Chef Jo Barrett is a sustainability pioneer who practices what she preaches, and it’s a recipe for success.
Come for barefoot bowls and order the pork and cabbage dimmies. Then get the lamb with fromage blanc and save room for the rhubarb sponge.
They’re the insider tips from Jo Barrett, the award-winning chef behind the hottest new eatery on the Great Ocean Road, a hyper-local and diligently sustainable bar and restaurant in Lorne’s bowling club.
Jo opened Little Picket in the bowlo clubrooms on August 20 with her partner David Osgood (a craft beer expert) and her best friend, chef Louise Daly.
News travelled fast in the tight-knit Lorne community, especially when locals heard about Jo’s plans for humble, country hospitality, local suppliers and affordable prices. Bowls club members helped her spruce up the weatherboard clubrooms, adding tables made from reclaimed timber from the Otways.
Little Picket quickly booked out, along with the bar and barefoot bowling sessions from Thursday to Sunday.
“The first two weekends of Little Picket have been amazing,” Jo tells Fine Food Australia. “We have been full and had the most incredible feedback and support from the local community.
“We have had people dropping off produce and lots of local producers are coming out of the woodwork. I’m loving it.”
Little Picket’s kitchen crew harvests their greens from 25sq/m kitchen garden, with planting underway at a much larger market garden a short drive south in Deans Marsh.
It’s a dream gig for Jo, who has always put sustainability first in her cooking, from her time at the Yarra Valley’s award-winning Oakridge Winery restaurant to living and working a tiny home and urban farm at Melbourne’s zero-waste Future Food System, an 87sq/m urban farm at Melbourne’s Federation Square, using only produce grown on-site.
“You do not have to compromise on ethics to produce exceptional food,” Jo says. “Cooking sustainably is about educating yourself in a broad range of skills and being aware of what the season delivers.
“I grew up with an acre and a quarter vegetable garden we shared with three other neighbours in Templestowe. I learned to grow, cook and, importantly, share food and knowledge with this blend of family and community.”
Jo always wanted to be a chef, starting her career in 2007 at award winning Melbourne institution De Lacy, where chef Andrew Irwin took her to the Queen Victoria Market several times a week to develop a menu based on seasonal produce.
When De Lacy closed, Jo packed her bags, headed to Calgary in Canada and learned fine French cuisine.
“The education in technique was remarkable but I was chopping tomatoes looking outside at the snow falling,” she says. “It just seemed wrong. I knew from an early age that tomatoes ripen at the end of summer.”
Jo returned to Melbourne and joined Frank Camorra’s kitchen brigade at Movida. She fell into patisserie working with head baker Michael James, who went on to open Movida Bakery, which became Tivoli Road Bakers.
“Michael created such a safe workspace where you could ask questions, and he would have an answer for them,” remembers Jo. “We basically had one ingredient – flour. We watched throughout the year as it changed depending on where it was grown and how it was handled through milling.”
Her interest in sustainable food was sealed when she joined Joost Bakker at Greenhouse and zero waste concept Brothl.
“Joost gave us the confidence to stick to our ethics, change the way we cooked and make food with pride that customers would also appreciate,” she says. “He taught us to be unblinking, uncompromising.”
In 2015, Jo moved on to Oakridge with her then partner, chef Matt Stone. They refined and defined Yarra Valley cuisine, writing a book on their ethos called The Natural Cook.
“Being a skilled, educated chef gives you the capability of transforming the food of the season into something delicious to eat now, but also preserve it to be eaten in the future,” Jo says.