Where to eat in the Southern Highlands, New South Wales: Chef James Viles of biota, Bowral

James Viles' biota is one of the most awarded regional restaurants in NSW, acknowledged for its ethical and sustainable practices as well as fine cuisine. At Bowral's Schoolhouse restaurant, the Southern Highlands native was one of the youngest chefs ever to receive a Chef's Hat. He went on to work in the Middle East and Europe, alongside chefs such as Hans Haas and Alain Ducasse before returning to open biota.

Viles is guest cooking as part of the Event Series at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand on September 24. See biotadining.com; capekidnappers.com.

WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE TABLE IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS?

I love going to The Hospital Shop between shifts at biota or first thing in the mornings. The coffee is the best in town and the people are great. (No website, 4 Mona Road, Bowral).

THE LOCAL FOOD DISCOVERY OF THE PAST YEAR?

We recently discovered amazing wild native raspberries growing on the edge of the Budderoo Plateau, which is about 20-30 minutes from the restaurant. They are picked by a lady named Penny. It's such a fragrant and earthy raspberry, which is totally different to the farmed generic raspberry we all know.

I have also just returned from a trip in the Top End. I experienced so many new and interesting flavours and ingredients that have given me new direction. Our country has so much to offer and we rarely get to experience it in such a raw way.

WHAT IS THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS' BEST-KEPT FOOD SECRET?

It is a very diverse region with some of the best producers in the country, from Pecora Dairy who are making artisan sheep's milk cheese, to Redleaf Farm pigs in Fitzroy Falls. Then there is the Borrowed Land garlic. It is some the most wonderful garlic I have ever tasted. See pecoradairy.com.au; redleaf-farm.com; farmhousedirect.com.au/borrowedlandgarlic.

PLACE TO GO ON A DAY OFF?

On my rare days off I like to go down to Wollondilly River Station, pitch a tent and do some fly fishing in the river. It is extremely mountainous, beautiful countryside and a very inspiring place to spend 48 hours. There is always something to forage and experience whilst I am down there – always searching. See wollondillyriverstation.com.

FAVOURITE INDULGENCE IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS?

I love a pie from Gumnut Patisserie at Mittagong. Those guys make the best pies I have ever had. I also love the bread and pastries from Flour Water Salt. See gumnutpatisserie.com.au; flourwatersalt.com.au.

PLACE TO GO FOR A BIG NIGHT OUT?

This is a hard one as I am always at work, I hear that biota Bar is pretty good on a Friday and Saturday night. We serve cocktails made from local fruit's pulps, pits and seeds, we even have local feijoas that grow in Mittagong that we use to make a feijoa sour with.

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BEST TIME TO VISIT, AND WHY, FOOD-WISE IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS?

Every season has its advantages and amazing seasonal produce. Personally I think the best time to visit Bowral is in winter. We are 800 metres above sea level and it can snow. During the colder months you find beautiful pine mushrooms in the local forests, which we regularly put on the menu or create a special dish for the Bar. There are also a number guesthouses and places to stay with big jacuzzis and log fires.

WHAT SHOULD A VISITOR AVOID, FOOD-WISE, IN THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS?

Come and experience the region, experience our local growers and farmers. Try to steer clear of commercialism as much as you can and get around to the local wineries.

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