April 26, 2023
The tranquil Spicers Guesthouse in the Hunter Valley has welcomed Jayden Casinelli as the new head chef of their éRemo Restaurant, surrounded by vineyards and a verdant estate. Chef Jayden loves the endless opportunities for invention éRemo offers to the kitchen team as well as the diners.
“The beautiful space, the kitchen, the great produce and ever-changing menus, and our amazing staff are all what I love about this place,” says Jayden. “Our clientele are very diverse and have a broad palette, which makes éRemo like a blank canvas for our cooking.”
The Guesthouse has been a Hunter Valley icon since the mid-80s, and as now as a Spicers property, éRemo‘s modern Italian cuisine with a signature emphasis on locally sourced produce saw the restaurant achieve a Chef’s Hat in the 2023 Australian Good Food Guide and Reader’s Choice Award Winner (AGFG).
The three Spicers Retreats in the Pokolbin area, including Spicers Tower Lodge and Spicers Vineyards Estate, spoil you for choice whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, an adventure with friends, an inspiring business retreat or a wedding among the vines.
éRemo offers a range of dining experiences, from sitting on the lawn with a hand-spun pizza and Peroni, to a diverse a la carte menu, and a four-course shared dining experience with the ‘Avido’ menu (‘greedy’ in Italian), which is Jayden’s selection of dishes, served to share.
“I love the confidence of locals to not look at the menu and leave the cooking to us,” enthuses Jayden. He describes the style as inviting and relaxing, with a ‘coming home to the family’ vibe, with Italian inspiration in everything they do.
“Creating seasonal gnocchi dishes is one of my favourite things,” says Jayden. “Making gnocchi by hand with just roasted potatoes, flour and salt is a wonderful foundation for any flavours you can create. And I love tiramisu, it’s such a classic – who doesn’t love coffee and alcohol!”
Jayden is a fan of cooking ‘low and slow’, mentioning gelatinous beef cheeks or large cuts of lamb and venison given gentle treatment to relax the meat and unlock rich flavours that you can’t get any other way. He can also finish the meat on a BBQ to give it a smokey richness and add a crust of seasoning and fat to the dish, as with eRemo’s dish of a Jack’s Creek MB6 wagyu tri-tip, cooked sous vide for 36 hours then char grilled and served with pepperonata and candied onions.
éRemo is a destination in itself or the highlight of a country experience with the beauty and vitality of the environment being expressed, devoid of pretension, on the plate in front of you.
The éRemo garden grows kitchen staples that are picked daily, giving the kitchen team a sense of care for the food they’ve helped grow, including a wide range of herbs and zucchini, pumpkin, butter beans, passion fruit and heirloom cherry tomatoes.
Chef Jayden knows that choosing local products creates a relationship that keeps on giving, and eRemo sources from local growers and suppliers like Huntervale Hens for free-range eggs, Ali Farm for zucchini flowers, and Pokolbin Proteins for top-quality meats.
Jayden explains, “It’s great having a relationship with the producers because you get first-hand information about the food scene, you find out how you are doing and where the industry is heading.”
He continues, “If something comes up with late notice it is great to have a close relationship with people you know are happy to help you out and give back.”
In 2018 Jayden travelled to Italy and visited the region around Naples, Sorrento and the Amalfi coast, including the Casinelli ancestral town of Arpino, about 100km south-east of Rome.
“I ate my way through the best seafood and pizzas and saw 101 ways to use tomato and lemon,” recalls Jayden, “so it seems only fitting that I end up running Italian-inspired éRemo where I can put this experience into practice.”
Just a few of Jayden’s favourite things: fire-roasted vegetables, like smoked eggplant as a puree, roasted peppers in a sauce, and char-grilled squash; cured seafood, as crudo, brandade, or smoked mussels, and a combo of mussels and prawns, particularly with light pasta.
Jayden says that being a chef draws out creativity and passion that many industries can’t, in a hands-on role where he can see a project through to the end, like breaking down a fish, then cooking and serving it as a completed dish.
“Crispy skin pan-fried fish is a skill I expect all my chefs to master,” Jayden says, “it’s a great test of heat control and timing. If you can perfectly cook a piece of fish, you should be able to cook anything.”
Before creating new dishes, Head Chef Jayden expects his apprentices to nail the basics. By teaching them to be humble in their mistakes, and to know what they don’t know, they’ll gain success and be respected.
“One thing I keep saying to my apprentices when tasting is ‘make it 10 per cent more yum’,” Jayden says. That means he wants them to keep tasting dishes from the individual components to the near-finished dish, looking for flavours to add balance.
Now as a mentor himself, Jayden describes how he’s inspired to pass on the same effect his mentors had on him. He explains that if apprentice chefs want to grow and succeed in this industry then they need to show drive and energy.
