Set beside the jade waters of Mossman River, Silky Oaks Lodge has reopened to the world with Head Chef Mark Godbeer’s unique twist on native flavours in the spotlight.
Ingredients like tamarind, kumquat and emu apples aren’t a token experiment on his plates, but a key element – and rightly so.
With many grown in his own kitchen garden, the chef has dedicated several years to harnessing the taste of the tropics, in all its wild beauty.
You can find the Treehouse Restaurant just out of Mossman, about 80 kilometres north-west of Cairns.
The restaurant's daily-changing menu combines modern Australian and Pan-Asian influences, alongside Indigenous flavours and a focus on matching refreshing fare to its rainforest surrounds.
Paired with one of Australia’s most stunning and secluded natural environments, fine dining at the newly reopened Silky Oaks Lodge makes for an unforgettable experience among lodge guests and day-trippers alike.
Q&A with Head Chef, Mark Godbeer
What’s your background as a chef?
I originally trained in London and south England before doing an intensive advanced chef diploma in South Africa. I then joined a Seychelles seafood apprenticeship and later got a great head chef role on luxury motor yachts in the USA, Europe, the Caribbean and South Pacific for 13 years. I’ve also done a stint running a five-star fine dining restaurant on Vancouver Island and opened a rooftop restaurant in New York. In 2017, I moved to Australia and joined the Baillie Lodges family at Longitude 131° before opting for a tree change at Silky Oaks Lodge. It’s been a varied and rewarding path over my 22 years of cooking professionally.
How do you describe your approach to cooking?
I like to keep it interesting, not only for guests but for myself and my team too, so we can all learn, experiment and grow together. Negativity is left at the door and we only cook with a happy, positive attitude that ultimately transcends into the food.
How does The Treehouse Restaurant reflect our tropical region?
We do it in two ways: first we source fresh local ingredients and make those beautiful complex and vibrant flavours sing on the plate. We accent those flavours with fresh native ingredients plucked from our abundant kitchen garden here at Silky Oaks. Secondly, we try to replicate the tranquil vibe set by our ‘back garden’, Mossman River, which burbles peacefully night and day. By doing so, we encompass everything the Daintree Rainforest has to offer in a relaxed dining environment.
The menu is a unique mix of Australian and Asian-inspired food, with local Indigenous flavours front and centre. How does this all work in harmony?
We are fortunate to be located in the exotic Daintree food bowl and our local ingredients are similar to those found in Pan-Asian countries. I aim to highlight these native flavours while taking influence from traditional First Nations techniques and methods that have incorporated these ingredients for centuries, before giving it all a modern/ Marky twist. This ultimately delivers a fresh spin on something that has been tried and tested successfully.
Five interesting things in Mark’s home pantry:
Shio koji – a Japanese paste used for seasoning/marinating
Coconut amino – like soy sauce
Kaffir lime from the garden
An abundance of potato chips – essential!
How do you make separate elements stand out when your dishes are so detailed?
Many of our dishes have components including ferments that take months to achieve the desired flavour and result. Where usually these elements would just be another piece on the plate, we take the extra effort to highlight ingredients so that they sing on their own but still hold the overall flavour profile we set out to achieve for the dish.
What’s your favourite dish + drink pairing on the menu?
That’s a tough one! We have a shared style dinner, perfect for couples, families and friends travelling together. My favourite combination is the tamarind-glazed beef short ribs with mint, fried chickpea panisse with galangal aioli and pea shoot, and a chef garden salad with shallots, palm and lemon. To drink, Oliver’s Taranga Shiraz.
Where do you go for food inspiration?
During my yachting years where I seldom repeated anything, I would have to create menus based on what country we were in. I did have a top-of-the-line galley with all the toys and my boss, who was a foodie, encouraged me to experiment. This period really changed my perception of food and approach to creating dishes, and I built an understanding of many international ingredients. I began to create an arsenal of flavour profiles, combinations and recipes, and watching that evolve over the last 20 years has been a career highlight. Ultimately, it is the ingredient that inspires me, especially when it’s harvested from my own kitchen garden.
Find more on The Daintree Restaurant at Silky Oaks Lodge.
This story originally appeared in Tropic magazine, Issue 35.