As the customer continues to evolve and become more interested in where their meal is coming from, terms like ‘paddock to plate’ and ‘farm to fork’ have emerged as the serviceable catch phrase to encompass this ideology. The internal logic holds true, every item on the plate has originated from a farm somewhere.

However, when we begin to unpack the concept and how it is often promoted, the sincerity of the claim is put to test with few able to truly claim a paddock to plate offering when considering the distance between the plate, the paddock and the multiple organisations involved between the two.

For this piece, I wanted to explore different venues that do indeed reflect the true nature of paddock to plate – where the product used in-venue was actually produced onsite. The supply chains in these instances are not just processing and transport; they are very much a quality chain of expertise, of vision and passion and demonstrate different levels of scale.

Lisa and Andrew Margan established Margan Estate in the Broke Fordwich sub-region of the Hunter Valley in 1996. They are ostensibly a wine brand but also a well-established part of wine tourism in the area with a highly regarded on-farm restaurant and event space doing around 290 covers a weekend.

As well as their wine, they manage a one-acre kitchen garden, orchard free-range chickens, beehives, olive groves and estate reared Suffolk and Dorper lambs.

Lisa was inspired to produce her own lamb after a lunch using a neighbour’s lamb alongside produce from their own kitchen garden.

“I pulled together this lunch of beautiful spring lamb, new potatoes, all sorts of salad out of the garden and wine that we had made and I just thought, what a wonderful thing this would be and imagine being able to replicate it larger scale for our Margan guests.”

Their lamb project started about 15 years ago and they now manage a flock of up to 50 head at any one time. The sheep rotate through pastures and vines on the estate, operating like ‘little lawnmowers’ and play a role in the company’s environmental management program.

Margan Estate is on track to become organically certified and carbon neutral and the sheep are an important part of that closed loop, keeping the grass down between the vines and adding nutrient value at the same time. It’s about reducing our impact on the environment and leaving the property in good shape for our children,” Lisa said.

Joey Ingram is head chef at Margan and seized the chance to move from the city with his family just over a year ago. He comes to the Hunter via two of Sydney’s great restaurants, Tetsuya’s and Balzac. Joey says that Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating was what led him to Matt Kemp at Balzac and fostered his love of whole beast cooking.

“Matt was buying whole carcasses in the city way before anyone else; it was part of his English kitchen tradition.” Ingram says there was no ‘ethos’ and laughs as he imagines what Kemp actually said about such ephemeral things. “It was more about showing the skill of the chef on one plate. Using the whole thing was just good kitchen management.”

The traditional butchery skills learned under Kemp allowed him to develop his agri-dining style. In practice, this concept means around 90 percent of what Ingram serves over his kitchen pass comes from the estate. His main-focus is the one-hectare organic garden that dictates his five course set menu.

“I think that the guests can see the connection, they get to do a tour of the garden, they get to meet the lamb, see the chickens and to see the vegetables that they’re about to eat. All of that ties into what we try to do here, which is estate grown, estate made.”

The drought and 2020 firestorm showed that there are challenges to establishing such an ethos and it is about fitting into the seasons and the natural production cycle. Ingram’s vineyard manager tells him when the lambs are ready and he fits in around that.

“It’s not really up to me, he’ll tell me that there’s some lambs going to the abattoirs next week and so I’ll need to be ready to break them down and get them onto a plate.”

The lambs are taken from Margan to the abattoir in Kurri Kurri where they are processed and chilled down overnight. Ingram’s butcher then picks them up in a food grade truck and brings them back.

“We’ll generally hang them for anywhere from seven to 10 days in our custom built dry ageing room and from there we can begin to break it down as we need it and hang some things longer. We use a combination of primary and secondary cuts and try to get a good amount of each part of the animal through the dish.”

When asked about the viability of their paddock to plate model – Lisa says it is more about the fact that it suits their operation and they have the space to do it.

“Paddock to plate isn’t going to be for everyone and it is hard to say that we do it for a cost advantage. I think it’s more a break-even proposition but it suits us and it is more about the customer being able to connect with that story and to enjoy estate-reared lamb alongside estate-grown produce and wines,” Margan concludes.

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