Friday, September 3, 2010

SPICE magazine, Spring 2010

images: Jenny Susanto-Lee
Giving A Fig

Genesis in the Hills is a vegetarian hideaway hotspot doing brisk trade in Roleystone. It sits on the same road that leads into Araluen, and lots of pretty adjectives spring to mind while following its path: tranquil, natural, healthy, abundant. All the same words, really, that apply to the eatery. Genesis literally translates to mean ‘coming into being’ or, as Rivka Cohen - one half of Genesis - puts it, “the infinity of possibility”.

“We chose the name Genesis because it is from the Hebrew language, and ‘Genesis’ in Hebrew means ‘the beginning of creative potential’,” she says.

“It’s the beginning of things, where potential is brought to life. It is a very, very big word in Hebrew.”

Ably commandeered by Rivka, Genesis’s cook, and her musically gifted big sister Ita Goldberger-Amran, the restaurant has been running since September 2007 and proved to be a massive hit with locals. But the rest of Perth is quickly catching on.

“We have people coming from everywhere now, from Fremantle to Joondalup,” says Ita.

Formerly an artist’s dwelling, the gorgeous nine acre site caught the sisters’ eye in December 2003 and they decided to escape the city to embark on a tree-change journey. It took two years to plan and store the property. They renovated the house, which Ita had been living in, into a restaurant, and then built another house, being were ever-mindful to retain the peace and tranquility of the area.

“We decided to move to Roleystone because it is extremely pretty,” says Rivka.

“There’s lots of nature, lots of orchards and also a strong sense of community, which I really missed in City Beach, where I was living before. And I wanted to have contact with people. There is lots of variety – artists, creative people, just a beautiful mixture of people. Roleystone is the right place for us”.

The sisters moved from Israel to Perth ten years ago after the sisters were at a personal crossroads, and they emigrated to Australia in search of peace and a better quality of life. Rivka decided that it was more than just her address that needed a tweak.

“I was once an economist, and then I was a Maths teacher for a while,” she says.

“But I always had a great passion for cooking and baking, and then when we came to Australia I thought it was time for a change. So I opened a little vegetarian restaurant in Subiaco, which was called Bay Tree CafĂ©. I ran it for two and a half years, and it was actually quite successful. Then I sold it because I wanted to change my life again, to make it more peaceful. I bought my piece of land in Roleystone, where I could grow my own stuff. We’re basically really alive with nature now.”

Growing up in a semi-rural village in Israel, where their father ran a vineyard, the two women were privy to enormous cultural influences from their family. They had a Turkish grandfather, a Spanish grandmother, and their mother was born in Bulgaria. Their father was a baker from central Europe, with a Hungarian and Czechoslovakian background. The family table was a place for lively discussion, with languages jumping between Bulgarian, Jewish-Spanish-Latino, Hungarian, Russian and Yiddish.

“And outside in the street it was Hebrew,” recalls Ita.

“The neighbours were all Holocaust survivors who ended up in Israel after the war, so everybody spoke another language, and the children were all in and out of each other’s houses influencing each other.”

With such an eclectic history, it was only natural that the sisters would go on to be profoundly affected by their upbringing. But it is the food they were raised on as children that they seem to remember most fondly.

“Oh gosh, the food we ate as a child!” laughs Ita.

“My favourite dishes from my mother were her different aubergine dishes that she got from Bulgaria. People call it baba ganoush. And her cakes, of course. Her cakes were notorious. Everybody came to eat them. School was only two hundred metres from where we lived, so everybody would ask, ‘Oh, can we come to your house to see what cakes your mother has baked?’ So during the breaks we would all go to my mother’s kitchen, eat her cake and then go back to school. It was so wonderful.”

“My food influences definitely come from my family, and I do Mediterranean and lots of Arab cooking,” says Rivka.

“Lots of my influences come from the use of tahini and hommus, which are Arab ingredients, and broad beans and spices and herbs. And with Mediterranean cooking, it’s all about using a lot of fresh seasonal ingredients. You can’t compromise it, really.

“My Mum is a beautiful cook, she actually just celebrated her 80th birthday. She immigrated with our families here. Mum is from the Balkan area in Bulgaria, and there are lots of things I’ve learned from her. She is very much into what is called the philosophy of how you work, what you do, and how you cook. She showed me how to work locally, work with local produce, and work seasonally. Trying to make food as fresh and as healthy as you can”.

