Award-winning, sustainable restaurant and accommodation. These words aren’t the easiest to achieve while balancing life for Julianne Bagnato. Apart from co-founding Brae, Bagnato also manages the behind the scenes of the restaurant as an Operations Manager.
The humble regional Victorian restaurant headed by Bagnato’s husband Daniel Hunter, has risen through the culinary ranks over the past three years. Situated in a 30-acre property 130 kilometers west of Melbourne city, the fine diner was named 44th in the world’s 50 Best Restaurants awards earlier this year.
Brae is different from other fine diners – they grow and harvest seasonal produce in their own farm. The combination of Brae’s self-farmed produce and regionally sourced produce has been said to be pivotal in their astronomical success. What we love most about this restaurant is how they’ve managed to compete in the global scene while integrating their strong beliefs of maintaining sustainable practices. With each passing milestone, the team continually finds ways to reduce waste produced at the restaurant.
We had a chance to chat to the other half of Brae about their business, what she’s up to and how sustainability has influenced the food produced at this institutional culinary destination.
Photo by Colin Page.
What is a day in the life of running Brae look like for you?
I’m in charge of all the hidden bits of the organisation that most people would never think about – business planning, accounts, HR, PR, marketing, building maintenance. My day can consist of anything from talking to a plumber about a broken tap fitting to planning a new interpretive garden experience for guests, which is the next project I’ll be working on.
What is the best part of your day working at Brae?
Staff lunch. It’s always something delicious and nutritious that’s made from the excess organic produce from the farm.
How did this idea of incorporating ethical and sustainable practices into Brae come about?
For us, incorporating ethical and sustainable practices wasn’t so much a business idea as a way of life. We were never going to be involved in a business that didn’t have sustainability at its heart while aiming for the top in terms of quality and luxury. I think it goes without saying that you’re doing that in a way that is beneficial for your own health and the health of the planet.
How has it influenced the type of dishes that Brae produces?
The menu is driven by what’s being harvested from the farm at that moment, while new plantings are driven by what Dan wants to see harvested for the menu in 3-4 months’ time. It’s a matter of always planning ahead, being very organised and never leaving anything to chance.
Photo by Colin Page.
What is the greatest challenge that you guys have faced in this sustainability journey at Brae?
There’s always a challenge looming – there’s been a compost fire, worm farm waste water blockages and our irrigating dams have dried up leaving us without water for vegetables during a really hot, dry summer. But perhaps the biggest challenge is working constantly to reduce the amount of waste we produce. We’ve always composted our kitchen waste, recycled cardboard and glass, served filtered rainwater and have recently installed a system which allows us to produce our own sparkling water – reducing the need for those glass bottles to be bought in. However, we’re still working with suppliers to try to change the way some items are delivered to reduce the amount of packaging that comes with our orders. It’s an ongoing battle.
You can find out more about Brae and their beliefs from their website .
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