Joel moved to Badger Creek with his mum when he was 10 years old so the move back here is a move back home for him and he’s back to exploring the bush walks of the region on his days off. “All my friends and family are here so when I’m going down the street or to town I’m always running into people.” If Joel goes out for dinner or has a drink anywhere in the Yarra Valley he generally has a personal connection with the winemaker; he knows where they've grown the grapes and who's picked the fruit from their trees. “It’s a small town,” he laughs. “If you haven't worked with them before, you know their family members.”
Joel remembers his nan making her signature dish when someone in the family was sick - a lamb shank and barley soup. “I always loved that,” he says. “The other simple meal was the silverside sandwich she'd make us which was just corned beef and bread and butter and salt.”
Joel loves working in kitchens with vegetable gardens. Summer, spring and autumn are his favourite times to harvest, when the trees and the veggie patch are resplendent with lots of bright colours and fruits.
Joel is so enamoured of his restaurant menu that if he had free reign to cook for a family of six, this is what he’d offer them. However, if they were visiting his home he loves to serve a casual meal where everyone can get involved.
“I've got a pan flatbread recipe. It’s super delicious by itself, but I think a fun one is just a big spread of different toppings and you can make your own. Whether it's pizza flavours or falafel and hummus flavours, you can go any direction. Whatever you’ve got in the fridge, you can make a pretty fun meal out of it.”
Joel’s flatbread is a fresh yeasted bread made with pizza flour, with a bit of sour cream and olive oil through it. It can be cooked on the barbecue but Joel prefers to do it on a pan on the stove. “It comes out super fluffy and crispy and tasty, with a golden pastry crust like focaccia,” he says.
Joel doesn’t usually make desserts at home but for guests he would make a dacquoise, a French tart like a nut sponge. He puts cans of condensed milk caramel in the base and then tops it with the sponge and rebakes it. The result is a warm “caramel-y fudge-y” base with a “crispy nutty” surface. The decadent tart is adorned with fruit, fresh cream or lemon curd.
Joel says that the views at Tarrawarra make it one of the most beautiful properties he’s ever worked on but what he loves most is the feeling of being back with the team. The winemakers, restaurant manager and groundskeeper are the same people he first met as a young apprentice and he has a real sense of homecoming. “The Besens (Marc and Eva) are quite good to work for. They let the managers do their jobs and put trust in them,” he says. “Having all the suppliers so close around is also amazing.”
Joel’s aim is to keep the standard of the restaurant high so that the meals continue to complement the exceptional wines. He wants to make people happy so they leave Tarrawarra thinking that the whole package was incredible, not just the wine or food or the scenery.