Jake Kellie knows his way around a grill. A glance at the young chef’s Instagram reveals mouth-watering images of meat and fish cooked over flame: Mayura Station Wagyu tomahawk, whole crisp flounder, grilled lamb ribs with smoked honey and saltbush, barbequed sweet and sour mulloway, grilled beef tongue with salsa verde and horseradish, and more. As former head chef at Burnt Ends, Singapore’s Michelin-starred and World’s 50 Best-ranked barbeque restaurant, he’s got form with fire.
Now he’s the man on the pans at Leigh Street Wine Room, taking over from former head chef and co-owner Nathan Sasi, who’s moving out of the kitchen to focus on the business and his growing family with wife and co-owner Sali Sasi.
They’re big shoes to fill – Nathan’s house-made charcuterie, pasta and cacio e pepe ricotta dumplings have become fast favourites for Adelaide diners – but if anyone’s up to the challenge, it’s Kellie.
The 29-year-old from the NSW Central Coast is a former Electrolux Appetite for Excellence young chef of the year. After making his mark in Victorian restaurants such as Estelle in Northcote and The Lakeside Mill in Pakenham, he moved to Singapore in 2017 to join the Burnt Ends team. A year later he came runner-up in the 2018 S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Milan.
He’s now almost two months into his new position at Leigh Street Wine Room, where he’s also come on board as partner. And he’s just welcomed a shiny new custom-made grill, off of which come seared Nomad beef ribs, barbequed chicken in bread sauce, and roasted Hervey Bay scallops served with XO sauce and sea succulents.
“I’d say 80 per cent of the menu is coming off the grill or having some sort of touch of fire,” says Kellie. “Even our desserts now – we have barbequed strawberries on the menu, burnt cheesecake, caramelised blood orange curd…”
Perhaps the only dishes not cooked over an open flame are the house-made pasta and charcuterie, which Leigh Street loyalists will be pleased to know are staying on the menu.
“I’m trying to have that balance. Obviously Burnt Ends is like, fucking, meat, meat, meat, meat. It’s not for the faint-hearted,” Kellie laughs. “I don’t want people to come in and feel like they have to have a steak … I’m looking at more vegetables cooked over the fire. I’m getting some stuff from Ngeringa and Biopark Farm … I do runs out to the markets on Sundays and get different vegetables I can play around with.”
Think grilled asparagus with caramelised cream, and globe artichokes cooked in a smoked stock, then rolled over the grill and served whole with stracciatella and saltbush brown butter.
Back to those barbequed strawberries. Kellie dresses them in a “Sprite vinegar” made in-house. “Yeah, we turn Sprite into vinegar and lightly dress the strawberries in that, so there’s a high amount of acid, and serve it with buttermilk sorbet and caramelised white chocolate mousse.”
He’s also learning how to make Sasi’s signature salumi, including Wagyu bresaola, mortadella, smoked chorizo, and wild-fennel salami. “Nathan is very methodical with everything he does in the kitchen. I don’t think I’ve worked with someone like him before in that regard. He’s very switched on … I’m like, ‘I just grill shit, aye,’” he says, laughing. “But being in company like that makes you want to learn and get better.”
During his time in Singapore, Kellie cooked with produce from around the world – a symptom of the island-nation’s lack of local agriculture. So he’s enjoying the proximity to world-class produce. In addition to Nomad Farms and Mayura Station, he name-checks Ellis Butchers, A&C Barnes and Myers Seafood as current suppliers.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know the producers more and adapting to the seasons again, because in Singapore there’s no seasons … Nothing’s really grown [there] so everything was imported. We’d get stuff from Australia, from Europe, our seafood would come from Japan … It was good to do different pop-ups with different chefs who would come in and bring new ingredients into the restaurant.”
Speaking of pop-ups, Kellie and the Sasis have launched a series of one-off collaboration dinners with guest chefs. So far they’ve teamed up with Tom Campbell from The Summertown Aristologist and Scott Huggins from Magill Estate Restaurant, and there’s more to come, including interstate guests.
“We’ve got some real rippers coming the next couple of months. It’s gonna be a bit of fun.”