The Cellar Restauarant - A Q&A with Chef Vanessa Blake
When Covid hit in March 2020, it forced The Cellar Restaurant in Pokolbin to downsize. Two of the four chefs in the partnership decided to move on, leaving Vanessa Blake and her partner Gary Schofield as the landmark restaurant owners and operators. We caught up with Vanessa to see where they’re at now.
What changes have you made to the restaurant since taking over?
The only real change we’ve made is to the menu. It’s changed a lot – it’s more casual, more budget-friendly and smaller. We like simple food with twists and surprises to excite our regular customers.
What plans do you have moving forward?
Just to keep serving great food. The restaurant was opened in 1973, so we’ve got the 50th year coming up soon. As ex-Sydneysiders, we love the Hunter Valley, so we’ve got no plans to change locations or anything. We’re happy with the status quo.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
We just love food. Between us, we have over 50 years of experience. We still get excited about food when we go out. And we are committed to making everything in-house – even the ice cream.
How often does the menu change?
It’s seasonal. We change it every three months. About halfway through each season, we start talking about what we’d like to do next. Gary tends to do the mains, and I do the entrees. We begin by deciding what the protein component will be, looking at what’s in season and then designing the meals around that. There are multi-cultural influences Asian inspired foods, but it’s really a free hand, and then we fine-tune together.
Does the fact you are partners outside of work ever cause a problem?
No! We get on really well, and we’re both motivated by the same goals, drive and passion. We do spend time apart outside of work too. Gary is a keen golfer, and I would like to play netball but haven’t found a team yet!
What is your favourite dish at the restaurant?
Our Lamb for Two is amazing. Slow-cooked and served with roasted carrots and potato rosti, it’s the perfect comfort food, but to be honest - we love all our dishes.
Aside from the necessary downsize, how did Covid affect your business?
It’s been amazing. We are so busy, and we are looking to potentially open for Sunday breakfasts. Domestic tourism has obviously increased and has been good for our business. We love what we do, and we just want to share our good food and great service with as many people as we can.
The Cellar Restaurant is open for lunch from 12pm and dinner from 6pm Monday to Saturday, located in the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village. Book now at www.the-cellar-restaurant.com.au