Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 17, 2018

Three Decades On, Lake House and Daylesford by Alla Wolf-Tasker

Now that I’ve published my Best-of lists for 2018, I wasn’t going to read any more Australian books because I have a swag of library books by overseas authors to get through.  I was going to browse through this one in the new years and (maybe) try some of the recipes but it’s due back tomorrow and I can’t renew it.  Needs must.

Three Decades On, Lake House and Daylesford is a drop-dead, totally gorgeous, coffee-table book of food porn.  I’m sure author Alla Wolf-Tasker won’t mind me saying that because she’s aware that it’s not an everyday cookbook.  This is what she says in her introduction:

Is this a cookbook?  It depends on who you are.  I’m sure there’s enough use of dehydrators, iSi guns and sous vide in the recipes to put off all but the most dedicated domestic cook.  Some of our guests, on the other hand, are accomplished cooks and regular attendees at the Masterclass weekends in our cooking school.  I would like to think that for them this book will, at the very least, provide some inspiration.  The brilliant photography by Lisa Cohen should provide more of the same.

I hope that for some of you this book shares time with you in your kitchen.  But I also hope that it has a place at your bedside or on your coffee table, that you take the time to enjoy the stories and imagery of this place we live and work in — of this place we love. (p.008)

(If, like me, you have to look up iSi guns to know what they are, then you know which group you belong in!)

I’ve been to Lake House three times: once back in the late 1980s when we were flush with funds and stayed overnight, and twice just to the restaurant.  It was an unforgettable experience only partially conveyed by the photo gallery at their website and this lovely book. The restaurant-hotel is situated in a lovely part of Victoria within easy reach of Melbourne, and no expense has been spared in making Lake House a luxury destination that’s internationally famous, winning these awards: Tatler’s 101 Best Hotels, The Conde Nast Gold List & Australia’s Best Regional Hotel.   The book celebrates this beautiful area and the philosophy of the restaurant: a rarity in Australia — a family-owned restaurant, highly regarded for its culinary and service standards, which has continued over many decades to stay abreast of things and prosper.  But staying at the top is obviously hard work:

…food has become part of pop culture like never before, in the way it moves and fragments.  With the rampaging speed of knowledge transfer nowadays, there’s a fair bit of culinary FOMO that happens both for cooks and diners.  I’ve got to say I have the occasional moment of it myself.  Self-doubt driven by looking at too much breathless social media perhaps?  But a recent tremendous restaurant review by one of Australia’s senior food writers definitely had me reaching for Google to find out about fermented gochuchang and ddeokbokki, a “delicious little talisman you’re going to want.” Reviewers by nature are bound to be driven by a bit of FOMO themselves.  We all feel the influence of new and different culinary thought.  In today’s highly connected world we’d be daft not to take up the opportunity of relevant new techniques, new ingredients or innovative cultural influences.

But can we maintain a singular and recognisable passion in the face of all this?

From day one at Lake House, long before it became a marketing mantra or even remotely fashionable, we have trodden the seasonal route.  This, at a time when being able to afford to acquire out-of-season ingredients was often seen as a sign of wealth and heightened gastronomic appreciation. (p.050)

Well, it’s been 10 years (alas) since I was at Lake House, but (based on the photos in their website gallery and the photos in this book) I would still say that they have a recognisable style.  There is a delicacy about their plating and an original use of locally sourced ingredients like their pullet eggs and heirloom tomatoes that is quite distinctive.

However, it is the arrangement of the food photos and the recipes, completely separating the glamorous presentation of dishes from the process (and work) involved in creating them that makes this more of a book of food porn, as defined by the feminist critic Rosalind Coward in her 1984 book Female Desire:

“Cooking food and presenting it beautifully is an act of servitude. It is a way of expressing affection through a gift… That we should aspire to produce perfectly finished and presented food is a symbol of a willing and enjoyable participation in servicing others. Food pornography exactly sustains these meanings relating to the preparation of food. The kinds of picture used always repress the process of production of a meal. They are always beautifully lit, often touched up.” (p. 103) (Wikipedia, viewed 17/1/218).

