Rachel McMillan is a specialist consultant in food seasonality who works closely with both growers and chefs on the Fleurieu Peninsula to deliver the freshest and tastiest produce all year round. I spoke to her for Fleurieu Living magazine about how her business Scoop SA came to be, and her new venture as a grower and primary producer.
It was when Rachel McMillan decided to change careers a decade ago that Scoop SA was born. After a career in hotel management that saw her become the youngest-ever assistant manager of the Sydney Hilton, she planned to return to college to study garden design. She needed to make some cash to support her studies.
It was through talking to some of her chef friends that she saw a gap in the market – there was no-one providing the direct link between restaurants and producers on the Fleurieu Peninsula where she lived. Rachel thought she could maybe make an income to support her studies by working a couple of days a week distributing fresh local produce to restaurants.
‘The whole idea came about from wanting to help chefs get local produce onto the menus,’ says Rachel. She started talking to the chefs and identifying their needs, and making contacts with producers of fresh fine foods and herbs on the Peninsula. Then, with a refrigerated truck and a clear vision, Scoop began business.
‘From the beginning, it was consuming,’ laughs Rachel. ‘I never made it back to college!’
Ever since, the business has built through word of mouth, because ‘the chefs are passionate about what they are using on their menus, and about using local produce.’
Rachel grew up around food, hospitality and fresh country produce. Her family owned a holiday farm in the Snowy Mountains, and Rachel was used to seeing Mum cook for 40 guests. ‘She was a really good gardener as well,’ says Rachel, who honed her skills in those early days, helping her parents out.
Today, she sources products ranging from garden-fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, artisan cheeses, oils, olives and more from all over the Fleurieu for delivery to some of the SA’s best restaurants including Magill Estate and Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, as well as 40 or so restaurants and cafes on the Fleurieu.
She also recently took over the growing operations of Herbivorous, so has become a primary producer herself. From her shade tunnels in Aldinga, she is cultivating a selection of herbs, flowers and salad greens to supply to restaurants.
‘We’re increasing the diversity of what we’re able to supply – lots of edible flowers, wild strawberries, herbs of all kinds. We are growing society garlic, for example – Magill Estate asked me for some a while back, and I didn’t even know what it was. My neighbour on Sellicks Hill, who has just about everything in her garden, had it though! So now we’re growing that here.
‘And I can put in extra things too – that the chefs don’t know about… Simon Bryant, who I worked with at the Hilton years ago – he’s a wealth of knowledge, and he’s always telling me what I should be growing.
‘We’ve got a bit of a permaculture thing happening as well: we can grow herbs like watercress, then when they go on to the flower stage, we can use the flower as well.’
Rachel also runs a stall at the Victor Harbor Farmers Market each Saturday, and is the chair of Fleurieu Food. These days she employs a number of people to help with distribution and various other aspects of the business. She also has a daughter, Alexandra, nearly four, to take care of.
‘The lifestyle Scoop provides me is great,’ she says. ‘I can look after Alexandra, and still run the business. Sure, it’s a juggle, but you make it work! I love growing things – it’s de-stressing and really therapeutic. I love living down here and seeing the seasonality of life on the Fleurieu.’
‘Part of my role with Scoop, and with Fleurieu Food, is teaching people about seasonality. People come to the market looking for tomatoes in the middle of winter! I have to take a step back and realise most people are not in the world that I’m in – and I don’t mean to be a food snob, but my life is about seasonality… I work with the chefs on their menus, and it’s recognising that seasonality and when certain foods are available, and when certain weather conditions are affecting crops and in turn, the menus.
Rachel also works with the growers to increase the biodiversity of produce available. As consumers demand more variety, growers are able to plant a greater range of heirloom and rare fruit and vegetables, knowing there will be a market for their fine produce.
‘It’s been really interesting watching some of the Fleurieu producers grow over the last decade – like Denise [Riches] from Hindmarsh Valley Dairy. Some of the cheeses she creates are amazing.’
Like Rachel, Denise likes working with chefs and creating new products for them. ‘We’ve created maybe half a dozen new products for restaurants in the area. Simon Bryant was doing a special dinner at Angoves, and spoke to us about creating something for it, so Denise did a washed rind Manchego style cheese to go with the Angove wine.
‘It’s really encouraging as chair of Fleurieu Food to see the amount of recognition the area is getting as a food and wine destination. In Gourmet Traveller, out of the 11 awards for regional restaurants, we got six; and in the Advertiser awards for best regional restaurants, many of them were down here on the Fleurieu.
“It’s also great for Scoop of course – the more popular the restaurants in the area, the more work there is for Scoop!’