Co-executive chefs Matt Stone and Jo Barrett joined the Oakridge kitchen team in 2015, and their commitment to sustainability and the region has since expanded to all facets of the restaurant.
What first inspired you both to pursue careers in this industry, and what did you learn on your path to Oakridge?
Jo: Cooking made me happy when I was little, and my family was lucky to have a garden with plenty of fruit and vegetables to cook with. This job fulfils my need for hard work, continuous learning and getting creative with incredible produce.
Matt: I was hooked on cooking early on, and I still love it today. I met Joost Bakker early in my career, who hired me as head chef of the first Silo restaurant in Perth. Silo’s ethos of delicious, healthy and environmentally focused cooking provides an energy to everything I do.
Your shared commitment to sustainability is unparalleled. How have you expanded this mission within your winery setting?
We are proudly plastic-free and have encouraged our producers to work towards this as well. Our kitchen works closely with Oakridge’s winery and agricultural team, who use organic and biodynamic gardening practices. A good example is the use of cover crops in the vineyards. Every year, we plant a mixture of radish, pea, rye grass and other small plants between the vines. These deliver nutrients and aerate the soil in place of fertiliser, and are used in various restaurant dishes. So you can sit in the dining room overlooking the vineyards, drinking wine produced from the vines growing in front of you and eating the greens that grow between them.
We also make sure no surplus food is wasted. We butcher whole animals, making charcuterie from the offcuts, and our leftover bread is made into crackers for the next day’s cheese course.
How would you capture your cooking philosophy as a dish?
Our smoked trout dish defines ingredient-driven cooking. It features beautiful trout from up the road, smoked on-site and paired with whatever greens, vegetables and edible flowers are ready in our kitchen garden. We serve it with house-made cultured cream and topped with trout roe. It’s the perfect example of seasonality and provenance. Everything tastes like it’s meant to be eaten together because every ingredient shares the same region.
When planning your menus, are there particular food and wine combinations which you find yourselves returning to?
The ingredients we use at Oakridge restaurant have much the same terroir as the wines, so there’s an automatic synchronicity of flavour. One big winner is our cheese course, paired with chardonnay. So many people assume that red wine goes best with cheese, but that’s not always the case. Jo makes the most delicious brie with milk from a tiny dairy in the Yarra Valley. It pairs perfectly with Oakridge’s chardonnays.
Which aspects of the Yarra Valley do you aim to showcase through your dishes? Have you come across anything unique to this region?
Jo: I love cooking with milk from the Little Yarra Dairy. We have a really special relationship with those farmers and pick up the milk directly from them, often stopping by the cows to say hello.
Matt: We discovered a local farm that grows the most wonderful saffron. Producing saffron of this quality is a painstaking process; every plant is hand-pollinated and the stamens are picked by hand. We often use their saffron in our dressings and it’s especially good in vegetable dishes. Our ultimate goal is to showcase the entire Yarra Valley. It’s an incredible region. There are many unique microclimates providing a huge diversity of ingredients.
What role do you believe the wine and hospitality industries have in shaping conversations around sustainability?
Now more than ever, our industry has a massive influence over public perceptions of food. The choices that we make as chefs definitely trickle down to home cooks and supermarkets. We would love to see people choose local produce as their first option, and a reduction in plastic packaging by food retailers and restaurants. Significant plastic waste is generated in wineries too, but people are innovating all the time. A Victorian winemaker, Jordy Kay, has recently released a biodegradable ‘plastic’ wrap that Oakridge has started using. It looks like it could be a real gamechanger.
With your emphasis on seasonal produce, what do you most look forward to cooking with at this time of year?
Late winter in the Yarra Valley means truffle season, which always allows some decadence in our cooking. There’s an abundance of beautiful root vegetables grown nearby, and we always have lots of leafy greens in the kitchen garden. Winter is the best season for leafy greens - the colder soils mean they take longer to grow, and develop more nutrients and flavour as a result.
When you do get time off, what are your favourite local haunts?
Living in Melbourne, our favourite restaurant in the city has to be Di Stasio Citta. That place is the whole package – it’s like walking into a high-end restaurant in Milan, but you’re greeted with a smile and treated with the best Melbourne hospitality.
Pear & Parsnip Tarte Tatin
By Jo Barrett
Preparation time: 20 minutes
cooking time: 20 minutes
1 Bosc pear
2 garlic cloves
3 sprigs of thyme
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sheet of pre-made puff pastry
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
2 tablespoons milk
pinch of salt
1 Peel the parsnip and pear. Halve, then quarter the pear, removing the core. Cut the top off the parsnip to remove the woody stalk and the straggly root tip. Slice in half longways and then into quarters. Peel shallots and halve longways, keeping the root intact so the shallot doesn’t fall apart.
2 In a frying pan suitable for the oven, place the sugar over a low heat and begin to melt. Once the sugar is completely melted and begins to turn golden brown, add the thyme sprigs, rosemary, garlic and chardonnay. Be very careful as it will steam vigorously.
3 Continue to stir, then add the butter until you have a homogenised caramel. Turn off the heat.
4 Place the shallots cut side down into the caramel, and then add the parsnip and the pear.
5 Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
6 If the pastry is frozen, allow it to come close to room temperature and then cut out a circle that will fit the surface of the frying pan. Place the pastry circle over the top of the parsnip and pear. Mix together and brush the egg wash mixture over the pastry. Sprinkle the surface with the fennel seeds, sesame seeds and salt.
7 Place into the oven and bake until the pastry is golden and cooked through – about 25-30 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes, then invert onto a plate.
8 Serve with a rocket salad, crumbled blue cheese and a glass of chardonnay.