REVIEW: The Millers Hands

Cnr Railway St & Swan Lane, Mudgeeraba

On coming to the Gold Coast from Cairns, I’d been struck by how little a sense of community was present here. It took me years to find it, hidden away in pockets defined by interest or creed, passion, suburb, or (fortunately for us) by street.

In a chance meeting over breakfast we rediscovered it. We met the miller.

Picture this: the chef on his day off, the blogger (as always) in search of a good story, sharing a table at a crowded restaurant.

“There’s no real menu,” I overheard him talking to the Main Squeeze. “It just depends on what we can source ethically, what’s in season. We barter for what we can.”

Barter! Now I was really interested!

And so began a conversation about food philosophy:

  • The concept of ‘food miles’: using fresh, locally sourced products
  • The chain of provenance, with growers and buyers spending time together
  • The use of whole and raw foods with minimal intervention
  • The ethos of ‘breaking bread’ and serving others.

Finally, as enough trust is built, we unveil our ‘alter egos’.

We’d just met Justin Walker, owner/chef of The Millers Hands, a recent addition to the Mudgeeraba dining scene.

Trained at the Hilton and Centra hotels in Auckland, Justin completed his culinary rites of passage with Laif Etournand (Onde, Sydney), Jorgen Lloyd (Mrs Brown in Malmö, Sweden) and Steve Davidson (Pier 10, Victoria), before owning his own restaurant: Pablo’s Vice, in Sydney .

“These three chefs taught me so much,” Justin told me, “Jorgen for his local cuisine. He tries to hunt, grow and forage for a lot of the food he uses in his restaurant. He’s also very humble.” While working with Jorgen Lloyd, as part of the Stars ‘chef swap’ programme, Justin spent a week in Noma’s kitchen with René Redzepi, a chef who has been credited with transforming Scandinavian cuisine. (Noma has won the title of ‘World’s best restaurant’ three times)!

“Laif, (who had worked at Bilson’s before I worked for him), had a saying ‘You catch more flies with honey than you do with shit.’”

“Steve Davidson was madly passionate about food, taking every opportunity to break down culinary barriers. He’d rethink everything, every combination, to get a different take. Amazing!”

Together these chefs have shaped Justin Walker’s culinary practice: using fresh organic or ethical produce with as few food miles travelled as possible (organic spelt bread from Britt’s Organic Bakery, produce from the Beechmont Community Gardens, Numinbah grass-fed beef, raw cakes and savoury pies from RawMania and great Allpress Espresso coffee).

“We try to buy certified organic products as much as possible, use homemade sauerkraut, house pickled cucumber and chutney… We’re starting slowly. I’d rather understate what we do, and over-deliver.”

Justin also told me about his mill, which he will soon be using to grind his own flour for bread. More interesting again is his connection to local clientele: allowing community wares to be sold in the shop, looking at a book swap area, and the possibility of book clubs and small community groups meeting in the café. He’s open to the unfolding of this space, according to its purpose of ‘community’ and the service he can give to the neighbourhood.

“It’s like having a baby,” Justin told me. “People say it’s like a little slice of Melbourne, but really it’s a little slice of me!”

I looked around at the wood-lined shop that is Justin’s labour of love. It’s eclectic, yet simple; understated, yet a vehicle for so much more. I realised that in the couple of hours I’d spent in The Millers Hands, I’d talked to several customers and producers and even made a friend or two. And I thought I’d just pop in for a coffee…

Isn’t that what ‘community’ is all about?

Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast

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