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This is a story by retired cook and restaurateur George Biron.  How I stopped worrying about the wine list and learned to love pinot noir.

He and his partner Diane Garett cooked and served some of the nation's best and affordable food. Based in their colonial cottage at Birregurra on a rise above the Barwon River forty minutes west of Geelong. There they cooked seasonal food augmented by the large developing kitchen garden and what local food they could source from farmers Victorian specialist growers and the occasional hunter. This is George's story.

It was the early 1990s. Pinot was on the rise. Part of our business model was an uncompromising semi-set menu based on seasonal food, a comprehensive wine list from the emerging local wineries, and a unique BYO policy. It was $10 for the first bottle, $15 for the second, $20 for the third, and $25 for every bottle after that. It stopped the Eskies of cheap plonk from clogging the dining room and allowed diners to celebrate their private cellars in our restaurant.  It grew to much bigger things.

 The local winemaking industry was going through its third renaissance and winemakers loved to share their special wines with their friends, colleagues and the high roller clients.   We became the nexus for winemakers and the young turks of wine who have since made a very strong mark in the wine industry. You know who you are. They would bring bottles from their cellars or their portfolios to our little cottage. We would happily open them up for them and pour.   This was at a time when all of Australia was falling in love with pinot noir.  Gary Farr was leading the Burgundian style resurgence locally. For many years he had been doing vintage at Dujac in France and his Bannockburn vineyards were one of the benchmarks in the local area.

The BYO policy was, egalitarian allowing young people to dine with us while keeping the costs down. It also saved us from having to make a very large investment in wine while taking a masterclass in wine tasting after each service feasting on the generous leftovers.  I admit my wine tasting experience was not extensive but the BYO put me in and my kitchen team in front of a lot of amazing wines.

There were many decadent sessions where flights of Domaine Romanée Conti and Grands Echezueax were lined up on the sideboard beside the local stars’ bottles and casually ferried into the kitchen for approval from the workers between courses.

After we had finished service and the guests had gone, with the words of the patrons still ringing in our ears we sat around and tasted the day's remains with memorable staff dinners. We were able to enjoy some of the best Australian pinot noirs available at that time along with the Burgundies, the likes of which will perhaps never taste again. We turned their enthusiasm for these wines into an opportunity to educate ourselves, and the Sunnybrae team, with the wines made in France and Australia from pinot noir. And for a time my next door farmer neighbour supplied the Rouen Khaki Campbell cross quackers to try to do justice to the wines.  It was incredible piss. That is my story.

George Biron's Duck with Bay Leaves Chestnuts and Quinces

Serves 4

Take a large duck. With a sharp knife or kitchen scissors, portion duck into legs, wings, and breasts.  Keep the breasts still attached to the ribcage to stop them from shrinking while cooking.

Place the portioned duck in a tray and lightly sprinkle with flaky salt and a good amount of powdered dried bay leaves. (Easy to make by taking 6 dried bay leaves and placing in a small food processor). Cover and place in the fridge overnight. Meanwhile if you don’t have fresh chestnuts, place 150g dried chestnuts in a shallow dish, cover with water, cover and soak overnight.

The following day, preheat the oven to 180C or 170C fan forced. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy baking tray and add a mirepoix of one large chopped onion, 2 medium carrots, chopped and 4 medium celery stalks with the chestnuts. Season lightly and stir. Add about 300g peeled quinces cut into medium-sized segments, one head of unpeeled garlic cloves, and 100g of pancetta or other fatty preserved pork in thin slices. Add 3 or 4 dried bay leaves. Sauté until well coloured.

Remove the duck from the fridge. Rinse under cold running water and pat dry. Place the legs and wings, but not the breasts, on top of the mirepoix with about 3cm of good stock and 150ml of pinot noir. Cook covered for about 40 minutes to an hour. While the duck is in the oven, slowly cook the duck breasts in a heavy pan on the skin side till a lot of the fat under the skin is rendered, and the skin is nice and brown.

Take the cover off the baking tray and add the breasts skin side up cook uncovered in the oven till there is only about 1cm of liquid in the base. Check the doneness of the meats. Taste for seasoning.

Prepare a simple butter lettuce salad.

Now, take slices of good bread to make the most delicious croutons. Do this by spreading some of the skin from the neck and extra crushed garlic over the bread. Place on a rack above a tray and bake in the oven till the skin is crisp and the bread resembles toast. Cut into croutons. Set aside.

Now, take the breasts off the bone. Portion the legs, thighs and wings plus thick slices of breast.

Check the seasoning and baste the duck with the pan juices.  Add the croutons to the salad. Serve the duck and its delicious quince and chestnut accompaniment with the salad. Enjoy with your best pinot.

This is a dish from my mother.

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