From page 52 to page 163, there is nothing but photos of plated food and their ingredients (often on idyllic-looking farms), with just four pictures of serene, unflustered chefs (or their hands) at work.  The recipes are in a separate chapter right at the back of the book.  I don’t have a problem with this, except to say that I’m the kind of cook who needs a picture of the finished dish to inspire me and keep me on track when I’m working through a complex recipe.  I would have found it exasperating to be experimenting with Heston Blumenthal’s recipes without the photo there in front of me as I worked through all the different elements because I don’t like turning the pages of an expensive book with sticky fingers.  It’s especially irritating that neither the recipes nor the index in Three Decades On tells you which page the picture is on, so you have to look through pages and pages to find, for example, how mustard ice cream is served with the carrot tasting menu along with seed and nut granola, carrot puree, carrot balls, soused carrots and microwave carrot sponge.  (All of which look easy enough to make as separate elements, just tricky to bring together all on one plate).

I was intrigued by the chapter ‘Good Food Matters’, which profiles the local suppliers who produce a mouth-watering range of ingredients for the Lake House menu.  Restaurants growing their own produce has, as Wolf-Tasker says, become a fascinating turn of focus among the industry and dining public.  Posh restaurants brag about growing their own produce, and the Royal Mail at Dunkeld is not the only regional restaurant to base its cuisine around what’s in season on their own land.

How did this suggestion slip in, that restaurants firstly could, and secondly would, grow their own food?  And I’m talking beyond a few token bunches of beetroot.  Yes, there will be some for whom the proposition might be relevant and even essential.  But how did it ever eventuate as a possible business model for an industry already struggling with a roller coaster of skill shortages and financial challenges?  A high-profile colleague of mine, establishing a regional resort-style outpost for his restaurant group, added a substantial potager to supply his outlets.  ‘The most expensive potatoes in the world’ was how he described one of the outcomes.  The economics of the proposition remain interesting. (p.166)

(I wonder if he was the high-profile restaurateur whose entire (expensive!) would-be crop of truffles, we heard, had to be pulled out because they had some disease?)

I think the distinction between cooks and farmers/producers is a valid one.  A restaurant needs to have mutually beneficial relationships with local producers supplying sustainable quality and freshness, and that is what enables consumers to have the very best because dishes aren’t then limited by what’s in the paddock and the chef can give full rein to his/her creativity.  Reading this chapter, it occurred to me that I have never come across any political party offering a policy about supporting small, niche farming practices…

… we do need to look beyond the bucolic scenes of farm life portrayed on social media and in magazines.  Relentless hard physical labour and the vagaries of Mother Nature are things we tend to understand and respect.  Most of us, however, remain unaware of many other hurdles.  Already strangled by red tape, small sustainable farmers also struggle with planning and infrastructure requirements that favour large-scale intensive farming.  Somehow consumer demand for good food, grown with concern for ethical animal husbandry and positive environmental outcomes, does not appear to be on the radar of regulatory bodies.  The disconnect is most apparent in the continued promotion of the clean green image of Australia’s best produce.  If we really want to be enjoying some of this hugely celebrated and much lauded food, produced in the best circumstances, we really could be doing something to make things a little bit easier.  (p. 167)

No wonder many country folk feel that ‘their’ National Party has abandoned them.

Am I going to try any of the recipes?  Most of the meat dishes and the desserts are much too complex, but some of the recipes are variations on what we do already:

  • Marinated olives
  • Mustard ice cream (as a savoury accompaniment to something)
  • Truffled pecorino tart (when we have enough kale in the garden)
  • Compressed cucumber (when (hopefully) we have a glut though there is no sign of the bees we need just yet), and
  • The recipe for oxtail without using it to make tortellini (because they always fall apart)
  • Kangaroo with black trompettes (or some other mushroom) and mountain pepper, cooked in a sous vide and
  • the sauce that goes with the smoked quail (but the deboning and the polenta are just not going to happen).

But I wish there were instructions for how long vacuum-packed items like compressed lemons can be kept, and if they need to be in the fridge or the pantry!

This is a lovely book. Buy it for the Foodie in your life:)

Author: Alla Wolf-Tasker
Title: Three Decades On, Lake House and Daylesford
Publisher: (Self-published) Lake House, Daylesford, 2018, 276 pages
ISBN: 9780646982397
Source: Kingston Library

Available from Readings and the Lake House online store.

 


Responses

  1. I’m sure it’s a lovely book, and a lovely place. I was born In Daylesford, so I often have to write it on birth certificate type things, but I don’t think I’ve ever been back. Anyway: small producers. Big agri-business and big chem pay big bucks to politicians, small producers pay nothing. Hence the rape of the Darling, genetically modified canola etc.,etc.

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  2. You wouldn’t recognise it, Bill!
    I used to take the VILTA committee up there each year to do planning work during the school holidays and it’s unrecognisable from those days as well. Lots of beaut places to eat and dozens of B&Bs.

    Like


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