By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
He was acknowledged by industry for his fine dining creations but for NSW Chef of the Year, Darleys Restaurant executive chef Lee Kwiez, “it’s all about the yum’’.
His top chef gong was one of five major awards received by Escarpment Group in the Blue Mountains at the Tourism Accommodation Association (NSW) Awards of Excellence in July.
Other Escarpment Group awards included Regional Superior Hotel of the Year for Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant, Regional Deluxe Hotel of the Year for Lilianfels Resort & Spa and Front of House Employee of the Year for Lilianfels duty manager Meagan Iervasi. The world-famous Hydro Majestic Hotel Blue Mountains at Medlow Bath also received a highly commended for Redeveloped Hotel of the Year.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger, himself a career executive chef, said: “We are very proud to have the top chef in NSW leading our restaurant team. The innovation from his kitchen is exceptional and I am particularly impressed with how he is embracing local and regional food in the menu.
“However, the award for Darleys Restaurant shows that the outstanding dining experience our guests have come to expect is the result of an excellent team of chefs and wait staff at the restaurant.
“Darleys is a beautiful restaurant – the refurbished décor and gorgeous view, the customer service and the fantastic food is world-class.’’
A Colo High School alumni who grew up on a large rural property at Freemans Reach in the Hawkesbury, Kwiez’ culinary career inspiration was cooked up at home.
Mum was cooking shepherd’s pie when I was 14/15 and I thought `I want to be a chef’, then I did work experience at Maxwell’s Table at Kurmond and stayed on to Year 12,’’ he said.I finished school on the Thursday and started work full-time at Maxwell’s Table on the Monday.’’
During his career, Kwiez has travelled the world working in kitchens in Switzerland, Hayman Island and Canada before returning to Sydney where he worked at several restaurants including Milson’s Restaurant.
He was responsible for raising the Woolwich Pier Hotel from number 13 out of 20 to 18/20 in the Good Pub Guide, ranking it one of the top seven pubs in NSW.
“Flavour. Simple. That’s why I love being a chef,’’ Kwiez said.
“Food has got to look good obviously but if it looks pretty and you can’t eat it, I’m not interested. It’s all about the taste – it’s got to have the yum factor.’’
Kwiez has embraced the national focus on local and regional produce, choosing for his menus from produce grown in the 6000sqm kitchen garden at the Escarpment Group-owned Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges property at Blackheath wherever possible.
“Freshness, seasonality and locally grown: that’s my aim in the Darleys kitchen wherever possible,’’ he said.
What can’t be sourced from the Parklands garden is bought from local and regional suppliers from a 100 mile radius of Darleys Restaurant.
The range of produce is enormous, from Dutch carrots, nasturtium flowers and tomatoes to quince, pears, apples, plums, kale, broccoli and more, even the occasional catch of yabbies.
You think `Great, we can make a soup, we can make a salad’,’’ Kwiez said.You go online, you look at cookbooks, you look at what other chefs are doing, you look at three Hatted restaurants. Then you make a little salad or something and tell the customers it’s from the dam up the road – Parklands Pond Yabbies, there you go.’’
Kwiez counts former colleague Saffire Freycinet head chef Hugh Whitehouse (they were apprentices together at Maxwell’s Table and Kwiez took over Darleys from Whitehouse) as a mentor who inspires his own culinary creativity.
While Kwiez is the recognised talent of the Darleys kitchen, he also credited his team for the exceptional standard of food and service at the multi award-winning restaurant: “I’ve got a great team – it’s not just about me. Without them I couldn’t do this.’’
Away from the restaurant kitchen, the father-of-three loves simple flavoursome food: “ A nice steak or sausages as long as you’ve got a big salad to go with it. Or roast chicken with roast potatoes in rosemary and garlic and a big side of greens, that’s my favourite thing with maybe a nice sauce from the roasting juices of the chicken. You can’t beat a good roast chicken.’’
Darley’s Restaurant, Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Lilianfels Ave, Katoomba, is open from 6pm to 10.30pm Tuesday to Saturday. Reservations: (02) 4780 1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Awards – Lee Kwiez
- Woolwich Pier Hotel: Sydney Morning Herald Good Pub Guide 2012-Three schooners award (18/20)
- Milsons Restaurant: Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One Hat Award
2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000
- Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One wine glass award 2009, 2008, 2007
- Gourmet Traveler wine awards – -Two glasses 2004
- Gourmet Traveler food awards – -two stars 2006, one star 2005
- Jaspers Restaurant: Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide – One Hat Award 2001, 2000
Awards – Darleys Restaurant
- Regional Restaurant of the Year 2013 – Tourism Accommodation Awards for Excellence 2013
- Fine Dining Restaurant Award – 2010 Savour Australia Restaurant & Catering Awards for Excellence – NSW Regional
- Australian Hotels Association (NSW)Hall of Fame. 2010
- Best Regional Restaurant – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2010
- Two Chefs Hats – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2010
- Regional Restaurant of the Year – AHA (NSW) Awards for Excellence – 2009
- Two Chef’s Hats – SMH Good Food Guide Awards – 2009
- Hotel Restaurant of the Year – Hotel Management National Awards – 2007
Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media
By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group
The Escarpment Group collection of hotels has further cemented itself as the premier luxury accommodation provider in the Blue Mountains with all four of its properties named finalist in a prestigious industry awards.
The group was named finalist in 12 categories in the Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) NSW 2015 Awards for Excellence.
Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “This is a fantastic result – all four properties making the finalist list, especially for the Hydro Majestic which has only been open since October 2014 and Parklands which opened in September.
“I am very proud to represent such a great team of hard working tourism and hospitality professionals whose commitment to providing the highest benchmarks in the area shines through in everything they do every day.
