Renowned chef Alanna Sapwell-Stone has turned a winter residency leading the kitchen at Eltham Hotel into a permanent gig.

In food circles, Alanna Sapwell-Stone is well-known in Australia. She trained at The River House in Noosa, before upping her skills in Italy and Japan. After returning home and working in Brisbane, she really hit her stride at the two-hatted Saint Peter in Sydney, under the guidance of Josh Niland. In 2018, she opened the lauded Arc Dining at Howard Smith Wharves in Brisbane, earning multiple accolades, including a Hat. She then took on the head chef position at Fink Group’s Beach restaurant in Byron Bay, before taking some time off to get married.

Her return to cheffing in the middle of this year was not to fine dining, but to take up a three-month winter residency at Eltham Hotel, just outside of Lismore – an opportunity that came about as it was the location for Sapwell-Stone’s wedding. The three months have come and gone, and Sapwell-Stone has decided to take on the head chef role at the pub on a more permanent basis.

“Although my culinary background has predominantly been fine dining, after my three-month residency at The Eltham, I still saw so much opportunity to expand on what our team could plate up for the community. The positive feedback from locals and the excitement around food in this region were definitely a drawcard for me to stay put,” states Sapwell-Stone.

Situated in a small regional village, the pub’s strong presence within local community life and the likelihood of leading a team long-term were the key reasons behind her decision to stay on.

“I’m a big believer in simple food consisting of a lot of little things done correctly. Never has this ever been so much on show – with nowhere to hide. Our team is made up of individuals who are all involved in the community, they are a massive part of it. That’s really helped me get an insight into what this area is wanting, in regards to food. 

“The team we’ve built is also committed to growing together. Working in a big city can often go hand in hand with a high turnover of staff. Knowing our team is here long term dramatically changes the energy and direction of a venue. We can build staff skill sets over time and in turn offer patrons an ever-improving experience.”

Sapwell-Stone’s dishes at Eltham Hotel combine refinement with simplicity.

For Sapwell-Stone, leading the kitchens at Eltham Hotel is no different to what she would encounter at somewhere like Arc Dining. The main difference is the food offering, but the head chef is quick to stress that regardless of whether its Hat quality or a counter meal, “good food is good food”.

“[The] key areas of focus for me currently are affordable, approachable options. No more than three movements when plating, which, considering the amount of customers we have at the door ensures minimal wait times. And of course, delicious food that appeals to pensioners to bikies and everyone in between.”

The alignment in philosophies with the operators of Eltham Hotel – Matt Rabbidge and Luke Sullivan – has also given Sapwell-Stone the permission to create a pub menu that centres sustainability and creativity, while still delivering honest pub grub.

“One of the draw cards for me to work with the boys was that they were already pushing MSA-certified, local, ethical produce. That aligns strongly with my beliefs, so I’ve continued to lean into the pub classics, keeping them local and ethical.”

Some examples would be free-range grass-fed chickens for Eltham Hotel schnitzels and parmies, and sustainable fish choices for the pub’s fish burger and fish specials.

Sapwell-Stone also takes inspiration from CWA and classic Women’s Weekly recipes, with a favourite dessert being the butterfly profiteroles with a crackling top, native thyme brûlée filling and Davison plum, sourced locally, tapping into the nostalgia of a butterfly cake.

At her most daring for the pub, Sapwell-Stone has created an emu pastrami donut with sauerkraut and mustard mayo. 

“Emu is actually very expensive but sustainable, and something Australian that you might not have tried before. The challenge was to make it something the locals would want to try, and keep it affordable so people want to try it,” she explains.

“It’s also great for the kitchen team to have the opportunity to be making their own pastrami/ donuts/sauerkraut – that’s lots of skills and something different for everyone involved.”

The dish has been well received, along with wild boar ragu and the pig’s head sausage with Yorkshire pudding and onion gravy. The local community has been receptive of the new menu, even if they have to be talked into it from time to time.

“All in all, it’s been overwhelming positive. I have challenged our customers on occasion and, as expected, we receive mixed reviews. I feel the need to at least attempt to open people’s minds to some other culinary options other than the classic pub fare. 

“I’ve really wanted to provide affordable good food for everyone whilst sticking to my ethics. What Luke and Matt have created at the pub is something I could never do. Gigs, members meals and  trivia nights that really makes this regional pub alive and pump. I’m very grateful to be a part of the team at The Eltham, and very excited to see what the future holds.”

This piece was first published in the November issue of Australian Hotelier, which you can view below.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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