Expect the unexpected at Appellation, where executive chef, Kyle Johns is weaving his culinary magic and adding a touch of spice to one of the region’s most stunning dining destinations.
Taking in the panoramic views of the vineyards and ranges beyond, the jovial 29 year old reveals a wide smile as he tells of the journey which eventually led him to his dream job in the Barossa.
Born in South Africa, he moved with his family to Sydney as a two year old, growing up on the east coast where the beach was his playground.
Experiencing his own family’s unique food culture and absorbing all that surrounded him, Kyle was drawn into the industry at a young age.
“I think I always wanted to be a chef,” he says.
“I had a couple of things I was into for a little while there, photography and beach lifesaving. I went down those two avenues, but they were just not as sustainable as I thought and being a chef was, so I just went into that full steam ahead!”
He did what he says were all the “usual things” needed to make his vision reality, leaving high school early to fast track his goal.
“Then I just kept working for about 10 years in Sydney at many big, fine dining restaurants there. I spent half of my career doing that.”
Yet Kyle’s love for the great outdoors was strong and adventure beckoned.
“I came to the Barossa originally about three years ago. My wife, Kayley and I were on a van trip and we needed a job to make some extra cash while we were on the road… We ended up getting a message from Ryan Edwards and Jim Carreker to see if we could come in and do some casual hours, we said yes and we lived on the property for about three and a bit months.”
The couple left to continue on their epic Australian road trip with Kyle savouring every moment as he experienced everything from spear fishing to livestock mustering.
“I love being outside, hence the van trip… I went around for a year and a bit. Not only did I work here at Appellation, I worked in a cattle Station, I worked in burger trucks up in WA at a Rodeo. I kind of went a little bit cowboy there for awhile! I bought an Akubra and everything, got the RM boots,” he laughs.
“Long story short, we finished the trip, ended up loving the Barossa and came back here.”
He reconnected with friends and mentors from his Appellation days and was soon given the opportunity to start three75 bar + kitchen.
“We opened that almost a year ago now and that’s going well, especially with the locals, they love going there,” says Kyle of the casual yet refined restaurant.
“I think I bring a different style of cooking – casual, but still full of flavour. I don’t hold back when it comes to spices or seasoning or anything like that, I think that’s what the Barossa needs! My burgers are very different to what anyone else serves around here – it’s fun, approachable food that anyone can eat.”
Twelve months in and Kyle was invited to take on the position of executive chef. He now brings his sense of adventure to “Appellation” celebrating the very best of Barossa at the highest level.
For Kyle, it’s “returning home” to his fine dining background whilst allowing him to add his own personality.
“I think I offer something different,” says Kyle.
“For instance, one of my dishes is a peri-peri parfait and it’s quite classic to serve a parfait in an environment like Appellation because there is a lot of technique to make it perfect, but I’ve taken it a step further by making my own peri-peri sauce – I’m spicing it up a bit!
“I’m using classic French techniques but with my own flair and style… My food looks really simple, I don’t even garnish some of my dishes, yet the flavour is very complex. That’s what I strive for.
“I guess I’m thinking with a Sydney mind rather than a Barossa one, but I’m still keeping it local in terms of the produce and producers I use, that’s important to me.”
Kyle’s adventurous spirit led him to return to South Africa where he was able to “re-grasp” his food heritage with its unique Indian and Portuguese flavour profiles.
“South African cuisine has a lot of influences from all over…I’ve been back over there and cooked at a professional level, got a new understanding of it so now I bring a couple of those cultural reflections back into my menu here,” says Kyle.
“I approach food with a lot of love and care. I’m very generous as a person and I think it shows with my flavours and my food.”
It’s fair to say this big-hearted chef with even bigger personality is forever grateful to have driven through the Barossa in his van that time.
There’s nowhere else he’d rather call home and he’s been to plenty of wonderful destinations.
“The produce here and the wine is obviously a given. I don’t know, I can’t explain it, I just love it!” says Kyle.