Food is abundant in this neck of the woods, with the property being home to a good-sized herb garden and an orchard of around sixty fruit trees. There is an impressive chicken pen containing forty laying hens, who are all very grateful for the restaurant’s leftovers. And what the property does not provide, the local community does.

“With the produce that we have access to, the possibilities and the flavours of vegetarian food are just as endless as non-vegetarian food,” says Rivka.

“For example, I’ve got a huge amount of figs in the area. So in the times of the figs I do millions of things with them. I stuff them with cheese. I make cakes. I make pies. I make jams. There is a local Italian lady who takes them, cuts them in the middle and dries them, and they are the most delicious figs ever. And then we have a beautiful orchard of chestnuts. So I make chestnut cakes and chestnut cream. It’s really important to explain the contribution of these things to the flavours of dishes. We work very much by what we actually find in the season, the seasons completely inspire me. Many people don’t know what to do with produce such as figs, quince and pomegranates. So they just bring it in. So we have a lot of cooperation with the local people. For me, Genesis is not just a business. It’s a way of life.”

The neighborhood is of paramount importance to the pair, who believe Genesis is less of a restaurant than a haven for the community. Rivka sources much of the restaurant’s produce from the surrounding area, such as oils, bread, milk, cheese and coffee. Local art exhibitions are held at the property once a month, as are jazz nights featuring local musicians.

“We buy locally, we share, we give the place to local people to sell their produce,” says Rivka.
“We sell honey, we sell flowers, and all kinds of food without taking any commission. In a way it’s symmetry. The community aspect of Genesis is very important to me.”

However, what you notice most about the remarkable duo is their passion, which seems to drive everything that they do. The beautiful aspect of their property, which they also live on with their families, the warm reception they have received from the residents of Roleystone and their deeply-held set of beliefs are what keep these two women motivated.

“I believe it’s a very natural way of growing up, with neighbors and community that are very, very close to each other,” says Ita.

“And that’s how we feel in Roleystone. We are very involved with the community, not only in food, but our place has become a meeting place for people to come and talk. It’s a way of living. That it’s not only about you and your family, but that there is a bigger picture. That’s how we grew up, so that’s who we are.”

“It’s all about living consciously,” emphasises Rivka.

“You try to make your life worth living, not only in the sense that you live but with what contribution you’ve made. I feel I’ve contributed by producing good food, which I’m happy with.” Genesis in the Hills is at 124 Croyden Road Roleystone. For bookings and more information, telephone 9397 7799 or go to

Scoop Magazine, Spring 2010

Moveable Feasts

It’s pretty tough to find anybody who has anything even remotely left-of-centre to say about Amelia Park supreme-o, Peter Walsh. Not that anyone would want to. The former farmer is at the top of his game these days and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Having just returned from one of many overseas trips, the spry fifty-something year old is the proud owner of one of the fastest-growing enterprises in the State.

Born in 2002, Amelia Park is a fairly recent arrival to the business scene, but the land on which it sits has been in the Walsh family since 1957. Back then, the farm was essentially a beef and lamb meat processing plant, but under the helmsmanship of Peter and brother Greg the company has re-packaged itself into Amelia Park. The business has invested heavily in another passion of the Walsh family – horse racing - and the property houses state-of-the-art horse facilities, including a lakeside training track, horse adjisting, syndicates, a breeding program and a horse swimming pool. It also provides top-notch beef and lamb to some of the best-known restaurants and hotels in the country and exports to a good part of the world as well.

Really, you think that would be enough for even the most manic among us. But Peter’s not exactly the kind of guy to sit back and put his feet up.

“We don’t just want to stick to producing meat any more,” he admits.

“We want to get into other products that will complement our meat. And we plan on bringing the best together.”

The best indeed. Enter multi-award winning chef Neal Jackson, head honcho of one of Perth’s most respected restaurants, Jackson’s. The pair met up twelve years ago when Neal established the now-famed eatery and Peter became a silent partner. And now Neal’s about to return the favour.

Neal will be joining the team as our flavour consultant,” says Peter.

“He’s a real perfectionist and is going to make up all the flavours that will match our lamb and beef, such as sauces and marinades. We’re sending him off to China this week, right out to the Mongolian border, where there are a lot of lambs with different tastes and flavours and cuts. And he will be studying all that to see if we can relate it back to what we’re doing here. Then we’ll start looking into olive oil with him. And, down the track, there will also be chocolate. Neal’s a multiple award winner, and we are keen to go to the next level with him.”

