Three Blue Ducks chef and co-owner Mark LaBrooy just watched a three-and-a-half metre bull shark devour a 15-kilo kingfish. "He made a real mincer of my dinner," he says matter of factly. It's all in a day's work for LaBrooy and fellow chef Darren Robertson, who moved to the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales 18 months ago to open Three Blue Ducks at The Farm. The 2016 GT Regional Restaurant of the Year is the Ducks' second café-restaurant (the first is in Sydney's Bronte), set on a 34-hectare farm in Ewingsdale, just outside Byron Bay. It's a huge operation. On busy days, it caters for upwards of a thousand covers, and yet LaBrooy and Robertson still find time for free-diving, spearfishing and a surf. "The things you see in the ocean are amazing and humbling," says LaBrooy. "It really puts things in perspective."
When they opened the restaurant, they'd planned to source their produce strictly from within a 500-kilometre radius, but they've gone a little less locavore of late. "To really showcase what's going on around the country, we decided to cast the net a little wider," says Robertson.
The Ducks made their reputation with a relaxed, straight-off-the-beach approach to cooking and eating. For Easter lunch, that translates to the likes of home-grown ginger with buttermilk-dressed flame-tail snapper, a sashimigrade fish the boys have sourced direct from Freckle, their go-to for seafood in Byron. "A van turns up to us before it even gets to the shop," says LaBrooy. "We have to wait a day to use the fish because it's too fresh." The rest of the menu is similarly fun and uncomplicated, with most of the dishes coming straight off the barbecue. Whole fish is cooked over coals and topped with coriander and citrus paste; a fragrant watermelon and radish salad cuts through the sticky caramel notes of Bourbon-glazed pork belly. "When everything is trimmed and portioned, it's a lot more washing up," says Robertson. "We like it when everyone's picking at things with their fingers," says LaBrooy. "Keep it loose so people can get stuck in. Then hit the beach."
Recipes from our Three Blue Ducks lunch:
Three Blue Ducks, The Farm, 11 Ewingsdale Rd, Ewingsdale, NSW, (02) 6684 7795, threeblueducks.com