Saturday, July 25, 2009

Chefs that I have met - 1. Alla Wolf Tasker – a Local girl

Chefs that I have met - 1. Alla Wolf Tasker – a Local girl.

Well, there are so many people who need to be thanked for contributing to all the wonderful times that I have enjoyed with food and wine.

I thought long and hard about how to go about the task and initially had decided to just put together a list. But, there are some people who really deserve more than just a line on a page to say “Thank You”.

There are numerous chefs and cooks, producers and teachers, providores and vignerons whose recipes have appeared or have inspired dishes on my blog. However, the first person who I wish to write about is somebody who has been an influence for most of my adult life.

I first heard about Alla Wolf-Tasker in an issue of Australian House & Garden Successful Entertaining from the Spring & Summer of 1981-2. It presented (a young) Alla and her Intimate Banquets cooking school and catering company. The article was subtitled “Fresh food is essential in my cooking”. Today, you just have to add the word “local” at the start and it is still so very true.

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to be a “guest” at the Lake House Winter Masterclass courtesy of a free ticket that Alla had donated to local radio station 3TripleR. It was a superb day with four chefs presenting a bevy of information and ideas to an enthralled crowd of enthusiastic “foodies”. The line up was Peter Gilmore, from Quay restaurant in Sydney; Anthony Musarra, from The Stokehouse in St Kilda; Teague Ezard, from Ezard at Adelphi and the Gingerboy restaurants; and, finally, Greg Malouf, from MoMo.

Lake House has been one of my favourite restaurants since first eating there in 1984. It was a fixed-price, set menu, Sunday lunch. “Sorry, cash or cheques only, no credit cards.” It is hard to imagine how the diners used to walk down past the kitchen and around to gaze over the lake, before entering through the front door, which was situated near what is now the door into the kitchen. The verandah, which was a suitable place to step out and have a stretch between courses has now become part of the extension with the banquette. From very small beginnings Lake House has grown to include accommodation in 1989 and later spa and then conference facilities. It is very difficult for a first-time guest to have any idea of the work and dedication that Allan and Alla have put into Lake House. Even reading Alla’s book, "Lake House, A culinary journey in country Australia" ,does not really explain the enormity of the tasks that they have undertaken.

Not only has there been work created for many of the locals working at the restaurant and then guest rooms and spa, but also for growers, farmers and providores. Alla has championed local produce and has supported, coaxed and educated many businesses from the surrounding countryside. She has also organised the annual Lake House Regional Producers’ Day where many of the local producers come to showcase their wonderful wares.

Meals at Lake House have always been a treat, whether it be a long, leisurely lunch with the backdrop of the calm lake; a busy, festive Christmas lunch; or a serious, dinner with the full degustation and wonderful wines from their marvellous cellar. However, something that Alla has also been doing, selflessly, for years, is teaching and spreading the word about good food.

The first class I attended with Alla as a presenter was at the old Vital Ingredient Cooking School upstairs at their Clarendon Street premises. The evening entitled “Take One Trout” was amazing. Most of the chefs presented three, or maybe four dishes at these classes. Alla had brought one of her chefs and they presented a veritable array of dishes and techniques to feature her local fish, trout.

The dishes included roasted whole trout, how to fillet and bone whole trout, trout meuniere, trout escabeche with remoulade salad, stuffed trout baked in puff pastry, salad nicoise using trout, smoked trout frittata and, of course, the smoked trout sausage that inspired one of my first “experiments” with the Thermomix.

Another class that brings back memories was one of the earlier classes at Lake House, conducted in the upper dining room with a portable bench and burner to demonstrate charcuterie. Alla has always presented charcuterie on her menu, and said in her introduction to the class notes: “Charcuterie seems to have fallen out of favour. Perhaps this is because of the traditionally very high fat content in most products and the notion that there is not much more that can be done with them beyond the traditional, albeit sublime, presentation with fresh crusty bread and cornichons.”

That class demonstrated the use of jellied ham hock sausage and rabbit cooked in three ways; rillettes, ravioli and a winter bunny pie.

It is amazing how the times change. It is probably 10 years ago that this midweek afternoon class took place, but so much has happened since and now charcuterie and salumi are a very trendy part of restaurant menus. In the 1990s, Jonathon Gianfreda also tried to convince Australians to embrace the likes of jambon de Bayonne, cotechino and other smallgoods and charcuterie, but it seems to be that after the legalisation of jamon and prosciutto importation, that local smallgood producers started to really develop (with the exception of Angel Carduso), and charcuterie reappeared on menus. Now a local producer, Istra Smallgoods supplies many of the top restaurants with superb charcuterie.

The region now has a its own association to promote Daylesford and Macedon produce. Alla has again played a large part in this group and helped put the region fairly and squarely on the foodies’ map.

Her book “Lake House, A culinary journey in country Australia” is not only a coffee table book, but full of delicious recipes, some history and also philosophy of food in Australia. It is a wonderful book and a much treasured part of my collection.

I thank Alla for really having made such a difference not only to the Local food scene, but to my life. It is so much richer for having met her.

Thanks must also go to her husband Allan, the artist in residence for his part in my love affair with Lake House. From the early days as the builder and waiter, to the decorator of the property, and now, to his current role as the convivial host. His Startled Gulls and plates help brighten our home.

Please visit their website at Lake House even if you don;t think that you can visit the restaurant.

Lake House < >
King Street
Daylesford, 3460
Victoria, Australia

T: +61 (0) 3 53483329
F: + 61 (0) 3 53483995

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