By Paula Doran
The Old Saltbush and Catering won a swathe of accolades at the RDA Far West Business Awards on Saturday night, and there was nothing ‘old’ about it.
Having opened in January this year, the multiple awards may have come as a surprise for chef, and owner Lee Cecchin, who is humble in her many achievements, but to those who have dined there, an award for Best New Business, Excellence in Hospitality and the big one – the Outback Spirit Award were aptly given.
From her childhood in Broken Hill watching her grandmother bake, where she played a crucial role in licking the beaters (as all grandchildren should), Lee has nurtured a love of cooking.
With a 40-year-career in the industry, she has worked steadily towards the dream of Saltbush, which is going from strength to strength.
From catering to the many film crews that indulge in her talent, to providing early breakfasts for tourists off the Indian Pacific, Lee, just quietly, could be the culinary queen of the dessert.
In Saltbush, she has created a quality dining experience, mixed with old-fashioned hospitality.
“I wanted to create something unique for Broken Hill. I mean people go away and go to nice fancy restaurants and say ‘we went to such and such when we went away and it was so lovely’, and I wanted that here. Because we deserve that,” she says.
“At the end of the day, in Broken Hill, we’re not hillbillies, we deserve the good things in life as well.”
Offering a menu that is part ode to the pastoral industry, and part bush experience in the use of saltbush, the restaurant is indeed a gem. And the word is spreading far and wide.
“I’ve been getting a lot of comments from customers that come here who are travelling, and even the locals, who say, this is amazing…it’s so nice to come somewhere that is different and to be spoilt.
“It’s a worldly menu. Broken Hill may have been built on the mines, but we’ve survived on the backs of the lambs for sustenance. So we have lamb and we use a lot of bush flavours… we use the saltbush that’s in abundance in Broken Hill in partnership with other businesses here.
“There’s the Sufi Bakery where I dry the saltbush and the bakery produces the bread for us. The Tydvill produces the gin for us.”
The pride Lee takes in being an advocate for the region is strong…”if you don’t invest in your own town, who’s going to?
“And it’s the same when I come out of the kitchen to speak to the diners. I’m doing the second part of my job. Yes, I’m the chef cooking in the back, but if I don’t promote my business on the floor and make sure I see as many customers as I can – without them we wouldn’t be here – so I like to come out and say ‘thank-you’ and show them that I am appreciative that they are walking through that door.
“People want to feel special and it’s not that hard to make them feel that.
“We’ve had people coming back that have been travelling and then come back through to dine here a second time, a couple of months down the track because they’ve had a good experience here. And to me, that means I’m doing what I should,” she says.
“The restaurant is an extension of my home – you come to my home, you have good food, good wine, hopefully good company and then you go away. We might not catch up for a while but when we do, you should feel welcomed and that’s what this business is all about.”