Roy Turner has spent over 30 years living on remote Haggerstone Island, off the remote and rugged coast of Cape York, in Australia. A masterful architect and magnificent cook, Roy has created a food destination in Haggerstone Island resort. His bold flavours burst from the freshest ingredients, all of which are caught or grown on the island. One mouthful will make you rethink the way you source and cook your food, forever.
1. What does sustainability mean to you on Haggerstone Island?
By growing and catching everything we can we try to remove or diminish the reliance on purchased products. Food grown or caught tastes better and is obviously better for you. It further removes the purchase price, the freight bill (which is high) and the ongoing difficulty of keeping purchased food in good condition.
2. How do you put this into practice on Haggerstone?
We are a food destination and you cannot be that without first class ingredients. Our food is good because it is simply and carefully cooked, and it is fresh.
3. Describe some of the sustainable fishing practices used.
First and most importantly we only catch what we need generally on a daily basis. We tend to eat smaller rather than larger fish. I feel this should be a global policy rather than the reverse. Large fish are big, healthy breeders producing far more roe than a small fish of the same species. They are more street-wise than their younger brothers and sisters and their survival on return to the ocean is more likely. Their size and health guarantees great genetics for their offspring, far more so than the offspring of a fish a quarter of their size.
4. Tell us about what you grow on the island?
We made a lot of mistakes with what we first attempted to grow on Haggerstone. I come from a Victorian farming background and I suppose, tried growing the norm, with a few bananas and paw-paws thrown in. Over a period of years we found the vegetables and fruits that love Haggerstone’s soil and climate. Quite a few PNG plants were very successful and a lot of stuff like rocket and okra that I would never have guessed would grow. Guado (meter long) beans, Ibeka (tree-lettuce), Barbados cherries, west-Indian limes, cherry tomatoes, and bok-choy … even the bananas. It took a while to get the right one that flourished and tasted good. I love gardening so it was all surprises, disappointments and fun.
5. What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced? What have you learnt about growing and sourcing food on a remote tropical island?
Mulch from the jungle is the ultimate food and soil conditioner for all plants and trees. If you have heavy, almost clay soil it needs to be made friable with leaf, bark and stick mulch. It allows roots to keep searching in the dry when the heavy soil would set and stop growth. That is really the single most important rule and success comes with mulching. Water of course is also needed and late in the year we struggle with that. The orchard turns into a jungle when the rains come. You can see the plants smiling.
6. What other food sources do you use?
We have chickens and ducks and we fatten wild pigs we have “run down” on the mainland. All manner of animals are on a diet of coconut, fish and vegetables, which we have on hand on the island. The eggs are better, the ducks taste better and the pigs are delicious. We shoot the occasional young, wild cow for our underground cook-ups. They also have great flavour as they eat saltwater couch (marine grass) and wild grasses and are not exposed to pesticides and anti-biotics.
7. How do the seasons affect what you can grow?
Everything flourishes when the wet begins. The island transforms and becomes a jungle. Vines snake out of the ground and up trees and the whole canopy fights for a share of the sun. The orchard comes alive and all planting must begin immediately for a good year. Little has to be done except controlling the madness of growth.
8. How much food do you need brought in from the mainland and how do you do this?
We need flour, tea, olive oil, pepper, cheese, some southern vegetables i.e. carrots, cauliflower, wine beer etc. Fortunately we do not need much of what comprises our entree and main course. We try to order in bulk and ship it up. When we have shortfalls we can throw it on the plane with the guests.
9. What is your food philosophy?
Try to eat what is grown and caught and cook it well.
10. How would you describe your approach to cooking and how has it changed/ been influenced over the years?
I have been a lover of food since a child, a true “foodie” I suppose. So wherever I travel I am on the lookout for unusual combinations that I can mold into Haggerstone cuisine. Because I love food so much and really live for food, looking for recipes and ingredients is not exactly hard work. I still get excited when I find a new flavour or witness a new combination or method in cooking. Changes and influences have come from everywhere but French and nouveu Japanese dominate.
11. What does the food you cook and create on Haggerstone mean to you?
Pride in what we put on the table and I am fussy about detail. I cannot stand overcooked seafood and heavy sauces that disguise flavour. I hate over complicated salads, overdone vegetables and combinations that are out of whack.
12. How do you innovate with what is available to you?
There was a dish I had at Nobu in London that I loved. It was asparagus, gently steamed with a light egg sauce with fish roe on top. I was back at Haggerstone thinking, I wish I could do this dish, when I decided to give Okra a go as we had buckets of them. It was better than the asparagus. Same with a dish from Thailand called “Ka-Tom” Thai rice soup. I made it as per the “Thai’ way until a Singaporean luxury boat anchored off our reef and came in for dinner. In the morning they invited me for breakfast, which they called “fish-porridge”. They poured hot soup over finely sliced, sesame marinated mackerel. I incorporated this idea into my fish soup and it is up with our best dishes.
13. What are some of your favourite ingredients to cook with or favourite dishes to cook?
I love all manner of fish cooking, be it steamed fried or as a ceviche. I like grilling as it requires close attention and I like working with our home produce and trying new things even if they don’t work out.
14. Who or what have been you biggest influencers in the kitchen?
Nobu a French chef called Philippe Joubert who came to the island regularly and whom I often visited in France, a Thai chef called Bob Boom who I have visited every year of the last 15 years.
15. Have you noticed any change or decline in fish numbers over your many years living on Haggerstone?
There has been no major change in fish numbers. They are holding well because of our remoteness. The live ‘cray’ industry has reduced the numbers of lobster in the region but they are still holding okay. Hopefully the season for live ‘craying’ will be closed longer in the future.
Enjoying meals that come straight out of the water and onto your plate on Haggerstone Island, is an truly unforgettable experience and the remoteness of this destination, a beautiful reminder of how nature provides if we look after it.