“In fact it’s great to see the Blue Mountains tourism and hospitality industry well represented at the awards with our colleagues at Fairmont Resort and The Carrington Hotel also finalists.
“This is an indication of the standard of visitor experience throughout the Blue Mountains, where visitors can be assured of world-class accommodation, customer service and dining.’’
Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant is a finalist in Regional Superior Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year categories.
Lilianfels Resort & Spa Blue Mountains is a finalist in Chef of the Year, Front of House Employee of the Year, Regional Deluxe Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges is a finalist in Health Club & Spa Facilities of the Year and Regional Superior Hotel of the Year.
The Hydro Majestic Hotel is a finalist in Chef of the Year, Function Venue of the Year, Redeveloped Hotel of the Year and Regional Restaurant of the Year.
The TAA awards this year received its largest number of submissions ever, 281 from 67 top accommodation venues in NSW across more than 30 categories ranging from outstanding community service, best environmental practice and redeveloped hotel of the year through to the superior and deluxe hotels of the year categories and a range of individual staff awards.
TAA NSW chairman Nigel Greenaway said: “These venues really do showcase the best the NSW hotel industry has to offer – they quite simply are second to none and that is shown in the high quality of all the finalists.
Category winners will be announced at a gala awards night at The Westin Sydney on July 29. TV personality Catriona Rowntree will be emcee, with an after party at the Zeta Bar, Hilton Sydney.
By Ellen Hill Photos: David Hill
“Bula Mrs Hill. Bula Mr Hill. Bula Master Hill.
“Bula scruffy dog.
“Naughty dog – you should be at home.
It set the tone for the whole seven-day visit to Fiji’s Coral Coast.
From the palm tree-lined beaches, the thatched huts, azure waters dotted with quaint fishing boats, sapphire-coloured skies, and strapping young men in sarongs, all the clichés were there in glorious real life. It was as if we had been engulfed by the pages of a tourist brochure.
After a tough previous few months, it was just what we needed, right down to being handed a coconut on the promenade by the grinning man who scampered up to cut it down.
The Fiji Hideaway Resort was perfect: not too posh so we felt uncomfortable but nice enough to feel like a treat.
Our white bure (villa) was spacious, cool and clean, surrounded by tropical plants and with high ceilings, a queen size bed, an indoor shower (and a pretty spiffy outdoor one) and a front verandah.
Unheard of for us, we embraced the opportunity to “fly and flop’’ and didn’t leave the resort for three days.
With jobs that require us to be positive, polite and almost servile, it was a welcome relief to laze by the pool while resort staff scurried around at our beck and call.
We enjoyed the theatrical nightly kava ceremony, the lighting of the torches, the cultural stage performance each evening and got a buzz from the “personal’’ invitation to attend drinks with the resort general manager the afternoon we arrived.
Our tweenage son preferred our company, although the resort does have a kids club where resort crew look after the children with non-stop activities from treasure hunts to snorkelling and Fijian fishing lessons.
The resort website encourages visitors to meet
the real Fiji’’ by visiting thefriendly locals’’ in nearby villages, although we suspect the many locals who work there feel obliged to welcome tourists into their personal spaces after serving their every need all day.
After three days of soaking in the cloistered embrace of the resort, we tentatively ventured beyond the protective gates and wandered down the narrow potholed road towards town.
Just a few hundred metres down the road we were confronted by a man holding a machete.
He eyed us suspiciously.
We eyed him anxiously.
“Where are you going?’’ he asked.
“Just for a walk,’’ my husband said, aiming for a casual tone but achieving a warbled defence.
Why?’’ the man asked in amazement.Why you leave the resort?’’
Sitting cross-legged on the bare earthen floor of the hut, a tiny naked child peeped around the doorframe as the man told us his hard luck story and asked for money.
The next day it was slightly disconcerting to see him elevated as an elder at the local Methodist church service, where we were amused by the spotlessly dressed children in their Sabbath whites, singing psalms like angels and squabbling like seagulls during the sermon.
We took an organised full-day tour to Robinson Caruso Island (arranged by the resort staff), where tourists can enjoy a bountiful lunch, educational tour and entertainment. There is also a bar, children’s water activities and basic hut accommodation.
The resort shops are stocked with a range of items, from toiletries to clothing along with traditional novelties and snacks – all carrying a generous mark-up price.
The Hideaway has a full gym but we steered clear of physical torture, preferring a massage at the day spa and a lounge by the pool.
Apart from the raw sausage served at the “traditional Aussie BBQ’’, the only real downer was the lack of an ATM (we had to order a taxi and travel to the 5-star hotel down the road).
After building a sandcastle on the beach, going on numerous romantic sunset strolls along the sun-soaked shores of the
majestic ocean lagoon with year-round warm tropical waters’’ andpristine coral beaches’’, collecting shells and sipping rich cocktails by the pool, we truly felt refreshed.
Sometimes you just need a postcard.
Several international airlines have flights into Fij, including Qantas, Air New Zealand, Korean Air, Pacific Blue, and V Australia. Air Pacific is the national carrier and has direct flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Christchurch, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Vancouver and Japan. The Fiji International Airport is located in Nadi.
The Coral Coast and the Fiji Hideaway Resort & Spa are a 90 minute transfer away. The resort’s reservations staff can organise a transfer at the time of reservation via private car, taxi, or coach (fees apply).
Sightseeing around the Coral Coast is a must, with beautiful beaches and coral lagoons to explore. Taxis are available from the resort to visit Sigatoka for duty free shopping or the tour desk can organise a rental.
We rode the public bus into Sigatoka, which cost only a few dollars.