You could say Johnny Baker is a stage name. It’s the alter ego of John Stekerhofs, professional chef, self-taught patissière and all-round
bon vivant. It’s also the name of the singular, bustling coffee stop and pastry heaven he’s run in the heart of Castlemaine since 2015.
Hidden at the rear of the Newnorthern Art Hotel, near the Castlemaine Botanic Gardens – look for the de rigueur small sign pointing the way, or just follow your nose - is where you’ll find the always-pumping Johnny Baker. It’s colonised the old drive-through bottle shop, where coffee and cakes have replaced champagne and chardonnay. And if the words “drive through” don’t strike you as the food world’s
You don’t get to be award-winning cheesemakers without loving cheese. An overflowing trophy cabinet and legions of cheeseophile fans across Australia are evidence that Carla Meurs and Ann-Marie Monda, owners and cheesemakers at Holy Goat Cheese in Sutton Grange, truly love their work. But it’s quickly apparent that cheese is not the only thing they love about life on their 82-hectare farm.
“One of the best things about making goats cheese is that you get to have a goatherd,” says Carla. “Goats are the most gorgeous animals – easy, friendly and they come to a call. They know us - the older goats will come over and acknowledge us whenever we’re in the paddock.”
Tim Foster has learned the ways of Central Victoria in his five years running leading Kyneton restaurant Source Dining. Some days he turns up to work to find fresh produce left at the kitchen door – figs, sometimes, or maybe quince or lemons. “We won’t know who has left it. until a local is in having a meal and they’ll say, ‘Did you get that box I left for you?” he says. “It’s really lovely.”
There’s a delightful synchronicity that Foster finds himself embedded in a community upholding the old-fashioned food values. The promise of such a life is what originally lured him and wife Michelle to the area in 2013. “We grew up in South Australia – Coonawarra born and bred - but loved how the food scene in Victoria was so active and vibrant.”
It is the middle of winter, yet the garden bears a plentiful bounty. Wood sorrel, chicory, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, baby carrots. In the hothouse grows spicy red mizuna and the last of the bull horn peppers. This is Dairy Flat Farm, the kitchen garden of Alla Wolf Tasker's Lake House restaurant kitchen. It is part of Barcaldine House, a 15 ha property nestled in a bowl of rich volcanic soil at Musk. It is the realisation of a lifelong dream of the award-winning chef. "We have always had great produce from our growers," says Alla. "Now we are joining them. What is harvested in the morning is on the plates at lunchtime," she says. "There is nothing comparable on this planet to freshly picked vegetables."
The last of autumn’s leaves tumble down Daylesford’s Howe Street as grey rain clouds gather over Mount Franklin on the horizon. Chef Matthew Carnell wanders out into the cold embrace of chilly air. "I bloody love winter," he says, holding out his arms to accept the fat droplets of rain beginning to fall. “It’s a chance to eat all the good things,” he says. “Cheese, charcuterie, boeuf bourguignon, fondue," he says, dropping the words for classic French dishes like a waiter placing plates.
“Those bloody ducks!” says chef Hugh Maxwell, half frustrated, half exasperated. The wild wood ducks have been into the kitchen garden at Sault restaurant again and eaten his leafy greens. The gardens supply a good deal of the herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens and some of the vegetables for the restaurant. They sit under the airy dining room, with its 180-degree view overlooking a lavender plantation, lake, chapel and the kitchen garden. Hugh, however, doesn’t resent the ducks as they only nibble the leaves they can get to under the netting. “They also keep the grass down,” says Hugh with a grin. “Along with the kangaroos."
Daylesford’s Farmers Arms Hotel is the type of character-filled, friendly pub that every country town wishes it had - and which dozens of metro pubs have tried try to emulate. The beautiful red brick building, complete with red geraniums in window boxes, gilt sign-writing on windows and clipped hedge houses the quintessential character filled bar.