Taking tea has, for centuries, been the preferred way to meet – albeit socially – but who’s to say the ‘leisure classes’ of the nineteenth century didn’t discuss business over a cup of earl grey? Here, we sample treats from Fresh Catering’s Colonial High Tea series and discover how corporate groups can eat their way through history. Compiled by Lauren Arena
Colonial gastronomer and food historian, Jacqui Newling, recently teamed up with Fresh Catering’s executive chef, Marco Adler, to create a culinary experience that traced its roots back to the early Australian colonial era.
The Colonial High Tea series was offered throughout September at Elizabeth Bay House, The Governor’s Table at the Museum of Sydney, and Vaucluse House, with a menu reflecting the eras of William Wentworth, Alexander Macleay, and our first governor, Arthur Phillip – the three identities that most identified with these iconic Sydney Living Museums (SLM) venues.
Fresh Catering sales and marketing director, Stuart Ford, said the concept behind the series was to drive stronger engagement between the community and each of the historic venues by telling a story through food.
“The menu was inspired by food that Macleay, Wentworth, and Governor Phillip would have enjoyed at these same locations so many years ago.”
For those who aren’t so well-versed in Australian colonial history, Alexander Macleay was the original owner of Elizabeth Bay House, still one of the most splendid private houses ever built in Australia; William Wentworth developed
Vaucluse House over five decades throughout the nineteenth century into the lavish mansion it is today; and in 1788, Governor Phillip chose the current site of the Museum of Sydney as his official residence and Australia’s first Government House.
“We also wanted to highlight the changes and evolution of the modern palette, along with the increased availability and quality of local produce, which has constantly evolved throughout the Australian culinary story,” Mr Ford said.
The savory and sweet menu items were created in light of the smaller, more delicate dishes that featured on dinner menus in the nineteenth century, a century that linked all three of these iconic early Australian identities.
“Out of necessity, produce was traditionally sourced from the colonial kitchen gardens so there was a strong orientation towards fresh fruits and vegetables that could be grown in Sydney’s temperate climate,” Mr Ford explained.
“Most gardens carried strawberries, rhubarb and citrus, while other items that we take for granted today, such as pineapples, were highly prized and considered exotic by British immigrants. “This linkage is reflected in items such as the caramelised pineapple & orange curd custard tart, which borrows techniques of the day to aid sweetness and richness.
“Similarly, the rhubarb jam & clotted cream that is served with scones reflects the availability and desirability of this often overlooked sweet vegetable. Savoury items such as the cauliflower & truffle tart reflect the foraging of products that occurred along the shoreline of Sydney in its infancy.”
While the Colonial High Tea series garnered rave reviews from Sydney diners, similar culinary offerings can be offered to corporate groups at these historic venues.
“The entire positioning of The Governors Table picks up traits and attributes of colonial gastronomy, albeit with a few modern interpretations. It’s been such a hit that we recently invested in a major expansion of the restaurant, effectively doubling its capacity and adding a boutique private dining room.
“We are able to extend this heritage-inspired culinary concept to event planners who choose the Museum of Sydney for their event. We believe this is a very compelling point of difference and adds a vital, ‘living’ connection between the museum and its history.
“And moving forward, the Colonial High Tea will also be available to event planners at Elizabeth Bay House in the near future,” Mr Ford said.
As well as operating the Governor’s Table at the Museum of Sydney, Fresh Catering is also the exclusive caterer to Museum of Sydney events, Vaucluse House Tearooms, and Elizabeth Bay House.
“We have a very collaborative relationship with the team at SLM and our two organisations have learned how to leverage each other’s expertise to create great experiences in and around the wonderful portfolio of venues,” Mr Ford said.
“We have recognised that SLM plays an enormously important role in preserving our history and telling the important stories associated with the development of modern Australia and, in turn, I think SLM have recognised that we can play a role in helping to do that.”