Pollo al ajillo simmering on the stovetop, an upside-down apple cake fresh from the oven, there’s something so intimate yet familiar about wholesome comfort-cooking, and Brigitte Hafner’s food makes you feel like you’ve been invited into her home.
The chef and owner of Graceburn & Tedesca, a bespoke B&B-come-Italian bistro experience in the heart of Red Hill, believes in the “emotional response” that cooking brings, and it’s shaped her outlook on food, and long career in the kitchen.
Tedesca, the Italian word for ‘German’ has been a long-time nickname for Hafner, who hails from German heritage. A lifetime spent in the kitchen alongside her parents, with her hand “always in the batter,” trying and tasting everything, has helped shape Brigitte’s passion for refined homestyle cooking — despite cooking alongside culinary heavyweights Kylie Kwong, Guy Grossi and Neil Perry, she credits her mother as her biggest influence.
A whole animal approach and “nonna-style” cooking informs the menu at Tedesca Osteria. With a wealth of local produce and farm gates at her doorstep, Brigitte creates daily menus in response to the best ingredients available that day.
Brigitte has built firm relationships — and friendships — with the local farmers and producers around her, including Torello Farm, Transition Farm, and private market gardener, Mary Loucas.
“There’s more life in organic produce”, says Brigitte, who also grows much of her own produce on the property, enlisting the help of organic farmer Mikey Densham.
After Brigitte and architect husband Patrick Ness lovingly restored the 1940s Graceburn cottage and restaurant in late 2019, it was a short but hectic few months for the G&T team, before restrictions set in.
In “normal times”, the rustic informality of Tedesca’s open plan kitchen, with a brick-wood fire oven and single, functional bench, would allow guests a bird’s-eye view of the cooking process, giving them an appreciation of what is, at its core, a passion project for Brigitte and Patrick, and long-time friend James Broadway.
Now, six months into lockdown, the Tedesca kitchen hasn’t stopped, translating the osteria's fixed-course menu into weekly lunch-to-dinner ‘lockdown survival boxes’, which Brigitte humbly describes as “an old school, home cooked meal for four”.
Designed to “refill people’s homes with the nourishment and deliciousness of her kitchen”, each box features an ever-changing rotation of food experiences; an insight into Brigitte’s rich culinary journey — Great Ocean Road duck au vin and pomme boulangere (Box no.1), German-style stuffed savoy cabbage with pork sausage, mushrooms and chestnuts (Box no.3) and Middle Eastern-style lamb Shawarma with flatbread, tzaztiki and pilaff (Box no.4).
Looking forward, Brigitte plans on another iteration of her Bake Shops, a weekend tradition during Stage 3 restrictions. The house-baked sweets and pastries give a tasty sample of what's to come in the future of Tedesca, in a less socially-distant world.