entrepreneurially ask to be paid for modelling.
It is a privilege to cook and photograph The Conscious Farmer Grassfed Beef, and a delight to taste the results.