At the end of July, our Prince Dining Room Executive Chef Dan Hawkins and Head Chef Dan Cooper joined forces with a few like-minded Melbourne colleagues for an educational journey to Darwin, including a special visit to Humpty Doo Barramundi Farm.

Affectionately known as ‘The Dans’, our two culinary masters place a strong emphasis on cooking with local, sustainably farmed and seasonal produce wherever possible. Humpty Doo Barramundi Farm shares the same ethos. 

Alongside the visit to Humpty Doo, Hawkins and Cooper immersed themselves in the “Top End” lifestyle marvelling at the spectacular scenery, the wildlife and the adaptations to modern life people make out of necessity in harsher climates. 

On their travels, they were introduced to a plethora of new ideas and cooking techniques they hope now to introduce at Prince Dining Room.

Read on for a few musings from their trip up north:

Dan Hawkins – Executive Chef

DH fish

Trip highlight
It’s tough to nail down just one highlight as this was my first trip to the “Top End”, but the exposure to a different, and at times more dangerous, way of life was extremely interesting. From the challenging heat, rain, humidity and ever-present threat of crocodiles come true beauty. My interest peaked daily, learning about wild foods we don’t see in the southern states, different wildlife and creatures, various fruit farms and an abundance of tropical produce. Betel leaf growing on the side of the road, wild rosella, wild passionfruit. It was amazing to see!

Valued learning
The sustainable fishing and market techniques implemented by Humpty Doo really make sense to me. Humpty Doo attends global seafood market conferences to sell a predetermined sustainable volume of fish before they have been caught. This allows them to take only what is required to fill their orders and nothing more. Most big players in the fishing industry do business the opposite way making for unsustainable volumes caught and high product wastage. Unfortunately, that’s the ugly truth.

Best meal of the trip
Not so much a meal per se, but the accessibility to amazing produce blew my mind. Being able to eat Barramundi for lunch, plucked from the water that morning was a highlight. Eating Mud Crabs that were revelling in the mud that morning. Eating tropical fruits that normally travel hundreds of kilometres for us to enjoy down south, that were literally grown up the road. Barramundi on the BBQ, barra wings, barra sashimi, barra burgers, bloody good fresh fish! Also, grabbing live green ants off a tree and wolfing them down! You can’t do that in Victoria!

Anything you plan to introduce at The Prince Hotel going forward?
We returned to Melbourne feeling well and truly inspired by our excursion. Parts of this trip cemented some of my knowledge of traditional Aboriginal cooking techniques and Bush Tucker – Other parts challenged me to learn more. It was the perfect time of year to be around tropical produce, our Victorian summer is on the way and you can expect to see some influences from the top end!

Dan Cooper – Head Chef

DC face copy

Trip highlight
Humpty Doo Barramundi Farm was a huge highlight in itself but certainly spending time exploring Litchfield National Park was up there. The waterfalls and swimming areas were stunning and the bush foods around these areas were fascinating – Kakadu plum, red bush apple, barramundi, water lily and blackcurrant bush, just to name a few.

Valued learning
They showed us some pretty special stuff. Humpty Doo Barramundi Farm is able to produce a “sashimi” grade Barramundi, the first on the market. The fish has amazing fat content, clean flavour and a melt in your mouth profile not too dissimilar to wagyu beef. It was delicious.

Best meal of the trip
Learning about the Limilngan–Wulna people (Wulna country lies between Darwin and Kakadu National Park) and their culture lead to the best meal of the trip. We were guided through a series of stories and teachings about how the Linilngan-Wulna people use native flora and fauna in their cooking. Trying some of the bush foods was extremely interesting and tasty. Foraging around the national parks and picking produce straight from the tree as we walked around.

Anything you plan to introduce at The Prince Hotel going forward?
We are definitely working some of our new skills into the menu at PDR – expect to see things like whole charcoal-grilled baby barramundi and wood oven-roasted duck with Kakadu plum sauce.

Waterhole copy culture tour eagle croc