Chef Nick Middleton recommends fresh, local produce for a classic Christmas lunch.

Story By Sheridan Rogers

Generous platters of antipasti, roasted free-range pork, glazed ham, deep-dish pies and big bowls of salad will be on Nick Middleton’s table this Christmas. Like most Australians, the chef from Mudgee, NSW, will be surrounded by family and friends, and he’ll be celebrating outdoors. As head chef of the busy Lawson Park Hotel, it’s rare for Nick to take a day off mid-week, but this year he’ll be making the most of it. Having lived in Mudgee for 20 years, he has a good relationship with local producers and growers, many of whom will be represented at his Christmas table. Mudgee is famous for its vineyard-studded rolling hills, its cellar doors, wineries, music festivals and pantry condiments – in fact, you wouldn’t be far off the mark to call it ‘the condiment capital of New South Wales’. Nestled in a valley 270 kilometres north-west of Sydney (the word Mudgee is derived from the Wiradjuri term Moothi, meaning ‘nest in the hills’), the region is renowned for its fat lamb, beef, premium olives and olive oils, honey and wines. Its red-earth, clay-based soils are ideal for grape vines. Primary plantings consist of traditional whites, such as chardonnay (Mudgee is the birthplace of Australian chardonnay), semillon and riesling, and reds, such as cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, merlot and pinot. More recently, sangiovese, barbera and zinfandel have been introduced. This year Mudgee is celebrating 150 years of wine-making, which coincides almost to the year with the establishment of The Lawson Park Hotel. Situated opposite Lawson Park, a lovely rambling oasis on the banks of the Cudgegong River, it was built in the 1860s and was originally known as The Tattersalls Hotel. A typical old-style country corner pub, it’s a rare survivor of a council order to dispense with wide balconies, though in recent times this order has been reversed with the current council actively encouraging the restoration of old balconies and verandahs in the town. For the past six months, Nick has been responsible for a big turnaround in business at The Lawson Park Hotel, now under new management. Locals are back in droves, enjoying the fabulous cook-your-own steaks at the indoor chargrill and salad bar, and tucking into the pub’s signature deep-dish pies: lamb, rosemary and tomato; beef, Guinness and green peas; and chickpea, lentils and curry.

This story excerpt is from Issue #62

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2009