Scott Clapham has put down his roots in Coolamon, purchasing a five-acre property where he and his two young daughters are raising pigs and plan to grow veggies to sell by the roadside.
The Wagga RSL Club catering manager’s passion for fresh, seasonable produce extends beyond the paddock to the kitchen, with the new Henry’s on Goonigul menu featuring local Wollundry Grove Olive Oil, Happy Wombat hazelnuts and Highfield Farm and Woodland lamb.
Since taking on the top job six months ago, Scott said he has listened to the community and introduced a vibrant new menu focused on fresh, local produce that he has sourced directly from the farm.
He said his diners loved the local produce and the addition of bistro classics, like crumbed lamb cutlets.
“I’ve brought back some of the old favourites, and thrown in a bit of spice with modern dishes like Korean fried chicken burgers,” he said.
Managing a club restaurant is an entirely new direction for the New Zealand-born chef who has forged his career in boutique restaurants both in Australia and across the ditch.
Scott started out working in a small pub in Timaru before discovering his passion for fine dining in Christchurch.
But, it was a trip to Australia nine years ago that changed his life.
“I came over for a holiday and never went home,” he laughed.
Scott fell in love with Canberra where he worked for four years, opening the territory’s Jamie’s Italian restaurant and meeting the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. After a stint at Belluci’s Manuka – which he said served the best Italian in Canberra – Scott worked at the prestigious Capitol Bar & Grill at QT Hotel when it was awarded one Chef Hat.
Seeking the quieter country life, he and his partner made the move to Wagga Wagga to raise their two young daughters.
Scott has worked at various eateries around the Wagga region, including Bolton on the Park and the Trail Street Coffee Shop. He did a stint with Knight’s Meats cooking bulk food before heading to the Mock Orange Cafe at Lake Albert, which he said became a “destination” for foodies during his time there.
After his partner moved back to New Zealand, leaving Scott to raise the girls, he started with the RSL club, which offered flexible working conditions and allowed him to spend time with his family.
“When the venue management position came up six months ago, they threw me in and I hit the ground running,” he said.
“I’ve freshened up the menu, bringing in some local flavours and using my old-school techniques with a modern twist – you won’t find a microwave in my kitchen.”
It didn’t take long for Wagga’s friendly locals, the vibrant community and, of course, the fresh local produce to steal Scott’s heart.
“I take the kids and visit the producers on their farms, and many of them are now my close friends,” he said.
“I’ve found such a great group of people in the community that have backed me and supported me, and I’m backing them.”
Scott enjoys being involved in cultural events such as the Lost Lanes Festival and the Winter Festival, which he said are helping to put Wagga on the foodie map.
“I love it here; there’s always so much happening and something new and exciting to do,” he said.
“It’s a city but has the down-to-earth feeling of a country town.
“I’ll be here forever.”
Henry’s on Goonigul is named after the original Goonigul homestead owned by Wagga’s first police magistrate Henry Baylis who was proactive in the advancement of Wagga district in the 1870s.
The homestead was transformed into the RSL Club in 1947.
The Henry’s on Goonigul menu features delicious share plates, pizzas, traditional steaks, roast dinner and chicken parmis and a selection of pastas and burgers. Modern dishes include chargrilled pork cutlet, slow braised lamb shoulder and brined cauliflower steak.
Wagga RSL Club has been Wagga’s leading social meeting place for more than 70 years and has a membership of over 26,000.