In this region, we pride ourselves on our vineyards, forests and rugged landscapes, mineral springs, and our food culture.

Some are born here. Some are attracted by the lifestyle. Others spend half a lifetime learning skills in the best kitchens overseas before returning here to cook some of the best food in the nation.

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Dre Reiss. Photography by KGMG.

Andrea ‘Dre’ Reiss

It’s early spring and the long, warm days of summer are still way in front of us. Yet there is a queue outside the Woodend Ice Cream Co. The ice cream is insanely good, made with fresh milk and cream and flavours like real Belgian chocolate and coffee and honey-walnut. Made with ingredients prepared in the Woodend kitchen. The customers are also here for the rich, creamy hot chocolate. It’s prepared with Barry Callebaut chocolate, cocoa liqueur, and cream diluted with hot milk and sold alongside fresh crullers – doughnuts made with choux pastry and slathered in rich toppings like salted caramel fudge. The products are sensational, and so they should be. The woman behind these rich pickings is Andrea Reiss. She was the founding force launching South Melbourne’s outstanding patisserie Bibelot and popular café Chez Dre. Born in Singapore to Australian parents, Andrea grew up in Canada and came to Australia when she was 20. After studying hospitality at Holmesglen TAFE, she went on to be part of the opening kitchen team of Arintji, Federation Square, under famous French chef Jacques Reymond in the early 2000s. She left Australia to work at the two Michelin-starred Green House in Mayfair, London. “They offered me stocks or patisserie,” says Andrea. “The stock pots were so big I feared I would fall into them. So, I chose patisserie.” For the first six months, she cut marshmallows and fruit jelly with a hot knife into perfect 3.5cm cubes. “You learn precision doing a job like that,” she says. Her career moved rapidly. Andrea’s next stop was the Michelin-starred Hakkasan/Yauatcha group, then five-star St. Regis Hotel at The Lanesborough, and then the Taillevant in Paris – famous for inspiring the film Ratatouille. “The restaurant had lost its third Michelin star the day before I arrived,” says Andrea. “I was the first female sous pastry chef, without a word of French. It was hard. So, I watched, took notes, and learned. That hard work made me the chef who I am today,” she says. In 2019, she sold her Melbourne businesses and forged a move to the Macedon Ranges. Andrea has two other ice cream stores; one is Gisborne Ice Cream Co.; the other is in Footscray.

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Aaron Schembri. Photography by Chloe Smith.

Aaron Schembri 

There is an air of Zen about Aaron Schembri’s Daylesford restaurant, Kadota. From the Japanese maples by the herb garden to the gracious bow from Japanese-born front of house manager and co-owner Risa Kadota. She and her husband Aaron Schembri opened Kadota Japanese restaurant on the site of former Kazuki’s earlier this year. Aaron returned to his hometown after cooking under the guidance of the chefs in some of the best restaurants in Melbourne and Japan. These have included George Calombaris at The Press Club, Joe Grbac at Saxe, and Hajime Yoneda at his eponymous Michelin three-star restaurant in Osaka. Aaron and Risa share a vision to present Japanese food to their guests in a measured and sensually aware Japanese-inspired aesthetic of seasonal dining. Dishes have included Hokkaido scallops served with rose and ponzu and finely sliced sashimi laid out like jewels on a block of salt. “Detail and beauty are essential to what we are trying to achieve here,” says Aaron. He shows the blackened shou sugi ban timber walls, made from sheets of charred timber taken from trees felled in the Wombat gardens. Detail and professionalism sit at the heart of everything Aaron does. Aaron’s herb teas are served in wood-fired earthenware Bizen teacups from Japan. The wooden chopsticks are carved in Ballarat. This spring, Aaron and Risa present a new 10-course menu served with matching teas, wine, and sake. “I so look forward to spring,” he says. “New life, new growth, a new season of different flavours.” 

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Erica Crowthers. Photography by KGMG.

Chef Erica Crowthers

Erica Crowthers looks out her kitchen window to watch a family of kookaburras gather on a branch. A Melbourne-born chef, she grew up with stories of Woodend ringing in her ears from her Woodend-born father. She worked in Melbourne’s best kitchens before being part of the team that launched St Kilda’s groundbreaking Bigmouth in the 1990s. The recession saw her fly to London and land a job with one of her culinary idols, Marco Pierre White, at The Criterion. For several years she built on her skills, working with Michelin starred chefs like Eric Chavot and Pierre Koffman, and Jeans George at Vong before working as sous chef at Clivedon House. This exclusive country hotel was frequented by the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret and rock royalty like the Rolling Stones. Erica has taken those kitchen skills and brought them to Woodend in Life and Fork Cooking School.

Held in her bush home, she doesn’t teach recipes. Instead, she teaches people how to cook. “There is beauty in understanding how to relax, adapt and use basic skills to make exquisite dishes,” she says. Her classes range from making egg pasta, to making the perfect Thai laksa, to Italian desserts. “We also explore the art of dining, tasting food and the sobremesa, the conversation held at the dining table during and after the meal.” Erica is particularly proud of her classes’ affiliation with NDIS “As I believe everyone should be able to access classes, no matter what their situation”. With local wines, Life and Fork Cooking Classes are as informative as they are fun and complement her catering business. She cooks multi-course meals from Modern French, to Thai banquet, to rustic Australian roasts for clients celebrating a special occasion or simply wanting to be spoiled in their Daylesford or Macedon Ranges weekender or weekend rental. 

About the author

Cornish Richard
Richard Cornish
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Richard Cornish is an award winning food writer whose love of the land lead him to explore the issues around food, where it comes from, how it gets to us and why some foods taste better than others. He writes for The Age, SMH, DMT Life and has written eight cook books including co-writing the Movida series with Frank Camorra.

Chloe Smith Photog
Photography by Chloe Smith
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It’s an everyday occasion that I feel pretty blessed to have grown up in the small town of Lancefield and the surrounding Macedon Ranges.

A childhood of paddock play, friendly communities, an abundance of creatives and fun rural events is one that I’ll always look back on with much love.

I’m constantly inspired by the local countryside, the livestock and animals, as well as the people that make up the Ranges.