The Australian - Wish Magazine - - FOOD -

Not many of Alla Wolf-Tasker’s guests be­lieve her when she tells them there was no such thing as des­ti­na­tion din­ing when she started her ac­claimed Lake House restau­rant 31 years ago in Dayles­ford in ru­ral Vic­to­ria. “Things are so dif­fer­ent now,” she tells WISH. “But back then, peo­ple packed a pic­nic if they went to the coun­try. One never ven­tured out of the cities with the ex­pec­ta­tion of find­ing great food; a rea­son­able counter meal in a pub or a Devon­shire tea per­haps. As far as re­gional cui­sine was con­cerned, well ev­ery­one went to Italy or France to enjoy that.”

The culi­nary land­scape across Aus­tralia has in­deed changed dra­mat­i­cally since Wolf-Tasker bought a “de­nuded pad­dock over­look­ing a swamp” in 1979 be­cause it was “ex­tremely cheap”. She was drawn to the spa town, about 100km out of Mel­bourne, be­cause it held fond mem­o­ries — she used to spend sum­mers there as a child. The chef had just come back from France be­sot­ted with the Miche­lin-starred re­gional restau­rants and de­ter­mined to set up the equiv­a­lent in her own back­yard.

“In the 70s, Aus­tralia’s agri­cul­ture was largely mono­cul­tural. Food was grown on large farms and trans­ported else­where. We missed out on a de­vel­op­ing that ‘peas­ant class’ that grew food for lo­cal ta­bles,’’ she says. “In France’s ru­ral kitchens, on the other hand, I had wit­nessed just-picked lo­cal pro­duce ar­riv­ing early in the morn­ing, of­ten with the dew still on it, and de­liv­ered by a mem­ber of the farming fam­ily. I was to­tally smit­ten and wanted to repli­cate that sense of ded­i­ca­tion and the whole ex­pe­ri­ence here.”

The Lake House has not only been a suc­cess since Wolf-Tasker opened it in 1984 but has kept pace with the new en­trants (think Brae and the Royal Mail Ho­tel in Vic­to­ria or Biota in NSW) and still tops best restau­rant lists. “It’s taken prob­a­bly a good two decades of our 31 years here, to de­velop the kind of net­works we cur­rently have around us of small-scale or­ganic, bio­dy­namic, rare-breed farm­ers, all within a few kilo­me­tres of Lake House,” she says. “It also co­in­cided with a huge shift in pub­lic think­ing and a con­cern about the prove­nance of one’s food.”

Wolf-Tasker also cred­its the restau­rant’s suc­cess to its con­tin­ual evo­lu­tion; they have over the years added a day spa, a ho­tel, a cook­ing school, a café, and lux­u­ri­ous pri­vate ac­com­mo­da­tion. More re­cently, they opened up a new bar and a wa­ter­front din­ing pav­il­ion.

“We have more on the draw­ing board,” WolfTasker says. “The place con­tin­ues to be a fount of new ideas and en­ergy.”

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