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A harvest party with Peter Gilmore

Peter Gilmore heads to his favourite farm and gathers friends around the fire for a winter lunch to remember.

Peter Gilmore might spend his days running gleaming kitchens under the sails of the Opera House at Bennelong, and just over the water at Quay, but he's very much at home tending to a campfire with friends. "I love getting outdoors and cooking, even if it's in the backyard," he says. "There's always a connection back to nature, and when there's a campfire somewhere, people will gather around it."

On this occasion, Gilmore's fireside lunch takes place at Tim and Liz Johnstone's farm, Gretchen's, an hour north-west of Sydney on the Richmond lowlands. The artisan growers are the chef's secret weapons; Johnstone's Kitchen Gardens has been the main produce supplier for Quay (and now Bennelong) for the past five years.

The relationship is far more than an order-deliver transaction, however. It begins in Gilmore's garden at home on the northern beaches, where he plants seeds he's sourced from far and wide for small experimental crops and then, in collaboration with the Johnstones, works out how he can get the produce on his menus. "What we do together is bespoke," says Gilmore. "Tim will plant his field out according to what I'm going to be using each season."

The Johnstones grow more than 30 different kinds of organic herbs, vegetables and edible flowers across two properties. Gilmore's twice-weekly delivery might include anything from society garlic and gai-lan flowers (to garnish a pig jowl and abalone dish at Quay) to ice plants, red and golden orach and heirloom Japanese turnips or hatsuka radishes. "Farming is challenging at the best of times, but trying new things and pushing boundaries keeps us engaged," says Tim Johnstone. "Pete is very much an artist. He's curious and always looking for something that's a little bit different."

Gilmore visits the farm at least once a month and today he's joined by friends and staff from The Fink Group, owner of Quay and Bennelong, for an early winter feast under the pecan trees. The home-style menu sees beef and marron grilled over coals, and a whole salt-crusted pumpkin baked in the ashes. "It's left to steam in its own juices, almost like a confit," says Gilmore. Sides and starters don't play second fiddle, either - whether it's the roasted carrots, plucked fresh from the fields that morning and tossed with sheep's milk feta and sherry caramel, or grilled shiitake mushrooms enriched with umami butter. And the finale? A spectacular trifle made with quince, pecan and honey from the farm, and crème caramel in place of regular custard. "It makes it a little more indulgent," he says. "Decadent and a lot of fun - just how life should be."

See our June issue for Peter Gilmore's full menu and all recipes. Out now.

Bennelong, Sydney Opera House, NSW, (02) 9240 8000, bennelong.com.au; Quay, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, NSW, (02) 9251 5600, quay.com.au

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