National Geographic Traveller

With love, from the lake


“YOU WOULDN’T BE PREPARED to use the cheapest unbranded oil or petrol in your car, but we routinely look for cheaper food to fuel ourselves and our children,” Alla Wolf-Tasker says. “There is no value in cheap food, as you can be sure that someone will have cut corners in producing or growing it in order to be able to deliver it cheaply. Many of those cut corners will have future implications for our health. Food needs to be the thing that we are not prepared to compromise on.”

Being labelled a ‘crazy Russian immigrant’ thirty years ago when she set about transforming what was then considered Daylesford\'s swamplands into a destination restaurant did not deter Wolf-Tasker. In fact, it fuelled her passion and dreams of turning her patch of unruly regional Australia by a now-glorious lake into a solid Australian success story. Three decades later, that’s exactly what The Lakehouse is – a wonderful world unto its own with 120 staff that is a bucket-list destination for lovers of food, wine, art and life.

Wolf-Tasker’s parents taught her about the ‘love of the table’, and The Lake House revolves around this grounding philosophy. She often says that hospitality and good food is embedded in her DNA. “I love the conviviality that can be engendered by sharing food that is sourced and prepared with great care,” she says. “When I was growing up – there was never much money but what we had was mostly spent on small affordable amounts of the best possible ingredients and cooked by my parents to be shared with friends.” 

Every detail of the produce used at The Lake House is not only considered, but also in many cases, created specifically for the menus that rotate as beautifully as the expressive seasons in this fertile part of Victoria. “It’s wonderful to be able to advance-plan specialty plantings with local organic and biodynamic growers or to visit the local farmer who is introducing a new breed of chickens for meat, or producing some of the best pork in Australia,” says Wolf-Tasker. “Daylesford is a village surrounded by small scale, diversified artisanal farms. It is an entirely different community to the one surrounded by large monocultural agricultural enterprises that I originally encountered three decades ago. Nowadays we have a community largely engaged with the local food culture we continue to develop, and the money stays in the community. Local growers are also able to grow and produce food that isn’t just developed because it can be transported great distances or because it has the capacity to be cold stored for long periods.”

Asking Wolf-Tasker what is her favourite produce at any time is like asking a mother to choose a favourite child. “I love everything in season” she says, eyes bright. “Game birds and the wild mushrooms that we pick in autumn; brassicas, root vegetables, truffles and chestnuts of winter; beautiful baby lamb, asparagus and broad beans of spring, citrus fruit, cumquats; then the luscious peaches and berries of summer. As a cook I’m always planning for and anticipating next season’s beautiful produce.”

Alla Wolf Tasker is always looking ahead, and so The Lake House continues to grow like a well-nurtured orchard around her. Just recently, a sprawling wooden deck was added to the restaurant so that diners can be further ensconced in the picture-perfect view that the lake, gardens and trees have composed. And along with The Lake House’s growth, so too does the region continue to mature, every day word spreading further of its fine produce and passionate, innovative locals. “I always knew it was going to be a great region for small-scale artisanal suppliers,” says Wolf- Tasker. “How could it not, with its wonderful, fertile volcanic soils and an abundance of water in underground aquifers? We didn’t have the suppliers we have now, when we opened in 1984. It’s taken three decades to have our dreams finally come to fruition. An overnight success story really,” she says with a laugh.

Fruition indeed. Today, the organisation that Wolf-Tasker chairs – Daylesford Macedon Produce – is 15 years-old and going strong. It is a collaboration between the vignerons, cooks, restaurateurs, publicans, provedores, suppliers and growers of Daylesford and Macedon Ranges regions. “We waited until we had developed a critical mass of great producers and growers around us, all linked to local restaurants, cafes and pubs and supporting a local food ethos. Then it all happened,\" she says. “It’s an overnight success story really,” she says with a laugh.

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