Kristoffer Paulsen

I staged at Attica for three months earlier in my career, and when I left, Ben [Shewry] told me to keep learning my craft and to not stop at fine-dining restaurants. The advice led me to my next jobs at a burger joint, a pub and a café/wine bar. I’ve learned valuable skills and knowledge from all these venues and discovered it’s important to put as much care into making a sandwich as a degustation.

I grew up in Healesville and completed my apprenticeship at TarraWarra Estate 11 years ago under my friend and mentor Robin Sutcliffe. It makes my return special as I already knew some of the senior team.

One of the things that appealed to me the most about coming back is that it is one of the most beautiful properties in the Yarra Valley and you can’t help but feel immense joy when you’re there. The wines made on-site are delicious and the local produce is exceptional.

The team dynamic has been great. The restaurant operates by each department doing what they do best and having mutual respect. I deeply appreciate the quality and care the gardeners and viticulturalists put into the property; the high service the front-of house and cellar door teams provide and the execution of the wines by the winemakers.

As for the kitchen, I’ve been working on fostering an environment where everyone has a voice. I want people to come to work and feel like they are progressing professionally and are having fun doing it.

I have changed the menu at TarraWarra to suit my cooking strengths and passions. I learned in mostly European- and Mediterranean-leaning kitchens, so I’d say my food style is generally flavoured in the same manner, which suits the wines we produce. We offer two set menus; a plant-based one and another with animal products.

One of the dishes we are serving that represents my ethos is Buxton trout which we brine and cook at 55 degrees Celsius in a steam oven. The trout is then completely covered in a crumb of lemon-scented tea tree, lemon zest, pepitas, chives, finger lime and topped with Buxton trout roe, balsamic pearls and flowers from our garden. It’s served on a base of mixed brassicas from Timbarra Farm and a soubise made from leeks.

Everything in the dish is locally sourced and combines classic and modern techniques. It sounds like there is a lot going on, but the balance of flavours is comparable to the way our Chardonnay drinks — citrusy yet rich, complex yet subtle.

As a restaurant, we work closely with winemakers — about 50 metres I reckon. Claire Halloran and Adam McCallum make the wine on-site and we do our best to make sure we are serving them at optimal condition with food that complements it well. It’s easy for me because we make a great range of wine from sparkling to Rosé and Chardonnay to Pinot, Shiraz, Merlot and Nebbiolo.