Meanwhile, Neal is packing his bags for Inner Mongolia. He’s been to China before, he says, but not exactly to study the cut and thrust of the Chinese lamb industry.

“It’s just like Peter to be thinking outside the square,” he chuckles.

“He’s definitely a visionary. He never sits still and is always looking forward. It’s quite exciting to be getting involved.”

Creative thinking, it seems, is what maketh the man. Peter has been wheeling and dealing with China for nearly twenty years, in lamb and beef as well as sheepskin for the fashion trade, way before anybody else was doing it. He already has an office in Beijing.

“There’s a lot of talk these days about business expanding into China, but Peter’s been doing business with them since he first visited China around 18 years ago,” says Daniela Gordon, part-owner of Amelia Park Wines.

“So he’s been doing that kind of thing before anyone really thought about doing business with China. He’s always looking at new ways of doing things. He’s really visionary in his approach.

There’s that word again. And oh yes, did we mention Peter has also started producing wine? Daniela just happens to be married to winemaker Jeremy Gordon, recent winner of the esteemed Jimmy Watson trophy and former co-owner and founder of Flametree in Margaret River. Amelia Park Wines has now launched, with their varieties including a cabernet merlot, a shiraz and a sauvignon blanc semillon. The label is now in the process of going global, with many Sydney hotels and restaurants stocking their wines and exports already underway to China, Mauritius and the UK. When Amelia Park launches in September, Jeremy and Daniella will be winging their way over to the UK to spruik their wines in London. According to Peter, people are buying it without even tasting because they know of Jeremy’s excellent reputation in the industry.

“I think one of the reasons we decided to go into business with Peter was because he is such a straight shooter,” says Daniela.

“He’s very down-to-earth. I think probably one of his biggest assets is that he communicates with all types of people, from a top-level businessperson to somebody working on his farm. He treats everyone with respect.”

Most recently, Peter has had his sights on Africa, and not just for the World Cup either. Wait for it - he wants to branch out into smallgoods.

“We’ve just recruited a top smallgoods manager from South Africa, who will be arriving here in around September,” he enthuses.

“South Africans are very big on meat and barbecues. They do a lot of aged meats, as well as sauces and marinades. They always serve up their meats with some kind of condiment. It’s absolutely beautiful.

“And then we’ll be going to the next stage. We’ll start out with making sausages and burgers, and then we want to advance to other smallgoods, such as cold meats. All our machines are ready to go, so it’s just a matter of time.”

At this stage however, it is the quality of Amelia Park’s lamb and beef products that is making the most noise. With strict quality assurance in place, a mere 30% of the meat received from breeders passes the tight selection criteria. And it’s all West Australian.

“They’ve got a very good product and regardless of the fact that I’m involved I would be using their lamb anyway,” says Neal.

“It’s just great lamb. We always have it on the menu in at least one or two dishes.”

Greg Ryan from Ryan’s Quality Meats is the exclusive distributor for Amelia Park beef, and is proud as punch to be working with such a high-end product.

“It’s beef from South-West Western Australia that is selected from probably four of the best farmers in that area,” he says.

“They’ve got their feeding regime correct, so it’s a very clean product. And the quality is second-to-none. There is a selection criteria that it has to fit into. We start at the top, and the criteria works back from there. So our beef carcass ranges from 220kg to 280kg bodies. There has to be a fat depth of no more than 8mm, which is very good. Then there’s the meat colour criteria and the fat colour critiera. And that’s only selected from the top 30% of the beef every day. So we’re getting the best of the best. And that’s the body that suits what we want to do. We want to produce the best beef in Australia.”

Greg also isn’t one to mince words when it comes to his new business partner.

“Amelia Park is an amazing place. It’s just fantastic what Peter’s done down there. It’s like heaven on Earth for horses and humans. He was a very hard worker when he was younger and he’s still working just as hard now. He’s a very entrepreneurial person.”

But at the end of the day, it is Peter’s love for the industry he was born into that has him looking to the horizon.

“We have been in this industry for a long time and want to continue being in it for a long time,” he reflects.

“And we just want to keep being motivated. Being surrounded by top people really helps keep up that motivation. We believe having multi-award winners around us who believe in perfection and have the passion that we do, that is our next step.”

And what could possibly be next, one might wonder. A day spa, perhaps? A private resort in Bali? No, really.