Alla Wolf-Tasker, of the celebrated Lake House in Victoria’s Daylesford, reveals her fresh new project.
The force behind Lake House in Daylesford, one of the country’s most celebrated restaurants and regional hotels, the unstoppable Alla Wolf-Tasker is now extending her vision to a new pioneering project, writes DAN STOCK.
It’s a brave person who gets between Alla Wolf-Tasker and a good idea.
As daughter Larissa tells it, the latest labour of love for the family behind Daylesford’s luxurious Lake House should really never have happened.
Champion of all things local, seasonal and sustainable, Wolf-Tasker had long longed to “put my money where my mouth is” and start growing produce for the restaurant while at the same time offering a new experience for guests.
The family had been searching “for ages” when a property just seven minutes’ drive from Lake House came up for auction. “Mum and I walked around it and loved it,” says Larissa. “We brought Dad and Rob [Larissa’s husband] back, and we got really excited. But we decided it wasn’t the right time. Rob and I were going to start a family, and it would take too much resources. We’d look for something else. But then Mum went and bought it!” Wolf-Tasker and her mother, Katherine, planted all the trees on the bare Lake House site 30 years ago, so she took the farm’s drive lined with silver birches as a sign it was meant for the family. “The thing I love most about it,” she says, “is where Lake House had not a tree on it, this already had a beautiful Manchurian pear walk,
silver birches on the drive. My mother planted the birches by the lake [at Lake House]. Everywhere we plant birches because it reminds me of my family – just that connection. There were a lot of things that ticked boxes.”
Her husband, Allan, took her out of town on the auction weekend to stop her participating, but the pull of a property just down the road with the potential to offer everything she wanted to add to Lake House proved too strong. Alla phoned in the winning bid.
“I kind of shocked myself that we got it,” she says.
In June last year, the family got the keys to Dairy Flat Farm and have been flat chat since then transforming the 15-hectare property into a working farm.
A two-hectare vineyard planted with chardonnay and pinot was on death’s door and had to be brought back to life, a 250-strong olive grove needed pruning, and a “crazy house on the hill built by an eccentric 25 years ago that has a tower and cellar” needed a lot of love.
Three hoop greenhouses and a glasshouse are home to wild and wonderful produce – tiny tomatillo-like ground cherries, various breeds of pumpkin, eggplants in a bewildering array of shapes and sizes and every herb imaginable.The farm already supplies Lake House restaurant with much of its fresh produce, and soon the new cutting garden will provide the flowers.
“The variety of stuff we now have in the kitchen is so exciting for me, and so exciting for the cooks,” Wolf-Tasker says.
“Cooking is wonderful, but it can also be a drudge – the same old, same old. To give them a break, we go out to the farm, we pick stuff – they see something interesting and they have someone talk about it. It gives them a burst of energy.”
But it wasn’t just the idea of a working farm that set Wolf-Tasker’s mind a-whirring. “I feel privileged that we can spend money on something we really want to do and love,” she says. “This will sound corny, but you can buy an apartment on the Gold Coast and that’s your super fund or you can create something special.And I think this is going to be really special.”
That house on the hill is being transformed into a six-bedroom farmhouse called Dairy Flat Lodge where by late spring guests will wake to the smells of the bakery that’s being built in the old wine tasting room. “People will be able to immerse themselves with that idea of being on a farm,” Wolf-Tasker says. “People will be able to stay there, attend classes or tours of the garden.”
The bakery will supply Lake House and its sibling Wombat Café with all their baked goods, while guests will start the day with buns, fruit tarts, croissants and sourdough as fresh from the oven as it gets.
Meanwhile, the farm’s head gardener, Jennifer Pryke (who was the head vegetable gardener at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in the UK), will hold gardening classes, with beekeeping, other paddock-to-plate courses and bakery workshops also on the agenda.
“We were so under-resourced when we opened Lake House, I can’t tell you. We had two sets of pensioner parents and we borrowed from both of them to put the cutlery on the table. It was nuts,” Wolf-Tasker says. “Now I feel the business is stable and it’s a privilege to do something like this – to get the right people together with the right skills.”
With the vines starting to come back to life, Wolf-Tasker is busy eyeing off other paddocks on the property, toying with the idea of growing heritage wheat for the bakery, or perhaps planting an arboretum featuring trees from around the world.
“It’s like me being in a lolly shop,” she says. “At this age, what else would I be doing? I’m not so into babies that I could be a full-time gran. I still love cooking, I still love the dynamic of service. Look, you’d make money on a Gold Coast apartment, but you wouldn’t have fun.”
“THE VARIETY OF STUFF WE HAVE IN THE KITCHEN IS SO EXCITING FOR ME AND THE COOKS.”
GARDEN VARIETY Alla Wolf-Tasker’s new property already supplies Lake House restaurant with almost all its fresh produce.