How I Beechworth: Michael Ryan

Published on 23 June 2020

Photo: Provenance owner and chef Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan opened his first restaurant, Range, with his wife Jeanette Henderson in Myrtleford in 2005. Jeanette's background was in wine retail, specifically with Philip Rich and Matt Skinner at the Prince Wine Store, and she’s also a qualified winemaker, an obvious benefit in setting up a restaurant. Michael's background is science, the benefit there being possibly less obvious for a restaurateur. After three successful years the pair moved to Beechworth to open Provenance in 2009. In the decade since, the restaurant has won many accolades including two hats in the Good Food Guide for the last nine years, with Michael named Chef of the Year in the Age Good Food Guide in 2013. Michael has a long-term interest in Japanese cuisine; this is reflected in the techniques and flavours used in the Provenance menus, and in his co-authorship of Only in Tokyo, a collection of his favourite culinary experiences in the Japanese capital.

My defining food moment in the High Country was many years ago, too many really, and I had only recently moved to the area. We were celebrating my birthday by having dinner at Simones of Bright, when Patrizia was still in the motel with the shag-pile carpet. The food she sent out I still think about often. The meatballs in sugo, made from local goat, that were so delicate you wondered how they kept their shape in the sauce, beautiful house-made pasta with perfectly emulsified sauces and a generosity that Italians do so well. It was at that point that I thought I could really spend some time in the area. Turns out it was longer than I could have ever imagined.

I know I’m in the High Country when I’m driving back from Melbourne and I come over the rise at Glenrowan. On the left is the expanse of plains of the King and Oven valleys with the unmistakable silhouette of Mount Buffalo in the background. This is when I know I am home.

The best new thing I’ve found is bergamot from Mountain Yuzu. I’ve used Jane Casey’s yuzu for years – it’s fantastic – but the bergamot she grows is quite a revelation. There is no more fragrant citrus than the bergamot. I am also very keen on their chinotto, which we use every year to make our own chinotto cordial, and now chinotto bitters.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I stay at the Kilns in Porepunkah and have dinner at Reed & Co distillery in Bright. The Kilns are the most stunning accommodation at the base of Mount Buffalo, with the choice of the wonderfully refurbished old tobacco huts or the modern sorting shed. These places are so comforting that you won't want to leave. You should make the effort though, because you really need to try the food and drink at Reed & Co. Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed have created a very special place that is part distillery, part wood-fired kitchen. Amazing gins, great cocktails, and simple but refined food cooked with skill over charcoal.

There’s no better value in the region than pizza at Bridge Road Brewers. The pizzas here are the best they have ever been, under the guidance of the new chef, Sean Judd. Having a couple with their excellent beers is a great way to spend a little to get a lot.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to take them to Mount Buffalo. I am not a spiritual person in any way, but Buffalo has a power and presence that you can't help noticing. A beautiful mountain with many different faces, from alpine forest and plains to granite tors and waterfalls. Walking trails range from easy to full days.

In the mornings you’ll find me riding my bike, hopefully. I try to ride the 30km return trip up the hill to Stanley at least four times a week.

If you looked in our fridge, you might be surprised to find processed cheese slices. Can’t make a burger without it.

My local is either the Empire or Tanswells, my two favourite pubs in town. These pubs are what all country pubs should be like. I’d most likely stop by Cellar Door Wine Store on the way there to pre-load on Lochie's excellent wine selection, too.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be seeing more young hospo teams choosing Beechworth as a place to start their business. Some great opportunities, with excellent work/non-work balance. (Work is life.)

But the one thing I hope never changes here is that Beechworth, being three hours from Melbourne, remains its own self-contained town.

Catch Michael Ryan on the pans when you dine (and stay!) at Provenance, 86 Ford St, Beechworth, (03) 5728 1786, theprovenance.com.au, and keep up with his broader adventures on Instagram at @theprovenance.

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