mount zero hero | tanya connellan, merrijig inn

mount zero hero | tanya connellan, merrijig inn

Chef Tanya Connellan has been cooking at Merrijig Inn in the Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy for the last 15 years. A chef with over 30 years’ experience – her apprenticeship was under the guidance of greats, including Stephanie Alexander and Cath Claringbold – she has certainly carved out her own reputation as a clever professional dedicated to the produce growing near her, tapping into the best ways to work with it and sharing that experience with her guests. 

Mount Zero has been a part of sharing these experiences for a long time, “It’s always been there,” says Tanya, as she reflects on the early days of her apprenticeship at Richmond Hill Café & Larder. “We were using the olive oil at Richmond Hill, that was definitely the starting point for me.” 

And the relationship has kept going, which is why we’re thrilled to have Tanya as this month’s Mount Zero Hero. 

Why has Tanya stayed with Mount Zero? “It’s the consistency and quality,” she says. “When you’ve got such a great product, it was a no-brainer. It’s a local product and we have a lot of international travellers visit us, so it becomes part of the unique experience with what they drink and eat.”

Of the Mount Zero ingredients she uses, “We always have a bowl of olives on the menu, it’s a simple way to start a meal and we use a lot of different Mount Zero pulses.” 

Tanya uses our farro, “a lot,” she says, “sometimes as a risotto and at the moment with quail and beetroot. I like to smoke the farro; if you hit it with liquid, it takes on a toasty flavour. It’s delicious and I use their lentils often, too. I’ll make a lentil salad with olive oil, vinegar and parsley and toss grilled peppers through the lentils."

To accompany her Mount Zero Hero feature, Tanya is sharing her Sourdough Focaccia recipe with us. “We make a sourdough focaccia, and prove it the night before and when ready, we serve it with Mount Zero extra virgin olive oil and salt.” 

She loves the simplicity and versatility of the recipe. “You can use different toppings all year round; this time of year, figs and goat's cheese is a great mix, as well as tomato and basil and we love caramelised onion with a local Quark cheese. It also works as a pizza base.” 

Of the olive oils she prefers, “I like them all!” she laughs. “We just bought the Picual home and I cooked for Mum and Dad. We had grilled flathead and a salad and I finished the fish with the oil.” 

The Fast Five 

1. If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?  

I can’t think of anything else.


2. Last place you dined out? 

The Dart & Marlin in Warrnambool


What's your favourite Victorian restaurant? 

Little Pickett in Lorne, we love it and always pass the tip on to our guests who are travelling down the Great Ocean Road and stopping in Lorne.  


4. Favourite season/s of the year for produce? 

Autumn produce for us - dropping off last of summer - then quinces.


5. Do you have any special projects scheduled for this year or beyond? 

We are looking forward to winter weekend events. It’s something that embraces the cold with a program called the Wine Shed. We invite different winemakers and talk through three of their wines with food to match.

by Hilary McNevin 

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