Shooting onto the scene last autumn (and picking up a chef’s hat at almost the blink of an eye) Biota Dining in Bowral in NSW’s Southern Highlands has been a labour of love.
“My dad, Iain, and I built Biota for nearly a year before it opened,” says executive chef and owner James Viles. “We dug everything by hand. We did the irrigation, poured the cement slabs … You name it, Dad and I did it together, while Mum designed the kitchen garden.”
With Viles in the kitchen, his dad managing the books and his mum – a horticulturalist by trade – running the garden (Biota has its own onsite kitchen garden and a glasshouse that grows more than 40 varietals of imported seeds), the chef admits family is vital to his business.
“My father and I are best mates. We open the restaurant together at 8 o’clock in the morning and we lock it up together at midnight. On a Saturday night, he’ll be polishing all the glasses – we have staff for that, but he just enjoys it.”
Biota means “animals and plant life of a particular region”. As the name suggests, Viles always knew he wanted to work close to nature.
“We use Mother Nature to guide us,” explains the chef. “It makes it easier and means we’re only using what’s in season. The whole thought process is almost like joining the dots. If we need to think about a dish too long, then it’s not natural and it’s not meant to be.”
Viles and his father have recently taken over a neighbouring 13-room “Alfred Hitchock-style” hotel. They plan to refurbish and extend Biota into a dine-and-stay destination, given its semi-rural location 90 minutes out of Sydney.
As for the best part about working with his dad, Viles’s answer is prompt: “It’s a natural trust that we don’t ever need to question. I wouldn’t do this with anybody else.”