February 15, 2024
People & Places

Love of the land

The next couple of years for Magill Estate chef Scott Huggins are going to be huge. He’s working on a redevelopment at the restaurant and a project closer to home that will offer a luxury experience to his guests.

Scott and Abbie live on their dream Piccadilly property. Abbie dressed by couture+love+madness throughout.

In this Piccadilly household, the whole family is fully entrenched in the manic moments before school drop off. Books are being found, uniforms pulled on and school bags zipped.

In the kitchen, there’s an impressive sandwich-making station in full flight and the man holding the butter knife knows a thing or two about the pressure of getting food out on time.

It’s Magill Estate executive chef, Scott Huggins, and this morning his customers are the six children he shares with wife, Abbie Southam.

The busy, blended household – the youngest two are Scott’s and the four eldest are Abbie’s – is buzzing with activity this morning, but as soon as the children are at school, the couple’s home transforms into a serene Adelaide Hills haven.

Set on eight acres, the property is marked by green undulations, towering gums and farm animals roaming freely, and it’s exactly what Scott pictured when visualising a place for his family to live, away from the fast-paced days and pressures of running multiple restaurants.

Scott says he faced a nervous time when showing the property to Abbie, because his heart was already set on it. Thankfully, she loved it too.

Scott Huggins with wife Abbie Southam. It’s a busy household with all the kids – Elsie, Nellie, Billie, Henry, Rosie and Grace (back to camera).

The pair met by chance at the Adelaide Botanic Garden in 2017.

Abbie says she remembers the day so clearly. “I just remember I was walking through the Botanic Garden near the cafe,” Abbie says. “I looked up and saw this guy sitting outside. I ordered a coffee and said to him, ‘That’s not a real coffee’ because he had an espresso, and that was it.

“We started talking and we talked and talked and talked. We were there so long I had to get my sister to go pick up my kids from school. Then we kissed in the car park. He’ll say I kissed him, but I went to go for the cheek and he snuck in.”

Abbie, a radiographer, invited Scott to come past her work one night, where he stayed to see her between patients until 4am.

“He didn’t look at me all night so I thought he didn’t like me. But then a few days go past and he tells me has something for me. I’d told him I have an interest in German history and he’d bought me the book, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

“It was such a thoughtful gesture and I can’t believe this gorgeous guy had actually listened to me while I was talking non-stop about World War II.”

Early on in the relationship, Scott asked Abbie if she had children. “I sent him a girl emoji,” Abbie says. “Then a second. Then a boy emoji and then another girl emoji. I thought that would be the end of us.”

Abbie and Scott met at the Adelaide Botanic Garden six years ago.

But the kids met and got along well. Abbie’s are Elsie, 16, Nellie, 14, Henry, 13 and Rosie, 12. Scott’s kids are Grace, 9 and Billie, 7.

Their Piccadilly property played a starring role in the couple’s engagement in 2019, as well as their wedding in their own gardens in 2021.

For the engagement, Scott had been in Melbourne and was driving back to Adelaide. “He asked me to meet him at the Summertown Aristologist, but he’d run out of petrol and he was really stressed,” Abbie says.

“But we had a beautiful lunch and when we got home, he put a tie over my eyes and we were having a fireplace installed and I thought that he was surprising me with that. He took me over to a bench outside and on the ground, there were flowers everywhere in vases and he gave me a little booklet.

“The first page was a picture of a little strip of metal. The second page had all these little round metal things. It was a visual diary of the making of my engagement ring, which he had designed and made with my birthstone and his.

“Just before my dad passed away from brain cancer, Scott sat with him and asked if it would be okay to marry me. Of course he had said yes!

The family with dog, Ayla.

“He knelt down and asked me to marry him and the fireplace man was up on the roof doing the chimney and he started cheering and I yelled up to him, ‘I’m engaged!’.”

The flowers Scott used during the proposal have also played an important part in their relationship. Abbie is a big flower fan – she has several floral tattoos.

Just after they met, Scott found The Rose & Radish, a flower stall in Piccadilly that sells whimsical bunches.

“They’re the most beautiful flowers from (the owner’s) garden and sometimes Scott will say ‘I didn’t have change for $100, so I bought you four’,” Abbie says.

“Any flowers from The Rose & Radish are ‘our’ flowers and a part of our story since the beginning.”

Part of the vision for their Piccadilly property is to create a place where they can bring special guests to help pick ingredients that will be used in their food later – a true farm-to-plate experience – and the plan includes creating a field of flowers for Abbie to style for the guests.

“We want a place we can bring guests to pick a peach from the tree and have a snack and a glass of Champagne, and then they can come into the restaurant and experience that produce they’ve been out picking,” Scott says.

There’s no one better prepared for the morning lunch rush than Scott.

