The very first time David Ball set foot in the Yarra Valley in November 2021 he’d already been employed as head chef at Dominique Portet. Due to Covid travel restrictions, his interview and site tour of the restaurant and winery had been conducted via Zoom from Hobart, where he had been executive chef at The Glass House. “It was a very different interview process than I'm used to,” he admits.
David’s career has taken him around the world. “Cooking is something I've always wanted to do,” he says. “This is the only job I've ever had.” At 15, he started an apprenticeship in a Michelin Starred kitchen with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons in the UK. “Raymond distilled that passion for produce and food, and I've just followed that around. That's how I've always managed to land jobs - I've met somebody rather marvellous, and they've got this fabulous thing they want to do, and off we go.”
He’s enjoying the drive through the region and watching the vines changing colour, “the amazing yellows and reds,” as the Summer transitions to Autumn. David has friends who have worked in the region and given him lots of tips, so he’s looking forward to exploring and foraging for mushrooms soon.
He remembers his mother baking Christmas cakes when he was a child. Every year in November, his mother would wrap the cakes in the newspaper while they cooked and “the whole house would smell amazing.” It’s an enduring “wholesome Christmassy food memory.”
Pastries (and Christmas cakes) are not David’s forte; he’s much better known for specialising in modern seafood dishes. In the UK, he focused on modern Japanese cuisine; then, in Hobart, it was seafood straight from the docks. At his new Yarra Valley home, he is busy developing relationships with companies that can deliver fresh seafood within 24 hours of the catch.
“I'm a bit green-fingered,” he says. David loves to garden and says that much of his free time is generally spent pottering outdoors. “I'm a tomato fiend; I have a bit of a tomato problem. I tend to grow quite a few varieties, making me very happy.”
David also loves the abundance of produce in the Summer months. “I love the chilies and the aubergines, courgettes and courgette flowers. Summer - it's a good season. You get to sit outside and eat, so what's not to like?”
“At the minute, I'm loving mussels, so I’d do a take on a mussel dish from Normandy with curry leaves. The house we’ve moved into has a 40-year-old curry leaf tree in the garden. I'm bringing the leaves to work to cook the mussels, which are amazingly fragrant.”
He’d serve it with a crusty baguette and a vino. “Ben and the boys make some pretty good plonk,” he says with a laugh. He suggests a rose for a good summer wine or the sauvignon blanc.
For dessert, he’d present a fig leaf creme caramel. “It’s a take on the classic creme caramel. We take the fig's green leaves and infuse them into the milk. It's like coconutty, caramel, custard deliciousness.”
“They’re good humans,” says David of the family who own and run the winery. He respects their entrepreneurial nature and says they’re genuinely good people to work for. “They really do take the time to make a nice glass of wine and put real energy into what they do and passion. I think it's so important.”
The Dominique Portet family have put their trust in David Ball, who is dedicated to creating a fabulous dining experience for everyone who visits.