Daylesford's culinary diamond

By Louise Johnson
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Lake House Restaurant & Small

Lake House Restaurant & Small Luxury Hotel in Daylesford in the heart of Spa Country.

Daylesford
Alla Wolf Tasker, Lake House, Daylesford, Victoria

A living legend of food and wine in Melbourne, Alla Wolf Tasker AM is the woman who made Daylesford’s culinary reputation and is a committed champion of regional producers.

Honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia for her work, Alla is restaurateur, hotelier, author, and above all a beautiful cook, and she has made the Lake House in Daylesford one of Australia’s great culinary attractions.

She presents a Masterclass with Patrizia Simone, of Simone’s of Bright, at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival in March. The session investigates the riches of Victoria’s great culinary regions and shares ideas to get the most out from excellent local produce.

What was your vision for the Lake House when you first bought the property?  

I had dreamt of establishing a destination restaurant in Country Victoria – based on my experiences in France. But you’ve got to remember this was the late seventies and regional cuisine was really not on our radar. The public’s expectation was perhaps of a reasonable pub meal or a Devonshire tea. There were no regional artisan suppliers, no trained local staff and not really a discerning clientele – I really got it all wrong.

The dream has never really deviated from the original intention – that is, a place worthy of a journey, a seasonally driven menu using local produce where possible and a strong ‘sense of place’ in everything we do.

How does dining in the regions compare to the big city experience?

Nowadays, there are plenty of great dining experiences to be had in the regions. I guess to some extent we were pioneers.

It’s important for me that we do distinguish ourselves from a city experience. It makes no sense to drive for over an hour just to have something similar to what is in the city. The ‘sense of place’ needs to be strong and I try to have Lake House and its surrounds speak very much of the surrounding region.

There are the beautiful views from the restaurant over the lake, several acres of gardens on the foreshore. Some of the tiny trees I planted are now 29 years old and provide an overhead canopy for the most amazing variety of birds. (We began with an eroded denuded paddock) The restaurant is filled with flowers from local gardens – some of them a century old. Local artwork is on the walls and throughout the grounds. We have two menu changes each season reflecting available produce and the weather.

The menu celebrates local small scale artisan producers and growers as much as possible.

What’s on the menu over summer that is a pure taste of the region?

Throughout summer there’s a real abundance of local produce which we tap into. Locally farmed Murray Cod for example is served with lemony sorrel from our garden; Sometimes the local produce is picked in the morning ,delivered and served without ever needing to see the inside of a the fridge.

Gorgeous boysenberries from an old property called “Bergamo” arrived recently and we put them with a cooked cream based on local honey. Local lamb is encased in a sweet compote of summer peppers, held together with caul and gently roasted. And we are pairing smoked eel with a plethora of organically grown heirloom beetroot. If you thought all beetroot was red – you’ll be amazed at this dish

What are you working on now that has you most excited?

There’s another book well on the way (I can’t help myself). Lake House of course always remains a work in progress. We continually tweak it – the physical surrounds, our presentation, the style of what we offer. We question what we do and raise the bar wherever possible.

My work with local producers remains a big part of my life. Having that diverse critical mass of small local suppliers is not something that came naturally in Australia. We have always been a nation of large scale mono cultural agricultural enterprises. When I first started the restaurant we grew quite a lot of our own produce out of sheer necessity. It is not, however, a project that is honestly sustainable if your core business is cooking and running a restaurant. It’s simply not practical. I think it’s a media driven romantic notion that people like to believe in.

It’s been my hope and determination rather to develop and grow the sort of network of artisan producers one finds when working in European restaurants. There’s a long way to go but I can tell you we are well and truly on our way.

What do you love most about summer?

I love seeing the diners using the outdoor terraces at Lake House. From long languid breakfasts in the morning, to lunches shaded by the broad umbrellas, cocktails as the sun slips over the far side of the lake and candlelit dinners under the most amazing starry skies (you don’t get them in the city any more) – our outdoor areas overlooking the lake get quite a workout. It’s a very relaxed way to dine and to enjoy the sweet country air.

Beside the environmental benefits of low food miles etc.. what else do you gain when you eat locally?

Food purchased locally, from farmer’s markets and farm gates means that the large portion of the price is returned to the grower and producer. They are the ones who usually receive the least return as most of the cost is captured further upstream in the transporting, wholesaling and retailing of food. We need to ensure that the people who produce our food get a good remuneration. The money also tends to stay locally and benefits the community

Most of the varieties of food grown today are selected for their travelling and storage capacity. Food that doesn’t have to travel great distances or be stored for long lengths of time can be more diverse. You’d be surprised by how many varieties of fruit and vegetables we are losing because of transport issues

There are many more reasons. I could go on ….

What inspires you when you’re creating new dishes for the Lake House?

I’m always inspired by the produce of the next season. It might be winter and I’m slow braising beef cheek with local chestnuts, but I’m already dreaming about the broad beans that I’ve just seen in a local farmer’s paddock, the spring lambs, and the white and green asparagus that’s just around the corner. And I’ll be doing rain dances in my head, in the hope that there will be a bumper crop of wild local spring morels.

If you are a cook and a gardener like me you can’t fail to be inspired by what is just around the corner. And just a walk in my vegetable patch often brings ideas.

But I continue to learn also – daily. I’m delighted by the interconnectivity the web and being online affords me. I can find out what other chefs are doing elsewhere around the globe. In the same vein, cooking overseas brings me into contact with colleagues and the plethora of evolving new ideas also.

Regions

  • Ballarat (VIC)
  • Macedon Ranges (Wine) (VIC)
  • Macedon Ranges & Spa Country (VIC)
  • Melbourne Surrounds (VIC)
  • Melbourne (VIC)
  • Sunbury (VIC)

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February 11th, 2009
 
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