Words by Chef Dan Hunter
I want Brae to be an immersive experience. Yes, we are a restaurant and the core of what we do will always be serving food and drinks to our guests, but for a long time, while working for others, and then with all the planning that goes into opening a restaurant, I wanted to somehow offer more. I wanted our guests to pass through the front gate and immediately feel something: to feel welcomed and cared for by our family; to find not only nourishment in the food but also in the gesture of hospitality; and for the entire experience to resonate with the same voice – cohesively.
There’s a history to this property, and although I don’t want the restaurant to necessarily carry the values and weight of another time, I do want us to work towards and within the idyllic values and possibilities of what a generous country house and property can mean. If you could take a mix of the best parts of those experiences you could create a kind of productive restaurant utopia – a place where you go to eat and drink abundantly from the land and nearby sea, including drinking pure rain water and being close to a wood fire on which meats and vegetables are roasting, and bread is cooking, where the food is refined in terms of the commitment and skill put into producing it, but the flavours can be rustic, grounded and more flavoursome than you’ve experienced, and you’re in the company of the people who work that land (not just the cooking, but also the planning, planting and harvesting) and prepare that food from scratch, and everything is considered, from your comfort to the music, and all that’s there is yours if you want it. And that’s it really, the thing we aim for at Brae – the spirit of that feeling, of being in that place. I hope that, somehow, we can convey those feelings and values in this farmhouse.
I think it’s important to understand how food is made, how it appears on our tables, and the importance of the efforts of those who grow and produce our food. But having said that, I don’t think restaurants are a place for preaching. And so we made a decision not to preach to our guests about food provenance, but it’s there in plain sight. You sit amongst it; it’s visible. There is, hopefully, a transparency to what we do, an honesty. The kitchen is open and visible, the restaurant is light and surrounded by windows. We run the property in a responsible way that’s healthy for the land and for those eating the food. We don’t talk down to guests like we know something they don’t, but we do want to share a dialogue about ethics and honesty, as well as flavour and the value of hospitality, so rather than do it verbally, we do it with the way in which we work, and we’re there with them and they sit right in the middle of it all.