• Liane Morris

Shaking It Up In The Hunter’s Cultural Kitchen!


Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort is undeniably one of Australia’s premier resort and golfing destinations, located in a breathtaking idyllic natural setting in the heart of the Hunter Valley wine country.

 

The PGA 18-hole championship golf course features stunning panoramic views of the vineyards and surrounding Brokenback mountain range from every tee and green, and it has won Best Australian Golf Hotel Resort in both 2018 and 2019. As if this wasn’t enough to draw the visitors and the locals alike, the food and beverage options at this world-class facility are undergoing a quiet transformation that aims to be a significant drawcard for foodies, families, locals and international visitors.

As with most businesses, the covid pandemic provided the team at Cypress Lakes an opportunity to rethink the food and beverage offering and how it is delivered. Michael Fantuz, Director of Food and Beverage at Cypress Lakes, began working at the resort just before the second lockdown.

“We took a good look at the new world order and decided to rethink things, to try a different approach. We want to give our guests more than they expect from us. So we’re offering a cleaner, more family-oriented approach to the leisure market and a more outdoor, festival-like approach to the corporate conferencing market. We’re using balconies, lawns, pool areas and all our outdoor spaces over our 60 acres to help eliminate the stress due to the threat of covid in enclosed spaces.”

Aiding Michael with this new approach is Daniel Quitto, Executive Chef at the resort. Daniel started at Cypress Lakes in February of this year after finishing up at Nick & Nora’s at Parramatta, part of the Speakeasy Group under Sven Almenning and Greg Sanderson. Previously Daniel worked at the Hilton Hotel, Sydney, the Harbour View Hotel, The Rocks, and the hatted restaurant Mosaic at the Westin Hotel, Sydney. He also won awards for his designer cake business, Cake Evolution, and was part of the executive chef team that catered to the Pan Pacific Games in Vanuatu. At the Pan Pacific Games, Daniel had the experience of cooking for the athletes for over a month and being in charge of a 30-person team of cooks, chefs and kitchen hands. His broad experience makes him ideal for heading up a facility that includes several dining offerings and large-capacity conferencing and events.

Real estate prices drove Daniel and his young family out of Sydney. The Hunter Valley was where he and his wife were married, and they had always felt drawn to the region. He was confident he would secure a new role in the valley and was keen for his kids to enjoy a more country-style upbringing. So they bought a new home in Cessnock, and before they even moved, he had landed the role at Cypress Lakes. He loves that there are no traffic lights on his way to work these days and is excited about the challenges in his new role.



CHEFS DANIEL QUITTO AND CORRYNE PARKHILL. PHOTO CREDIT: CHRIS ELFES (ELFES IMAGES)

“When I was a kid, eating out was a big deal. These days though, food is very accessible, the options are endless, and people know what’s good – they have high standards. We want to take a leadership role in how good food can be, providing healthier options, utilising local produce and ensuring that even with our most casual dining experience, it’s still of the finest standard possible.”


“When it comes to being a successful chef, it’s not just about the food, but the culture that is in the kitchen. Without a supportive team that feels valued, a kitchen cannot thrive. I am energised to see the future possibilities with my team at Cypress Lakes, and it’s important to me to empower them. Our team is not only extremely talented, but they are also from a very wide range of multicultural backgrounds. I encourage them to share their food influences through our specials, and in fact, Chef Vinnie (Vinura de Silva, Executive Sous Chef) at our fine dining restaurant, Oak & Vine, takes that one step further. Vinnie’s food is influenced by his native Sri Lankan background, offset by his refined French technique and flavours. No one else is doing this in the valley, and it’s exciting – it pushes the envelope.”

Chef Vinura de Silva began his hospitality journey at the Hilton Colombo as his work placement during his studies at the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management at the age of 17. What followed was ten years of 5-star, global experience in Bahrain with the Rotana chain of hotels, Kandima in the Maldives, Bannisters in Port Stephens and then finally, to Oaks Cypress Lakes in 2019.

Vinnie is proud to be working with Sri-Lankan influences and providing new experiences for diners.

“At first, I added a few Sri-Lankan dishes to the menu and began to notice that diners were really enjoying them”, he said. “Daniel was keen for me to expand the concept, utilising Sri-Lankan flavours with my classical French training. We take it to another level, and diners seem to enjoy it. I would love to have as many people as possible come and try the dishes that mean something so special to me, and to see that spice doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hot’ but simply well-balanced flavour profiles.”

Recently the team were put to the test with a significant corporate event that catered to 700 people per day for five weeks, all staying in the accommodation and eating all meals at a cost of almost $5 million. There was a focus on health and wellness coupled with indulgence and fun. Special dietary considerations for such a large group were an exercise in logistics for the kitchen staff. Luckily for Oaks Cypress Lakes Resort, the neighbouring Elysia Wellness Retreat, purchased by the Oaks Group two and a half years ago and previously known as the Golden Door Health Retreat, is now also part of the Oaks Resorts family and Chef Corryne Parkhill, Executive Chef at Elysia, is part of Daniel’s team. They worked together on the project, and it has inspired them to make healthier options more available on all the menus at Cypress Lakes, delivering a little bit of the Elysia wellness experience to all their guests and visitors.



CHEF CORRYNE PARKHILL. PHOTO CREDIT: CHRIS ELFES (ELFES IMAGES)

Chef Corryne is passionate about healthy food and the difference it can make in people’s lives. She works with a nutritionist to ensure that every meal offered at Elysia is personalised for the health needs of their guests. The menu is predominately vegetarian, with some chicken and fish showcasing wholefood. Corryne manages the dietary requirements of individuals with a giant blackboard and an enormous knowledge base of what each type of diet should contain. Corryne grew up on the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie. Her grandmother was a baker, and her mother was a chef. Her mother is now working as her restaurant supervisor at Elysia! Corryne was heavily influenced by the women in her life.


“I remember visits to farms to source produce, and my mum was always focused on health and wellbeing, so it’s ingrained in me,” said Corryne. “As a mum, I am super passionate about healthy food for kids and using psychology and fun to encourage them in good habits. I love that I’m always learning as our knowledge of health evolves. Our approach at Elysia is personalised and holistic, and I’m excited to be working with Daniel to deliver some of these healthy wholefood offerings to Cypress Lakes.”

With so much happening at Cypress Lakes, it’s worth a visit whether you are a local, a golfer, a visitor from Sydney or an international tourist. It’s open to everyone. The Bistro is family-friendly with both indoor and alfresco dining and serves up classics along with a full buffet breakfast every day and includes live entertainment over the weekends. The Member Bar is open Thursday to Saturday and features a chilled, laid- back sipping environment for all, especially members of the golf course. For fine dining, there’s Oak & Vine, also open Thursday to Saturday, serving up authentic Sri-Lankan and French fusion dishes. And finally, for the strictly health-conscious who happen to be enjoying the wellbeing programs at Elysia, attendees can order breakfast, lunch and dinner a la carte, catering to all allergies and dietary requirements.

The incredibly talented team at Oaks Cypress Lakes are intent on using as much local produce as possible and being mindful of the changing attitudes towards food and nutrition. They are keen to take a leadership role in the hospitality space by offering clean, fresh and healthy alternatives for their growing and ever-changing customer base. Their pride in their employees is a reflection of the values of the property and is mirrored in their menu selections.

As Michael Fantuz, Director of Food and Beverage, puts it, “We want everyone to know that we’re open again and that we want locals to feel welcome as well as our visitors from further afield. We’re excited about our new approach and showcasing that to everyone.”

To make a booking, call 4993 1555 or contact RBMCypressLakes@theoaksgroup.com.au

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