CHEF SERIES / Ben Wallace of Oaks Kitchen & Garden


Oaks Kitchen & Garden is one of the Douglas Shire’s hidden foodie gems, a gracefully understated mecca of Southeast Asian cookery and a lush abundance of tropical ingredients. Ben Wallace and Rachel Boon are the talented and passionate couple behind Oaks, an outdoor cooking school experience at the heart of which is a lusciously abundant Southeast Asian garden located on the hill side of Oak Beach just south of Port Douglas.

Rachael has lived in the Shire on and off throughout her life, maintaining a connection to the far northern tropics, family and community. Ben worked in Melbourne, as sous chef at the esteemed Thai restaurant, Longrain and then as sous chef at Collingwood’s fine ding stalwart, Easy Tiger. He realised that many, if not most of the ingredients they loved working with, were sourced in the tropics. He and Rachael recognised the opportunity to create a ‘ seed to table’ cooking school experience growing most of their organic produce in their tropical backyard and maintaining the soulful connection through to delivery on the plate.  

Back up north for a sea- and tree-change they headed!

“I really wanted to try get back that work life balance and be around nature and more natural surroundings.”

Ben Wallace

Ben spent years cooking in the classical French style throughout Europe.  He was slowly growing a little homesick for vibrant, bright flavours where the ingredient speaks on the plate more  than the technique.  Moving back to Australia, he made the professional change over to a Thai inspired style of cookery, with its beguiling heritage and complexity of flavour and texture.

There are four signature experiences offered at Oaks, a chef’s table, Thai cooking classes, Wednesday night curry and private chef service.

Chef’s Table Experience

​Explore the exotic permaculture garden, meet the resident chooks, enjoy the aromatic sensation of fresh herbs and other local ingredients, and engage with resident chefs as they prepare a five-course tasting menu that showcases the finest of seasonal local produce amidst a unique earthy ambience.

Cooking Classes

Private and group classes are intimate and with an atmosphere that lends itself to open discussion of food, conscious consumption, culture and a healthy dose of merriment. Classes available for groups of six or more.  Participants learn to make a selection of classic and contemporary Thai dishes. Suited to all levels of skill. BYO.

Private Chef

Hire a personal chef to bring a unique passion for south east Asian food and culture to your own table or venue. A seven-course set menu is offered, based on seasonal local produce.

Wednesday Curry Night

Like every other business, COVID-19 took its toll on Oaks, requiring Ben and Rachael to get creative.  They introduced a takeaway curry delivery service every Wednesday night.  Ben makes different curries and accompaniments every week and delivers them locally. Fortunately, the Wednesday delivery service (or collection if you live a little farther afield) continues.

“We hope to instil a knowledge of seasonal ingredients and how fulfilling cooking with local produce can be. We want you to walk away with newly developed skills and inspiration to explore diverse cuisines.”

Ben Wallace

In Season

Right now, Ben and Rachael are delighted with their green mangoes (nam doc mai) which have come into season a little early. Pea eggplants are also in their prime at the moment.

Your Secret ingredient

Ben and Rachael discovered the Native Bee honey from here in the northern Tropics (sugar bag honey). They describe finding the ingredient as like “finding gold”.

The Future

Looking towards 2021, Ben and Rachael are excited to explore opportunities with the Oaks sauces and condiments that they prepare.

Last Supper

In signing off today, when asked the age-old question chefs ask each other after hours, Ben shares his” last meal on earth”.

He imagines himself sitting in the garden with Rachael and their chickens, enjoying a section of north Indian curries with loads of pickles and a variety of flat breads. Please may we come too?

Ben has prepared a fragrant duck, basil and kaffir lime curry for us today, and he generously shares his recipe with our readers:

Aromatic red curry of duck, holy basil, kaffir lime leaf

Vegetable Prep for the Curry

Ingredients /

1 long chilli
1 apple eggplant
10 pea eggplants

Method /
De-seed and slice long chilli. Place on small tray.
Slice apple eggplant and pick pea eggplant. Place on tray

Curry Paste

Ingredients /

2 small shallots or 1/2 small red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 stalk lemon grass
4 dry long red chilli (soaked in water over night)
1tsp galangal
a pinch of shrimp paste
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp coriander seeds (pre soaked in water at least 30 min before use)
1/4 tsp white peppercorns

Method / Dry roast the coriander seeds. To start, strain any excess water off the spices.
Now place a small pan on low heat and lightly roast spices until fragrant.
Place roasted spices in a mortar and pestle with white peppercorns and pound to a powder.
Place the shallot, garlic, lemongrass, chilli, salt, galangal and shrimp paste in the mortar
and pestle. Pound together to form the red curry paste.

Duck Prep


1/2 duck breast

Method / Clean duck breast.
Season with a pinch of salt.
Place duck on char grill for a couple of minutes, skin side down.
Remove and slice duck for curry.

Cooking the Curry

Ingredients /

1tbs coconut oil
2 kaffir lime leaves
1tbs fish sauce
1 -1/2tsp palm sugar
50ml coconut milk
150ml aromatic stock
a pinch of holy basil leaves

Method / Place a a small pan on a low heat with the coconut oil. Add kaffir lime leaves and curry paste. Cook curry paste until fragrant.
Add palm sugar and fish sauce, mix all together. Add coconut milk and stock mix together, bring up to a light simmer, add vegetables. Cook for approximately two minutes. Add duck. Cook for one minute. Check seasoning. Turn heat off. Add
holy basil leaves.

Garnish and Plating

Ingredients /
1tsp coconut milk
2 sliced kaffir lime leaves
a pinch holy basil buds
a pinch fried shallots

Method / Place curry in serving dish.
Garnish with a little coconut milk, then sprinkle sliced kaffir lime leaf, fried shallot and holy buds.
Serve with steamed Jasmine rice.

Further Information

Oaks Kitchen & Garden is located at Lot 3, 11-13 Nancy Close, Oak Beach, QLD 4877

07 40 98 5383 | |

All images via Instagram


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