The wonderwoman behind Lake House boutique hotel and restaurant in Daylesford, Alla Wolf-Tasker has shaped the face of regional dining in Australia, flying the flag for local and seasonal produce for the past 30 years, long before these buzzwords became the foodie mantra of the masses. Here we chat about her culinary inspirations, favourite destinations and adventures on the road with her artist husband Allan.
What’s the Lake House story?
As a young woman, I returned from France bent on establishing a destination restaurant in regional Australia. In 1979, my artist husband Allan and I purchased a paddock on the shores of a waterway in a little down-at-heel village called Daylesford, near Melbourne. With the exuberance of youth, we set about building the gastronomic retreat of our dreams, not fazed by the physical and financial effort required, nor by the lack of potential local clientele, staff or suppliers. Nowadays, I pinch myself as I look at the beautiful place that emerged from such humble beginnings. The well-trodden path to our door is now frequented by foodies from all over the world.
How has your Russian heritage inspired your cooking?
For my Russian post-war emigrant parents, cooking and sharing the best food one could afford was an expression of friendship and love. It was the same for their immediate circle of friends, all of whom had suffered the privations of war in Europe. People never visited empty handed, bringing home-made pickles, smoked goods, cheeses and windfalls from their gardens. Anyone who dropped by was always asked to sit at the table and ‘have a little something’… My fondest childhood memories are of huge shared tables at our dacha (summer house), where meals often extended throughout the day, with much poetry recitation, music and song. It was a dead cert that hospitality would be part of my DNA.
Tell us about Daylesford.
Daylesford is surrounded by pristine waterways and forest, offering wonderful walks, great farm gate stalls and cellar doors. We have the largest concentration of naturally occurring mineral springs in Australia, and many holistic therapists have settled here, along with artists, writers and designers. It’s a rich and interesting community.
Describe your ideal weekend away.
My ‘weekends’ (when I get them) are almost always mid-week. We’re lucky enough to have a beach house in a tiny coastal hamlet in Victoria, which has one pub and one general store (which bakes good bread on a daily basis). I take great pleasure in cooking while we are there, usually preparing something with local fish, which we enjoy with a decent wine looking over the ocean.
Who is your ideal travel companion?
I love travelling with Allan (below, with Alla), my husband. His artist’s perspective on things is always revelatory, and he fills notebooks with beautiful sketches. Larissa, our daughter, and her friends – if they are away with us – energise things a great deal. We get into an entirely different set of adventures when they are around.
Most memorable moments?
When we were young and penniless, Allan and I camped in lots of far-flung spots in Europe – the more inaccessible, the better. We bribed our way over the border into Ceausescu’s Romania with cartons of Marlboros, were almost eaten by wolves in Macedonia, were woken by gunfire near the Albanian border and were pelted with rocks in a very remote part of old Yugoslavia. Having survived all that and having discovered one morning that a snake had shared the night with us in our tent, we took ourselves off to the nearest and most expensive hotel we could find. That turned out to be the beautiful old Hotel Gellert in Budapest, on the banks of the Danube. We maxed out our one credit card on a top-floor suite, blissed out in the old Roman baths below ground, ordered room service breakfast and enjoyed delectable Hungarian pastries and freshly squeezed juice served in antique crystal goblets.
Where’s next on your holiday wish-list?
I’d go back to Istanbul in a heartbeat. The people are super friendly, honest and helpful, and there are plenty of wonderful little bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. Stay away from the traditional tourist area where the mosques and Topkapi Palace are and you won’t be disappointed. I think Allan and I might be heading to South America next, travelling through Peru and Argentina.