Working in a long, swaying narrow galley and serving gourmet cuisine to train lovers calls for a skilled mix of teamwork, balance and quick thinking.

Story By Paula Heelan

Dressed-up travellers on Great Southern Rail’s (GSR) Southern Spirit are gathering in the Outback Lounge for pre-dinner drinks. They know they’re about to experience dinner at a table set with fine china, silverware and white linen so there’s an air of anticipation in the room. The atmosphere is a reminder of the days when dining in a rail car was the highlight of any rail journey.
On tonight’s menu for starters there’s antipasto with pita bread and pesto; entree is maryland of chicken with parsnip cream, truffle jus and pickled walnuts; next is tenderloin of beef topped with Dijon mustard and cracked black pepper, roasted and served with seasonal baby vegetables, potato cake and black porter jus. Treacle tart with caramel rum sauce, ginger snap and crème fraiche will follow. The dining room doors slide open and like magic, one after the other, these dishes are quickly placed before diners watching the varied landscape slides past.
Executive chef Bradley Kerkman is mingling with guests. Responsible for onboard food and beverage for all GSR services including The Ghan, Indian Pacific and The Southern Spirit, it’s Bradley’s job to create the menu and procure the produce. For someone with a big responsibility like this, he’s looking incredibly relaxed. Mouth-watering fare, from fresh seafood to kangaroo, pork, chicken and beef is unending throughout this journey from Brisbane to Alice Springs. In between sips and bites, diners are asking just how do these amazing dishes materialise on a train?
“There are some organisational difficulties to overcome,” Bradley says. “It’s certainly a different world and a long way removed from land-based restaurants. But with carefully selected staff that can click in a team, things usually unfold according to plan. I have a general overview of what I think we need and share that with the chefs – they can then add to it as they like and work with it until they get it right. Once the products are delivered to them [fresh produce is boarded at most stops], they are able to prepare and cook. We are constantly staying ahead of the game, looking to improve things wherever we can. As palates are always changing, we refine the menu every six months, changing or modifying at least 20 percent of the dishes.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #70

Outback Magazine: April/May 2010