Capella Executive Chef Cooper Dickson spends his time away from the kitchen on the hunt for food – either fishing the oceans surrounding the tiny island in the Tasman Sea for its abundant tuna and kingfish or roaming Lord Howe’s sheltered coves and hidden shores for the chance to forage for edible sea vegetables.
A ‘new local’ on Lord Howe since he came to head up the kitchen at the island’s most premium accommodation in 2015, Cooper is a convert. Along with his wife Viktoria who runs the restaurant and is also Assistant Lodge Manager, Cooper has settled into the laid-back island lifestyle with its tight-knit community and healthy outdoors vibe.
Depending on the swell and if the fish are rumoured to be running, Cooper and his mates head out in their boat most days, bringing back a bounty of seafood from wahoo to kingfish and red emperor. At other times Cooper enjoys foraging for the edible sea succulents and salads that bring a distinctly Lord Howe flavour to the menu on offer for guests in the Capella restaurant. Rocket flowers, nasturtiums, watercress, oxalis, and various sea herbs are just a small example of the local leaves and flowers Cooper uses on all of his dishes.
The menu, based on the freshest seasonal produce, means new and returning guests enjoy a different culinary experience every day. Each Tuesday Cooper really shows his stuff as guests at Capella are treated to a six-course degustation menu, complete with matched wines from New South Wales’ acclaimed wine regions including Orange and the Hunter Valley, as well as some of the best labels from around the country.
Among Cooper’s favourite and most popular dishes is the carpaccio of Lord Howe kingfish. Cooper said having a steady supply of beautiful kingfish to work with is a real treat, as the carpaccio really highlights the fish’s snapping freshness and clean flavours. This dish works equally well with yellowfin tuna and it’s a good one to try at home. The recipe is below, and pairs perfectly with the Freycinet Riesling from Tasmania.
Originally from Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Cooper was interviewed for a chef’s role at Capella by Hayley Baillie, who lived just down the road from him. Cooper was finishing his apprenticeship at Nick’s Seafood and Hayley was keen to make sure he would suit an island life. A keen surfer and fisherman – and an accomplished chef to boot – Cooper was the perfect fit. Working alongside Executive Chef Tim Bourke at Capella was the beginning of a great culinary friendship, and when Southern Ocean Lodge opened on Kangaroo Island in 2008, the pair moved there to open the property.
When the head chef role at Capella was offered, Cooper and Viktoria leapt at the opportunity. Of Cooper’s 14 years spent working as a chef, the last three have been a highlight, he feels life’s good both at work and outside it.
Cooper says, “I love living on Lord Howe. Every day I look out of the window at home or from the kitchen at Capella and its beauty still blows me away. It’s going to be a hard place to beat!”
LORD HOWE ISLAND KINGFISH CARPACCIO WITH RUBY GRAPEFRUIT, CRÈME FRAICHE AND RADISH
SERVES 4 AS A STARTER
– 200-300g fresh kingfish, thinly sliced
– 1 ruby grapefruit
– ¼ cup whipped and seasoned crème fraiche
– 2 small radishes
– 1 small fennel bulb
– 1 tsp ruby grapefruit juice
– 2 tsp olive oil
– Salt, sugar
– Fresh fennel fronds
– Marigold flowers
Lay out fish on plate, season well with sea salt
Place the crème fraiche into a piping bag and add dots evenly over fish
Add citrus segments and thinly shaved radish evenly over fish
Add thinly shaved fresh fennel
Dress everything with the vinaigrette
Garnish with fresh fennel fronds and marigold flowers
Microplane peeled horseradish to finish.