When Sali and Nathan Sasi opened Leigh Street Wine Room last August, Adelaide fell hard for the couple’s winning combination of charcuterie, natural wine, polished small-plate cooking and never-ending good times. In something of an early first birthday present to themselves (and diners), the Sasis are luring one of Australia’s hottest cooking prospects to Adelaide to run the kitchen.

Adelaide, meet Jake Kellie, a 29-year-old product of the Central Coast in New South Wales and a former Electrolux Appetite for Excellence young chef of the year winner. 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 take on the head chef role at Burnt Ends, Dave Pynt’s Michelin-starred and World’s 50 Best-ranked modern Australian barbeque restaurant. During the two and a half years he was at Burnt Ends, Kellie learned the finer points of open-fire barbequing, collaborated on guest chef dinners with cooks from around the planet, and came runner-up in the 2018 San Pellegrino Young Chef competition in Milan. For the next chapter of his career, he's excited about joining forces with two operators he respects.

“It’s a massive opportunity to work with two young restaurateurs doing such good things,” says Kellie, who's also coming on board as a partner. “I’ve known Nathan since he was at Sydney restaurant Mercado, and I’ve always been a massive fan of what he was doing there, and Sali is so passionate about Leigh Street and the industry. All the restaurants in Adelaide are really kicking goals, and I’m excited about being a part of that.”

While Kellie will bring elements of open-fire cooking to his new role in August – the Sasis are looking into adding some form of charcoal grill to the kitchen – his Leigh Street menu will be as much about what he puts on the barbie as how he cooks it.

“Produce is such a massive thing,” says Kellie, who has spent the last six months in Sydney as senior sous chef at Mimi’s, Merivale’s ambitious showpiece diner at the Coogee Pavilion. During his time in Singapore, he ordered and cooked with produce from around the world: a symptom of the island-nation’s lack of local agriculture. “Even before I got to Burnt Ends, I would always try to find the best stuff I possibly could. I used to go to my veg supplier at six in the morning and walk around his cool room, find all this amazing stuff, then pick it myself and bring it back to work. That’s how I’d write menus. I’m looking forward to having access to that again.”

While it’s too soon to talk specific dishes, Kellie says the plan is to stick to the winning format – charcuterie, small plates and larger items – the Sasis opened with. Collaboration dinners, says Kellie, are definitely on the cards, and he’s looking forward to picking up some pointers on making cheese and smallgoods from Nathan.

The appointment of a new head chef will free Nathan up to focus on the business side of the restaurant, as well as reinstating the wine list’s South Australian focus. Sali, when she’s not playing the role of gracious host, will continue driving the growth of Juice Traders, the couple’s online natural-wine store. Both are excited about Kellie’s imminent arrival, as is the entire Leigh Street team.

“If there was a word to describe the way we’re feeling, it’s pumped,” says Sali. “We are super pumped. I took this epic screenshot of us as a team cheersing the news with champagne, and him sending back a Facetime shot giving us the thumbs up. It really captures the excitement of this new stage of Leigh Street Wine Room.”

Jake Kellie begins at Leigh Street Wine Room in August.