Chef Matt Moran uncovers his own story in “Who Do You Think You Are?”

—Who do you think you are? airs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays on SBS and SBS On Demand starting June 21. You can watch restaurateur Matt Moran in episode 6 (July 26) as he discovers his connection to the land and the secrets of his mother’s family. Head over to SBS On Demand to catch up on previous episodes of Who do you think you are? (with subtitles available in Arabic and Mandarin). —

When celebrity chef Matt Moran bought the historic pub in the sleepy town of Rockley, just south of Bathurst in New South Wales last year, questions swirled around.

Why was a restorer of the great smoke blowing through a small town he had no connection to, with plans to redevelop the heart of a place he didn’t know?

Turns out Moran wasn’t a town celebrity. Head out of the center of Rockley a bit and you’ll come to the Moran family farm; land with cows, pigs and sheep that had been in the family name for years, now wholly owned by the head farmer.

“When I bought the pub I could see that I could bring something to a town that doesn’t have a lot of services,” Moran told SBS. “I thought to myself, ‘if I buy the pub, I could probably buy next to it and set up a bakery and a general store.’ That’s what started. But then, for my life, I found out that my great-grandfather got married in Rockley.

“There was just this weird gravitational pull in the area. I mean, why did I buy a fucking pub in Rockley? I could have bought one anywhere.”

The coincidence was surreal. This got Moran thinking – did he have any other ancestral ties to the town that he didn’t know about?

“There was just this weird gravitational pull in the area,” Moran recalled. “I mean, why did I buy a fucking pub in Rockley? I could have bought one anywhere. Before I bought the pub, I didn’t know my great-grandfather had been married there, or all of the historical ties I had to the area.

“Just talking to the locals [since]turns out I’m related to a lot of them in some way.

Earlier this year the chef went on SBS Who do you think you are? to learn more about his family history, wondering if the show could explain his love of quality products or uncover a deeper connection to Rockley and the surrounding towns.

During the show, insights into Moran’s convict past were uncovered. There were tragic stories of poverty, hunger, theft, violence and more. Until an ancestor – Moran’s great-grandfather, Charles Moran – changed the course of his family’s fate with a more positive story.

Charles was raised in difficult circumstances and neglected as a child. But through determination and hard work, he made a living and eventually bought land around Rockley. This is where Charles owned a farm and became a respectable pioneer in the area.

“I see how Charles did the tough stuff as a kid and how he got away with it being an amazing man – someone you can’t help but respect and admire.”

From the paddock to the plate: an innate bond

Moran, who grew up around farms, always felt an innate connection to the land. This connection was demonstrated nationally when he pioneered the ‘Paddock to Plate’ philosophy in restaurants across Australia and created the TV show of the same name in 2013 to document stories about the products and the farmers behind them.

By examining his family’s background, Moran discovered that his interest in agriculture is ancestral. On both sides of his family, there are herders, farmers and people who worked the land.

“There’s no doubt about it – learning more about my family connections has helped explain why I’ve always been so passionate about farming. It’s just something that’s instilled, which I love so much. I am drawn to the earth: now more than ever.

“My grandma used to cook. Every time I visited she would make date scones. They were the most amazing things. I have fond memories of eating her beautiful date scones, Served straight out of the oven.”

Moran now hopes the SBS show will help the people of Rockley understand a little more about who he is. “Rather than thinking I’m just this hospitality guru who came to town to reap the rewards of [redeveloping the local pub], [I hope they see] that I have a much more meaningful connection to the region.

A new future, knowing the past

The first stage of Moran’s ambitious plans to revitalize Rockley Pub was completed earlier this year. Part of the pub will remain open for business, as future phases of development progress throughout 2022.

Moran explains his vision for the new Rockley Pub which will include a bar named after Charles Moran and a commemorative plaque dedicated in his honor. It will also have a restaurant and an attached boutique hotel. There will be a general store next door and a bakery serving date scones from Moran’s grandmothers as a tribute to her more recent family history.

“My grandma used to cook. Every time I visited she would make date scones. They were the most amazing things. I have fond memories of eating her beautiful date scones, Served straight out of the oven.”

“I want the people of Rockley to be able to come to town and be able to buy a loaf of bread or scones from a bakery on a Sunday morning and not have to travel half an hour to Bathurst to do it.”

Although scones and tea are traditionally British, Moran thinks that in a way Australians have made them our own, especially in rural areas like the Central Highlands region of NSW.

“I want the people of Rockley to be able to come to town and be able to buy a loaf of bread or scones from a bakery on a Sunday morning and not have to travel half an hour to Bathurst to do it.

“I’m a very passionate person about what I do. But I’m also very passionate about the area,” adds Moran, revealing strong certainty about who he is based on knowledge of his family’s past. “I am a chef and farmer very committed to preserving Rockley’s history.”


Matt Moran shares his grandma’s date scone recipe

For 8 people

Ingredients

  • 350g self-rising flour
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 30g Granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spices
  • 40g unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 Egg
  • 175ml Milk
  • 180g dried dates, cut into wedges
  • 1 orange, grated zest

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.

2. Sift the flour, salt, sugar and spice mix into a bowl.

3. Cut the butter into small cubes and add it to the sifted flour.

4. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour. Once the butter is incorporated, make a well in the center of the flour. Mix the egg, milk, dates and orange zest then pour into the well of the flour mixture.

5. Mix to form a dough then turn out onto a floured surface. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin to a thickness of 5 cm then using a 7 cm round cookie cutter cut out 8 scones.

6. For a shiny finish on the scone, brush the top with a little beaten egg yolk then arrange the scones on the baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

7. Remove the scones from the oven and let cool on a baking rack. Once cooled, serve with jam and fresh cream.

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