5 April 2024

Five minutes with Brent, The Gardens Wagga and Function Centre

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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The Gardens Cafe & Function Centre owner Brent Castle.

The Gardens & Function Centre owner Brent Castle. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Who is Brent Castle: I was born and raised in Wagga and have five children with my wife. They love coming up here to the park (Botanic Gardens) and feel as if they own the park. I’ve had my own business for 12 years now. We used to run the Murrumbidgee Turf Club for a while and then three and half years ago this [The Gardens Wagga] came up and we decided to take it over and do it ourselves.

Best recent dining experience: My wife and I went to watch the Australian Open and we had dinner at Nobu at Crown Casino. From the drinks to the service, they were absolutely amazing and everything was beautiful.

Favourite cuisine: I love spicy Thai food. I like red duck curry.

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What ingredient can I not live without: Gochujang – Korean chilli paste. It is beautiful.

Most embarrassing pantry/fridge item: I reckon there would have to be some kimchi in there that would have just been well and truly gone past the fermentation.

How many Weet-Bix do I do: Six. I was two for ages and then six from high school.

Best coffee spot in Wagga: If it’s not The Gardens, I would have to say Meccanico.

Tempura prawn rolls with pickled cucumber

Tempura prawn rolls with pickled cucumber. Photo: The Gardens Wagga.

Favourite coffee: A doubleshot small cappuccino.

What’s your coffee blend: We use a custom blend from Zest Coffee Roasters in Melbourne.

What’s the weirdest coffee order you’ve received: I think it would have to be a macchiato with a dash of honey in it with a little bit of soy milk on top.

Next big thing in the Wagga food scene: I really like what Richard Moffatt did when they did the outdoor dinner party on the Wollundry Lagoon Bridge. Things like that are really good. And now that the Food and Wine Festival isn’t a thing there’s a market there for somebody to do something amazing on the outside of the four walls of a kitchen. Bringing all the foodies together in an area like that is great and hopefully, that is something that’s on the horizon.

The Function Centre ready to host an event, with a view of the Botanic Gardens.

The Function Centre ready to host an event, with a view of the Botanic Gardens. Photo: The Gardens Wagga.

Favourite place to lunch in Wagga: Thaigaa.

A must-try on our menu: I might be biased but I reckon we’ve got the best steak sandwich in Wagga.

Most used ingredient at The Gardens Wagga: Onion and garlic.

Our top pick from our desserts: My mum makes a lot of the slices. We’d like to try and make as many things as we can ourselves; my mum makes a beautiful rocky road slice, and we do a nice gluten-free cheesecake up here as well.

Snowy mountain mushrooms, donegal farm eggs (poached), whipped ricotta and fried enoki on toasted sourdough

Mushrooms, eggs (poached), whipped ricotta and fried enoki on toasted sourdough. Photo: The Gardens Wagga.

My biggest culinary influence: It would have to be my mum. She’s the reason why I do this. I loved getting in the kitchen with her when I was very young and was always in there and harassing her. But I think from an early age in high school, I could remember that I just wanted to be a chef and she was always very supportive.

I learned [from Mum] that you must have a passion and follow it. Always use your heart to cook and it will transfer onto the plate.

Favourite cookbook: A street food one with curry and Thai food influences. I don’t know who the author is. I also like a couple of the Gordon Ramsay and Stephanie Alexander cookbooks.

Who I admire in the Wagga food and wine scene: Jamie Shepley. I think he’s doing amazing and I’m interested in what he has to do.

Hot waffles

Delicious hot waffles. Photo: The Gardens Wagga.

What are this week’s specials at The Gardens Wagga: It will depend on what we can get our hands on or if there’s an event coming up. We try and keep things new and interesting up here. We haven’t got any this week because it’s a short week. But we did have – we had a chilli lime-grilled squid salad and barramundi burger for Easter.

Death row meal: Oh, geez. I would have to go with the different curries from Thailand and maybe with a bit of pizza, some ice cream and beer.

Where am I travelling to next: Up to Far North Queensland. I think it will be our next place.

Dream destination: I don’t really have a dream destination but I think anywhere in Australia. We’re pretty lucky with the country that we have. One thing I like to do is travel around and try all the different foods from different places around Australia.

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My biggest fear: Something hurting my children.

My least favourite food: Olives. They look good, smell good and I try them and just can’t. I can do olive oil though.

My top three cooking tips: Always use fresh. Butter is your friend. Always cook with your heart.

The Gardens Wagga and Function Centre is located at the Botanic Gardens, 43 Tom Wood Drive, Wagga Wagga. The cafe is open all week 8:30 am to 4 pm.

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