Like most chefs at the top of their game, Alejandro Saravia knows what it’s like to get caught up in the quest for accolades and industry recognition. The Peruvian-born chef has worked in kitchens from New York and Barcelona to Paris and London, including time working at the three-star Michelin The Fat Duck in England under Heston Blumenthal.
During his first few years working in Melbourne, the chef and co-owner of Melbourne restaurant Pastuso says that his focus on achieving critical success increasingly came at the expense something much more important: his creative passion and job satisfaction.
“I got to a point where I was trying to keep up with reviews and keep up with demand. I was trying to innovate as much as I could and striving to present food that was edgy,” Saravia explains. “But looking back, now I can recognise that I was losing my passion, I was losing my drive. I was like a robot, locked into the idea of what we needed to achieve to be considered successful,” he says. “Except I wasn’t enjoying cooking. I was lost in it.”
But an introduction to the food, wine, produce and people of Gippsland in Victoria’s east proved to be a pivotal moment in Saravia’s career – heralding a new direction that shifted the chef’s priorities and reignited his sense of passion, purpose and place.
Meeting Paul Crock, director of Gippsland Natural – a cooperative-style operation representing some of the best ethical, grass-fed Angus beef producers in Gippsland – was a well timed game-changer for Saravia.
What started as a conversation over a pulled beef bun soon led to a weekend camping trip to the region with Crock. “On that trip I was introduced to the many treasures of Gippsland,” Saravia recalls. “We visited producers, drank incredible wine and camped out under the stars. It was the first time that I had experienced the real Australian campfire. I felt very much at home and I thought: there is something really magical here.”
This week, in collaboration with QICGRE, Saravia announced his next project: Farmer’s Daughters, a unique farm to table restaurant concept designed to connect city and country by showcasing the best of the Gippsland region, and by introducing its specialty producers and sharing their stories.
Due for a mid-2020 launch, Farmer’s Daughters is the second hospitality experience to join 80 Collins, the new precinct set to position Melbourne as a globally relevant player on the world stage.
Daryl Stubbings, Director of Australian Investment Management at QICGRE says: “So much of what makes Melbourne’s thriving culture so distinct is its surrounding regions, from which the city’s renowned chefs source their ingredients… we're delighted 80 Collins is providing the place for Alejandro Saravia and Farmer’s Daughters to present the best of Gippsland in the heart of the CBD.”
With street frontage on Exhibition Street, the new venue will include three concepts spanning three levels, incorporating a formal restaurant, a deli and retail space, and a rooftop restaurant and urban food farm.
The ground floor deli will offer a casual experience, featuring seasonal Gippsland produce including charcuterie, cured fish, cheese plates and seasonally driven salads alongside a full retail and take-home offer. On the roof, guests will be able to sit among herb gardens and greenhouses, enjoying open-air dining with views across the CBD.
Saravia explains, “Farmer’s Daughters will be a place that allows diners to escape; to take a journey into the countryside and connect with the real food culture of Victoria.”
For Saravia, the Gippsland region stands out due to the quality of its produce and the integrity and sense of community that drive its producers. In 2017 he became Gippsland tourism’s official food and beverage ambassador, and has invited diners to share his passion for the region through a series of events and collaborations highlighting its produce.
Since that first visit to the region, Saravia has extensively researched Gippsland produce and established relationships with countless local producers, who he says are united in their connection to place, and full of passion and great stories.
Saravia says he had long known of the Gippsland region’s reputation as “the holy grail for produce” even before he moved to Melbourne from Sydney in 2014. “When I was working in Sydney chefs always spoke about Gippsland produce with such high regard,” he says. “I soon understood that chefs consider it a real badge of quality if something is from that region.”
The chef says that while his aim is to provide a window for Gippsland producers to come to the city and showcase what they do he also wants to take the opportunity to give back to the people that helped change his outlook on life.
“Farmers Daughters allows me to give back to a community that has given me so much on a personal level. I have met so many kind, sincere and honest people over the past few years. The relationships that I’ve built with people in this region have enriched me as a person. They have made me re-evaluate my priorities as a person and made me feel more at home.”