Restaurant & Catering Magazine

Interview with Alla

Chef and owner of Lake House, Alla Wolf Tasker AM, remembers how a long held dream became a celebrated reality.

I\'ve been dreaming of building a destination restaurant in the country for years. While working France it was the Michelin star restaurants that resounded with me

I hadn\'t really thought the thing through at all. It was the late 70\'s and in Australia people didn\'t travel to the country with the expectation of finding good food. There wasn\'t a clientele for regional destination restaurants, no trained staff and no small-scale artisan producers of the kind I had come into contact with in France; no little fishmonger or guys raising pheasants or growing tiny beans or zucchini flowers for the local restaurant table.

A fortuitous set of circumstances created the momentum for me to take the plunge. I8 had met and married Allan, a talented artist but also dab hand at building. Daylesford was a down at the heel town, and it hadn\'t occurred to us that was why our blackberry and goose covered block was so cheap! Most of my industry colleague\'s reactions was that of horror. We plunged into a three year building program - working during the week, and towing building material Daylesford each weekend.

We got a glowing review not long after we opened. People wanted to come, but had no idea where Daylesford was. We had to send them maps by snail mail. We were only opened Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and had to keep our jobs in Melbourne just to stay alive.

I had a vision of how Lake House was to look and feel, and the memory of it is still strong. It was of seasonal menus based on the local produce, battalions of waiters in long white aprons, a discerning clientele, verdant gardens tumbling down to the lake, a notable cellar and knowledgeable sommeliers, local flowers in abundance everywhere, art on the walls, soft lighting, a murmur of satisfied guests. The disconnect with what I had started with must have been apparent to everyone but me.

I guest one needs to have a picture, a vision, of what they want, regardless of how remote it might seem. You need to stay true to that vision and not change the fundamentals of what you do with every passing fad.

I suppose the biggest lesson I\'ve learned from working in the business is that no matter how many continues accolades and awards (we now have 59 accumulated hats with The Age Good Food Guide and have won virtually every available national award and some international ones as well) one can never rest on ones laurels.

Looking back, there\'s no question that you need to be able to take people along with you for the ride. Thankfully, I\'ve managed to do that. I have staff that have been with me for more than 10 years, who are now a vital part of what Lake House is. I think that level of communication did come naturally to me, but it\'s also a skill that can be learnt.

Many people plunge into the industry with a great deal of misconception. Having your face in a food magazine doesn\'t necessarily mean your well off financially. No wonder some high profile chefs seek to broaden their revenue net by developing multiple, cheaper to run ventures and branded retail products.

Marinating perspective about the importance of what one does as a chef and a restaurateur is key. I think now days some of that gets lost in the whole celebrity thing. Sometimes I watch young chefs tweezing borage flowers and garlic shoots into position, I feel inclined to remind them that what we do isn\'t rocket science. We\'re not out there saving lives or changing the world. All we do is basically feed people and give them a good time. And hopefully we do that with skill and talent, but above all with a genuine sense of generosity and hospitality.

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