2013, People, Stories and Articles

Dave Love, Cook. Aroona Station, Katherine, NT

Dave Love, Cook. Aroona Station, Katherine, NT 1

“… always knew I could bake”

(Lyle and Helen interviewed Dave during 2012)

Lyle and Helen first met Dave at Lissadel Station in the Kimberley, West Australia in 1999, and subsequently we’ve appreciated the delicious meals he’s prepared at Scott Creek Station, Katherine, NT and “just down the road” at Aroona Station.

When Dave Love was a kid growing up on a sheep farm in Central Otago, New Zealand, he wanted to be a scientist. That particular ambition was quashed by Dave’s awareness that “my maths was no good” and he steered his ability in another direction. “Cooking” he declares, is the same as science. Its mixing things together and coming up with something completely different.”

In his teens Dave hitch hiked the full length of New Zealand, involved in seasonal work; meatworks in the Summer, cooking in the Winter and at Hawkes Bay he entered into a “sort of apprenticeship” where he learned a lot about yeast cooking and “added a bit of theory” to experience. Dave’s bread rolls and fruit buns, not to mention his famous cream buns are a testament to his confident assertion…… “I always knew I could bake.”

Dave began his official cooking career as a camp cook with New Zealand National Parks. “It was basic, very basic,” he explains. “Seventeen blokes camped in a shed where we ate, we slept and I cooked!”

After crossing the Tasman in 1976, Dave worked for a time in Albany meatworks, then landed a cooking job at a hotel in Dumbleyung West Australia. (famous for Donald Campbell’s breaking of the world water speed record.) This was the first portion of fifteen years worth of cooking engagements at country pubs, motels and the road houses on the Nullabor. Along the way Dave enrolled in correspondence courses, adding more theory to experience. The physical discomfort of a leg injury led Dave to conclude that cooking on cattle stations could be a viable option to the long hours of standing required in other jobs. Fourteen years later he works in the comfortable environment of the kitchen at Aroona; a custom made work area which he helped to design along with Aroona’s owners John and Kate McLoughlin.

Dave’s meals are invariably delicious; prepared and produced with seeming ease and efficiency. “On a cattle station, its preparation and planning,” Dave emphasises, “…..knowing what you’ve got and what has got to be used up. Sometimes you can throw everything into a bowl until it looks and tastes right, and on the other hand, some things are very precise, like a cream sponge.” He candidly admits to the occasional failure and chuckles “You have to figure out how to use a failure so that nobody notices!”

Back when he was working at Lissadell, Tamara Dwyer, wife of Lissadel’s Manager Ben Dwyer, twisted Dave’s arm and he reluctantly entered some of his cooking in the Kununurra show. Dave won some prizes and was soon hooked on it. He has been winning prizes at the Katherine show for numbers of years, and in 2007 won the “Battle of the Sexes Cake” category. This was a “once only” award – win it, and you’re ineligible to win it again. More recently, back at the station, visiting DPI reps have voted him “Top End kitchen cook of the year,” and there is no mention of any disqualification!

In an industry where temperamental customers may be more common, Dave has had ample opportunity to observe some odd behaviours and preferences. One hotelier professed to love Italian cuisine, so long as it didn’t contain capsicum. Other people, vocal about their dislike for tomatoes, then proceed to smother a meal with tomato sauce!

Hotel and motel experience equipped Dave to immediately spot someone who has worked in the hospitality industry… “the way they pick up a plate, and serve a meal.” (A discussion followed which compared those who “arrange” their food on the plate and “plonkers”…… no description needed!) His years in the industry also alerted him to some of the reasons people give for refusing to pay for a meal. There were “professionals” who carried dead flies and cockroaches in match boxes – for careful placement in or on the food, usually after they’d consumed the majority of the meal! Some customers reserved their complaints about the meals until they’d eaten all the food. Dave learned to inform these customers that they only need pay for what had been consumed!

Dave is probably one of the longest serving cattle station cooks we have met during our years of Outback travel. He’s definitely the longest serving male cook we’ve had the privilege to know, and we look forward each year to seeing him. Great meals and other tasty extras are assured, and whether it’s freshly baked bread rolls, creamy mashed potatoes, or melt in the mouth orange cake, Dave will attempt to downplay his skill by promoting the efficiencies of the well designed Aroona kitchen. There’s a strong case for a combination of these two “ingredients” for success and we, along with other appreciative diners, hope that Dave doesn’t tire of cooking any time soon.