“These are the things that make dining experiences unforgettable.”

The couple is transforming two vacant blocks at the top of the property into a grove for fruit, vegetables and nuts, grown in a picturesque setting. One day, perhaps, they might even expand to establish a little bakery.

Scott will be able to bring his chefs to the farm for research and development – great for understanding ingredients, but also a way to create a positive culture.

“You see the respect on the plate more than you would taking something out of the box and snapping the rubber band off,” he says.

Scott’s plans also extend to the famed Magill Estate Restaurant: next on the agenda there is a seven-seat outdoor dining space with open fire and sushi counter down by the estate’s pond. The design is currently being done by architecture firm, Studio Gram, and Scott intends on refurbishing the nearby Magill Estate Kitchen, so it’s more wine bar/bistro-like and a little less cafe.

“I want a deli so customers can come and get some charcuterie after they’ve been at the cellar door. It’ll all hopefully be done by the end of the year.”

Nellie and Bille enjoying the sunshine.

Scott laughs at the way life has turned out – running two restaurants and employing 62 people was fairly inconceivable early on, although the chef has always fostered a desire for more and even after all his success, that hasn’t subsided.

Scott’s early years were spent at The Patch in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges. “I wouldn’t even call it a town – it had one milk bar,” Scott says.

He grew up on his family’s 10-acre property, which was like a playground for Scott, who soon gravitated towards what his mother enjoyed doing.

“Dad was quite a hunter, mechanic, manly man. That wasn’t really my cup of tea. I enjoyed being in the kitchen with Mum, more than being under the bonnet with Dad.”

Academia wasn’t Scott’s strong suit and he was more than happy to take on a work experience in a kitchen one day a week, which turned into an apprenticeship when he was aged about 15.

“I will say, my mum and dad were so supportive. The restaurant was about half an hour away and they drove me to work and picked me up every single day for three years before I got my licence. I would have started at 9am and finished at 11pm.”

The Piccadilly property is the perfect place for the whole family – it’s exactly the type of place Scott wanted his kids to grow up in.

Scott moved to the Northern Territory to work in a five-star resort, and then worked in resorts around the world, as well as on the private yacht of the Crown Prince of Dubai.

“I was so naïve – I still cooked out of cookbooks. I didn’t know a thing … I didn’t know how to cook or keep a kitchen clean.”

His education came fast when he joined the team at Ezard in Melbourne. “It was so fast-moving and everyone had such a passion for cooking.”

Then it was on to Iggy’s in Singapore, where Scott met acclaimed chef Dan Hunter, whom he says was such an influence, imparting precision and cleanliness in cooking.

From Singapore, Scott moved to Tokyo’s Ryugin, where the lessons were in ingredients, seasonality and simplicity.

Returning home to Australia, Scott applied for a job at Magill Estate Restaurant, without doing much research.

“I probably underestimated it and if I knew more, I might not have gone for the job.”

Scott was successful in the first round of interviews and then was sent to Melbourne for another.

“They paid for my flights and hotel and taxis. I called my dad to tell him and he said, ‘Oh mate, cab charges! You’ve made it!’.”

Scott and Abbie have big plans for the farm, including a picturesque area for fruit, vegetables and nuts, and a place for Scott to bring guests to experience the whole life cycle of an ingredient.

In the intervening years since he walked into Magill Estate, Scott has put his head down and created something very special, slowly transforming it into something new.

“I want it to be a world class restaurant but I’ve never wanted to be an overnight success,” he says. “I want it to be something we work at – not just explode overnight and then disappear.”

Scott ran Magill Estate Restaurant for four years before opening Magill Estate Kitchen, a place he says represents what he wants to eat day-to-day.

The opportunity came up for Penfolds to outsource the restaurants and Scott jumped at it. It meant that Scott went from a boy who struggled in school, to a man working with lawyers to draw up commercial agreements, and early last year, he and Abbie took ownership through their company, SAAR SIX.

“I’ve always been very ambitious,” Scott says. “I’m always wanting more and trying to achieve more. I feel best when I’m out of my comfort zone.

“My whole career has been starting at the bottom and working my way up in each restaurant I step into. I think that uncomfortable feeling of proving yourself is good. April this year was our first full year of our own business and it’s so crazy because you don’t realise what you’ve learned.”

Abbie says, to Scott food is everything. “It’s not just his job,” she says. “He comes home and wants to cook. I actually had a Facebook memory from 2012 pop up the other day and I’d posted, ‘I’m so tired of cooking, I need to find a chef to marry’. I got what I wished for.”

“We both did,” Scott says. “We have such a beautiful friendship and marriage and we laugh a lot. It’s a happy home.”



This article first appeared in the September 2023 issue of SALIFE magazine.

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