So if Jayden can motivate a young chef to try that little bit harder or be that little bit better, then he feels like his job is done, because that kind of positive attitude will organically produce better food and create a more sustainable industry, with less staff burn out and more value for a hungry public.
Chef Jayden describes the food scene in his hometown of Shoalhaven on the NSW south coast when he lived there 10 years ago as a shell of what it is now, with several ‘hatted’ restaurants and a bustling food scene, wine producers and boutique beef and vegetable growers.
His auntie owned a busy cafe in Kiama, just up the road from Shoalhaven, and as a kid, Jayden loved seeing what everyone was up to in the kitchen.
“I realise now that I was probably that annoying kid getting in the way,” Jayden remembers. “I loved the hustle, creating meals and baking the sweets, knowing that the guests got just as much joy from eating there as I did.” Jayden did high-school work experience at the cafe and was hooked.
After he finished high school in 2014, with few options for his chef’s apprenticeship, Jayden spent the first few years of his career at the Bomaderry bowling club. In 2016 Jayden was offered a job at Muse Dining in the Hunter Valley and left Shoalhaven, eager to learn and one day return to give back to the food scene that he grew up in.
Muse Dining chef and owner Troy Rhodes-Brown had a powerful influence on the young Jayden with his humble yet refined attitude to food. “Working the main section with Troy taught me how important it is to stay calm under pressure and that having a high standard and work ethic comes before all else,” explained Jayden.
Jayden describes his admiration for Mitch Beswick, Muse Dining’s head chef, and his unique way of gathering flavours and textures across a range of cuisines and consolidating them into one solid menu with a firm identity. “Mitch upheld strict standards in the kitchen and yet maintained a personal relationship with all the chefs, something that isn’t always easy to do,” Jayden recalls.
One happy constant in Jayden’s career has been his close friend and colleague Brandon Cole; they’ve worked together in the past five kitchens they’ve been a part of. “It’s the kind of relationship where we don’t need to talk about food, we already know what the other wants to see on the plate,” says Jayden. “I was a groomsman at his wedding in 2021 and he’s been my sous chef at éRemo since November 2022.”
Spicers Guesthouse and eRemo Restaurant are near some of the most iconic cellar doors the Hunter Valley has to offer. Brokenwood’s cellar door complex is the largest in the Hunter Valley, and one of Australia’s First Families of Wine, Tyrrell’s, established in 1858, has a suite of tasting experiences that showcase their heritage vineyards and museum wines.
“At éRemo we get to cook for some of Australia’s best winemakers and their well-trained palates, it’s another great thing that makes this place exciting,” Jayden says.
“When creating new dishes I like to think what wine I would drink with this, I imagine being the guest and thinking what they’d enjoy,” Jayden explains. “Likewise when tasting a new wine, I think about what matching flavours I’d like to experience in a meal, and how I could balance that against the subtleties of the wine,” he says.
The bottles catalogued in éRemo’s wine list are exhaustive and inspiring, displayed provocatively on a scenic wine wall, offering a cross-section of the best local producers, including First Creek, Lakes Foley, Tulloch, Usher Tinkler and Angus Vinden, including rare vintages, and rounded out with classic regional Australian and international styles.
Jayden loves the unique food scene and boutique wine and food producers of the Hunter Valley, describing it as a playground for young chefs looking to earn their stripes. Jayden says, “the Hunter is in a class of its own, and we’re seeing more entries from the region in the AGFG every year. I haven’t thought about living or working anywhere else.”
When he’s not creating culinary magic at éRemo, Jayden takes full advantage of the magnificent natural environment, horse riding with his partner, playing in the weekly golf comp with his best mate and sous chef Brandon, or looking after his farm and animals.
Spicers Guesthouse is the perfect romantic base to experience life and explore the delights of the Hunter Valley. With 40 acres of grounds overlooking the surrounding mountain ranges and neighbouring vineyards, there are plenty of spots to sit down and enjoy a private picnic.
Featuring a mix of textures and patterns created by the use of natural materials, the stunning buildings encompass 45 rooms, a four-bedroom cottage, numerous event spaces, a dedicated wedding and events coordinator, and catering for groups of up to 120 people.
After enjoying an Italian feast at éRemo, Jayden humbly suggests that “of course, after a few selections from our world-class wine list, you could finish your meal by the open fire with some formaggio and a limoncello.”
After taking in the views of the sparkling Hunter Valley sky, guests can stay the night for an early morning hot air balloon, or take a tour of beautiful Pokolbin, visit the Pokolbin Farm Shop for local produce or browse the delicious stalls at the Hunter Wine Country Markets. Spa Anise at nearby Spicers Vineyards Estate is an elegant day spa with two treatment rooms, each with private courtyards.
éRemo Restaurant and the Guesthouse are a two-hour drive from Sydney or one hour from Newcastle; Sydney Airport is 180km away, and Newcastle Airport is 70km. Transfers are available upon request.