The winner of the Young Chef of the Year award, Jake Kellie, has left Northcote’s Estelle Bistro for the culinary equivalent of a tree change.

It might seem a strange move, leaving one of Melbourne’s most-talked-about restaurants for the relative unknown of Pakenham’s yet-to-be-opened, The Lakeside Mill.

But Kellie, who before his role as saucier at Estelle was head chef at Fitzroy’s The Commoner (his resume also includes Sydney’s ARIA and stints at London restaurants The Fat Duck and The Ledbury), says his decision was based on a desire to return to creating food, rather than just cooking it.

“I really wanted to get back into a head-chef role where I could be in charge of the kitchen and the menu, and get back into that creative mindset,” says Kellie.

“Having said that, it’s been an amazing 12 months at Estelle. Scott [Pickett] is still one of my mentors – he’ll always be one of my mentors,” he adds. “But I’m excited to turn everything I’ve worked for over this past year into something of my own.”

Kellie says he also found the allure of a regional restaurant hard to resist. “I love being out of the city, I love being in the country and I love using great local ingredients. This place ticks all the boxes for me.”

Pakenham is close to 60 kilometres south-east of Melbourne’s CBD, and is part of the steady eastern expansion of Melbourne’s suburbs. Yet despite its rapidly increasing population, and despite Pakenham’s proximity to areas known for quality produce, such as Mt Martha and Koo Wee Rup, there’s nothing like what The Lakeside Mill hopes to be in the area.

“We’re taking a risk, definitely,” says owner Casey Summerville. “But when you consider the incredible local produce, plus all the great breweries and wineries of Mornington and Gippsland, it’s hard to see how we can fail. We want to spread Melbourne’s food and beverage culture into the south-east, and that’s why we decided to do this regionally rather than in the city.”

Due to open mid-February, The Lakeside Mill will consist of a downstairs bistro and bar and an upstairs cocktail bar and balcony. The menu will feature items such as house-made duck ham; puffed seaweed with smoked eel and pickled celery; and roast chicken done two ways. Dessert might be a roasted peach mille-feuille with fruit from local orchard Harding’s, or goat’s cheese from nearby Main Ridge, served with a sweet-and-sour pear.

There will also be a six-course tasting menu, which Kellie predicts will be the venue’s major draw. “It’s the easiest and best way for people to learn about and eat what’s grown around their town,” he says.

The Lakeside Mill
38 Lakeside Boulevard, Pakenham

Daily, breakfast through to dinner.