After five years at Yarra Valley's Oakridge, co-executive chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone are leaving the celebrated winery restaurant and its prized vegetable garden.
It's an amicable parting. Barrett and Stone have decided to devote their energies to Greenhouse, an experimental part-urban farm, part-residence project in Melbourne's Federation Square, spearheaded by designer, environmental activist and restaurateur Joost Bakker. (The Greenhouse is still under construction, with the chefs originally scheduled to move in in late September.)
When the Greenhouse project was announced in August, Barrett and Stone – partners in life and work – had intended to live at the two-bedroom eco-residence while continuing their full-time work at Oakridge. But, like many chefs coming to terms with the strange liberation from the daily grind, as afforded by COVID-19, they decided to change course.
"Like many of our peers in the hospitality industry, the past few months of closure has allowed us to take stock and develop new projects outside of our day-to-day jobs," they said in a joint statement.
"Greenhouse has been a dream of ours for many years and we are thrilled to see it finally becoming a reality. The project has evolved quickly over the past few months and we have realised that it will require significant input of time and energy. It is with this in mind that we have made the decision to step down from our positions at Oakridge. [...] Long may the garden flourish."
At Oakridge, Barrett and Stone made their mark with their minimal-waste, hyper-local food philosophy. They didn't so much walk the walk as pave the road themselves: the wheat for their sourdough was milled onsite; the steamed custard was whisked from eggs sourced from Bakker Chicks, run by Bakker's young daughters on a farm a 20-minute drive away; and peas, plucked from the vegie patch, were dressed with pea-shell juice.
During lockdown, their made-from-scratch projects have continued. Their social media accounts are populated with experimental preserves and ferments of the mushroom garum, douchi (Chinese fermented black beans) and pearl barley koji kind, in the lead up to their residency at Greenhouse.
Aaron Brodie, Oakridge's head chef for three years, has been appointed the executive chef posting. (The Oakridge remains closed for now, and it's unclear when it will reopen.) The Perth native has notched up time at a series of London establishments – including Shane Osborn's Pied à Terre – and Melbourne's Cumulus Inc and Estelle, before joining the Oakridge team in 2017.
"We have every confidence in Aaron and the depth of talent of our kitchen and restaurant teams to continue to provide first-rate food offerings," said Oakridge owners Tony D'Aloisio and Ilana Atlas in a joint statement.
"It's rare that you come across a Matt Stone and a Jo Barrett – such young and talented people with a passion for their craft. It has been a privilege to have Matt and Jo at Oakridge and while they will be missed, we understand their desire in these uncertain times, to move to the next stage of their careers and we wish them the very best."