• Tatiana Collier

The Japanese Way

The town of Daylesford is renowned for its luxury experiences and culinary delights, and it now lays claim to one of the most notable and awarded new restaurants in Victoria.

Kadota is a dream realised for chef Aaron Schembri and his partner Risa Kadota. Having been introduced to Japanese cuisine and culture by Risa, Aaron grew to love it, and after years abroad, he returned to open his version of Japan in his hometown.

“Our restaurant aims to embrace all elements of a Japanese dining experience. It is a combination of the way we serve our food, and the way we care for our guests. Both elements are equally important.

“The key is in the detail, and we examine every aspect of the dining experience - from the tone of our voice when we speak to guests, to our actions as we serve them or pass them in the hallway. The temperature of the room and the food, the music and the speed of service – it is all carefully considered.

“We create an environment where the guest truly feels looked after, special, and knows they are number one in the scenario.

“If Japan was in Daylesford, this is how we imagine it would be.”

Aaron has worked in kitchens for over 15 years, moving all around Australia and the world. Having experienced both the Eastern and Western approach to cooking and food service, he firmly believes the Japanese are world leaders in the field.

“There is no room for ego in an Eastern kitchen, which allows the focus to be on the food and the guest, instead of on ourselves. It means a better outcome for the customer, and that is how we strive to operate here.”

Aaron and Risa’s decision to open in regional Victoria, as opposed to a city location, was a calculated step, like every other aspect of the restaurant.

“By coming to Daylesford, guests leave their hectic world behind, which means the guest is in a better mindset before they even walk in the door. It opens them up to absorbing what we’re trying to do here.

“We try to provide a beautiful, relaxed Japanese experience, where the season is presented on the plate in delicate ways that represent Japanese dining.

“When it’s time to leave, and return to the busy world, hopefully our guests have a beautiful memory of their time with us.”

Proof of the couple’s success in achieving their goal can be seen in the multiple awards and accolades Kadota has received, including a Golden Plate Award, two chef’s hats in the Australian Good Food Guide (AGFG), and most recently, the 2022 AGFG Reader’s Choice Award.

“The response has been beyond what we expected. To be recognised among some amazing restaurants in our area is a huge pat on the back for our team, who all work so hard. It shows us we’re doing something right.

“We’ve received incredible support from our local community and from Melbourne customers. We’re thrilled and grateful.”

The Kadota menu is carefully planned by Aaron to showcase the current season and local produce. Guests can choose from a classic or luxury menu of seven, delicately balanced courses, starting with subtle flavours that gradually build in depth and character as the meal progresses.

With the season now changing, so is Kadota’s menu.

“We start working with deeper flavours as the weather gets colder. Ingredients like hazelnuts and sesame seeds feature more. Mushrooms, chestnuts and turnips will give our menu a real Autumn feel.

“Although the foods and flavours are becoming deeper and richer, we have ways to keep it delicate and light, as would be expected from Japanese cuisine.”

As his training has taught him, Aaron is continually creating, planning, and experimenting with dishes to improve the experience for guests. Despite all their success, both Aaron and Risa remain completely humble, focussing only on ways they can improve.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as good as I can be, but I still think I can be better. I know we can do better. In Japan we were required to assess our work, to find the elements that needed improving. I still review every step of my day so I can change anything that may not have worked perfectly.

“I have new ideas all the time and I try to incorporate them into what we do. I turn to Risa for her input as we have similar pallets and we both like clean food. Once she has tasted something she will tell me if it works or not.

“I encourage all my staff to provide feedback. There is no hierarchy in our kitchen. Everyone has something to contribute and share.”

For Aaron and Risa, living their dream has been an exhausting, yet highly rewarding endeavour, and their dedication to the industry and the customer is only increasing as time goes on.

“I’ve seen a lot of things change since I first started working in hospitality. Set menus are becoming the norm, which is a benefit to chefs and customers. People are now open to trying new foods and new experiences - even things they may not have heard of.

“It shows they trust the restaurant and the chef, and the customer gets to experience the full range of my skill set and knowledge.

“We have so much more we want to do, many ideas and plans. We’re far from finished.”

Kadota is located at 1 Camp Street, Daylesford. Bookings can be made online and for the latest news, follow Kadota on Instagram.

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