Oakridge Winery, the wildest Australia

At Jo Barrett’s and Matt Stone’s restaurant, dishes include flowers, leaves, roots and aromatic herbs from the country’s native people

Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, partners and co-chefs

Matt Stone and Jo Barrett, partners and co-chefs at Oakridge Winery in the Yarra Valley, Australia, 900 km south-west of Sydney

Jo Barrett is co-executive chef withMatt Stone, his partner in life too, at Oakridge Winery in the Yarra Valley, Australia, 900 km south-west of Sydney. The restaurant is 23rd in the top 100 Australian restaurants, and is surrounded by vineyards producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Natural cuisine, but not vegetarian, with the flavours of acacia seeds, Australian desert lime, caviar and lemon myrtle, and even green ants.

Australia is the keeper of the most ancient food culture on Earth, and only in this continent there are autochthonous ingredients that are impossible to find elsewhere, such as kangaroo meat, wallaby tail, angasi oysters, marronquandong  and spinach from New Zealand, which have nourished native Australians for thousands of years. “Our dishes represent the region, we try to let our guests “taste” the place, with preparations based on trout, eel and yabbies (freshwater crustaceans). There’s little meat, which is also a way of respecting the land of the natives, but lots of vegetables and herbs,” Jo Barrett says.

The two chefs are passionate about herbs, seeds and berries from the native Australians, ingredients that inspire their creations, and are a testimony of the profound link with the Australian land. Jo Barrett’s big and strong hands, in contrast with her slender figure, take care of the organic vegetable garden, knead bread, make cheese and preserve and ferment seasonal products, so that nothing goes wasted. In the autumn, the season of wild mushrooms, with partner Matt Stone, she picks them in pine forests an hour’s drive from the restaurant. “Roaming in the pine forest on a cool autumn morning is a natural way to free one’s mind and connect with the ingredients that we will then cook for the guests,” Jo Barrett explains. 

At the Oakridge Winery restaurant, you can test a modern take on the traditional bush tucker. “We want people to discover the green and wild side of Australia, starting from flowers, leaves, roots, sprouts and aromatic herbs from the native people. Our cuisine pays strong attention to waste and the environment. Indeed, the menu features the varied Australian flora and in part the vegetables from our kitchen garden.” And with creativity, she manages to make the best of each ingredient, and to reduce waste to a minimum. In her hands, even what was once destined to become compost, becomes edible. For instance, for a dessert Jo uses the entire potato, including the peel. "I cook the potato peels with cream and gelatine, I add a very thick cream of potatoes and serve it with blackberries and a jam ice cream”.

Oenologist David Bicknell

Oenologist David Bicknell

"Yet at the beginning of my career I wasn’t particularly fond of pastry-making, but I soon realised that to be successful in running a kitchen, I had to learn to do this and that. So I worked in a bakery and studied pastry-making. Now I love pastry-making and its extremely creative use of technique". Jo Barrett is now considered one of the best pastry-chefs in Australia, so much so that critics and colleagues have rewarded her commitment and talent with many awards.

She has represented Australia in the World Pastry-Making Championship in Milan, won the Best Desserts for Delicious in 2016 and 2017, the 2016 Hot Talent for Timeout Magazine, the 2017 Next Gen Top 50 Chefs' forFood Service Magazine, the 2017 Trail Blazer at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, and was the 2018 Chef of the Year for Women in Food Service and 2018 Hottest Chefs for John Lethlean of The Australian.  Jo has a strong involvement in the "Full Booked" event, a social community in the wine and food sector that stimulates women to hold key places in the kitchen and in wineries.  

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso