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Wine, Kangaroos & More Wine: The Lifestyle of a Hunter Valley Chef

Hunter Valley, NSW

As the pandemic has greatly impacted the quality of life in populated cities across the globe, a 'tree change' has never been more appealing.

Many people dream of waking up to a peaceful country landscape, starting the day with a view of the warm, untouched sunrise and green rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see. With the fresh, clean air and silhouettes of kangaroos hopping in the distant vineyards, it is clear to see why Hunter Valley is a popular escape from the city, especially for wine connoisseurs and gastronomes alike.

For Le Cordon Bleu Brisbane Alumna, Chef Jani Johannes, this picturesque scene is home. After graduating with a Diplome de Cuisine from Brisbane’s stunning South Bank River campus, Jani is now living the dream in the Australian countryside as a chef.

“I always wanted to be a chef. Even since I was about 12, I wanted to become a pastry chef” says Jani. “When I was young, my brothers and I always wanted to bake the brownie mix we bought from the supermarket. I used to think, why do my brothers always fight about who is making them? And then I started making the brownies, and that’s where my passion for patisserie started. I especially enjoyed creating desserts at home.”

Jani and her family moved from South Africa to Australia, where she began pursuing her hospitality dream. Jani studied a Certificate III in Commercial Cookery as she was interested in learning both cuisine with elements of patisserie.

“I always knew that I wanted to study at Le Cordon Bleu. I had heard it’s one of the best culinary schools in the world” Jani explained. “I live closer to Sydney but heard about the special riverside campus in Brisbane and that’s why I decided to go to Brisbane for my studies. I think it is probably the best campus. I enjoyed it a lot there, you pay for the quality and it’s worth it. The most memorable thing about studying at Le Cordon Bleu was creating friendships there with people from all over the world. That was special. I am still in touch with some of my peers, most continued to study there and do their Certificate IV [in Commercial Cookery].”

Le Cordon Bleu Brisbane Alumna Jani Johannes
Images: Jani Johannes at Le Cordon Bleu Brisbane.

Following her Work Integrated Learning (WIL) placement at Alchemy Restaurant in Brisbane, Jani was offered a job to stay onboard as a chef, overseeing the garnishes and entrees at the luxurious Modern Australian restaurant. Although it was different to what she was wanting to do (desserts), Jani says she really enjoyed it and believes the opportunity allowed her to incorporate the skills acquired in her studies with workplace experience.

Surrounded by wine, food and natural beauty, Jani now lives in the heart of Hunter Valley on a vineyard just 10 minutes from where she works. Hunter Valley is around two hours’ drive from Sydney and is the oldest wine region in Australia, home to over 150 wineries, award-winning restaurants and accommodation. As a Pastry Chef for Leogate Estate Winery’s fine dining restaurant The Gates, Jani is crafting dessert masterpieces described as Modern Australian-style with Italian and French infusions, such as the delectable White Chocolate and Coconut Mousse with Pineapple Jelly, Liquorice Gel and Allspice Tuile.

Chef Jani Johannes at Hunter Valley
Images by Jani Johannes: Hunter Valley, Chef Jani plating a White Chocolate & Coconut Mousse dessert at The Gates Restaurant.

I love plating desserts.
Food styling is probably my favourite part of being a dessert chef.
- Chef Jani Johannes

Jani’s country lifestyle paired with her dream job as a pastry chef at a fine dining restaurant is a refreshing glimpse into the unlimited and unique opportunities available in the hospitality industry. Working from 9am to 4pm on a typical day at the restaurant and no late nights or weekends, Jani has the freedom to spend quality time with her family and work on her specialisations.

With her career in full swing, Jani has dreams to develop a niche food business in future and her family are also hoping to open a winery. “One of my brothers is now a wine maker in South Africa and he also enjoys the hospitality industry. He will come over to be the wine maker. We are also hoping in future to get a few cows and maybe have our own vegetable garden” says Jani.

Hunter Valley Wine Region
Image by Jani Johannes: Hunter Valley Vineyards.

For those aspiring to pursue their hospitality dream, Jani shared three tips to inspire budding chefs whilst embarking on their studies:

  1. Go for it! And enjoy it in the moment.
  2. Try to learn as much as you can from who is teaching you, their life experience can help you in every way.
  3. Always be organised so you can relax and have fun.

Experience a taste of the Hunter Valley wine region in NSW:


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