When the possibility we may be able to attend a cooking class on our Tasmanian trip came up, my heart started pounding with excitement. I hadn't had the pleasure of formal culinary training in donkey years and that was 2 years of home economics classes in secondary school. That was hardly any fun at all, but since then, I have rediscovered the joys in the kitchen and I really didn't want to miss this opportunity to take that love a step further.
The cooking school in question: The Agrarian Kitchen. They are also currently featured in this month's Gourmet Traveller.
We obviously couldn't have picked a worst afternoon for our cooking class.
The rain was coming down in ropes (a bastardised translated French saying to mean 'heavy rain') and we had a little trouble getting our Torago up the wet gravel driveway. We all felt terribly sheepish after tearing a hole in the path and ran as quickly as we could indoors, where we were very warmly greeted at the door by owners Rodney & Séverine Dunn (and their son Tristan, balanced on a hip).
After being offered comforting cups of coffee and tea (they have a mean coffee machine), Rodney introduced us to his little piece of heaven, as we waited for the rain to lighten up.
Rodney comes from a farming family before moving to the big city of Sydney to pursue his culinary interests. However he said he felt there had to be more to sharing great food. He mentioned that on his travels around the world, including Italy, he would taste the local cuisine so close to the origins of its produce and wish he could bring back the freshness and flavour back.
The Agrarian Kitchen is the result of that belief and passion,
built around the philosophy of reconnecting the kitchen with the land
by supporting sustainable farming practices and organic gardening principles.
And you could see that passion light up in his eyes when he talked about
the garden, the vegetables, the animals - even his neighbours, all of whom he insists call him 'crazy'.
Physically, the cooking school is a renovated 1887 old schoolhouse in Lachlan, refurbished within to hold a stunning kitchen overlooking the herb garden and geese corral, and simple dining room.
The 5 acre plot is also home to 2 Wessex Saddleback pigs (not named for obvious reasons) and 6 new addition piglets (one Rodney proudly announces he hopes to keep as a breeder), 2 Jersey cows - one which will be milking soon, beautiful egg-laying Barnevelder chickens and a gaggle of geese.
We weren't given a choice in the menu.
Mother Nature dictated what our table would have, but that's nothing to complain about.
It simply meant we would have the best there was on offer.
The kitchen itself is gorgeous!
Converted from the original classroom, one entire side is almost ceiling to bench of windows to the damp outdoors
and in the very centre is the communal work bench, set with 8 cutting boards, knives & aprons.
There are 4 large sinks, which remind me of laboratory benches - except a million times cleaner
and another dedicated to handwashing.
For cooking, there are 3 ovens, enough gas hobs to make me dizzy
and an Alan Scott designed wood-fired masonry oven, which I bet would make the best roasts & pizzas.
And in case you didn't notice, there's even a meathook above my head, from which our lamb hung from.
Rodney lugged the slaughtered lamb from his cold room and explained some of the finer points of the animal,
which he bought from a neighbour (and I'm sure he used the term loosely, since I didn't see any sheep in the neighbouring paddocks) who farmed the animals.
I never knew there was a difference between lamb, hogget and mutton,
thinking the terms were all used interchangeably.
I obviously had a lot to learn.
He also showed us just how much meat is in the neck
and given how it is usually quite an inexpensive cut, I might actually try some recipes with it in future.
But what we were really after was the ribs.
Being this close to the lamb as Rodney cut through the flesh and bone (with a saw),
I found myself fascinated with the patterns of muscle and other tissue.
... despite the photo above depicting my lack of attention. (^_^;;)
When the rain was a little more gentle, we donned wellies, armed ourselves with umbrellas
and picked up woven baskets with cutters to carry whatever we could find in the 2 vegetable plots for our dinner.
Or pop into our mouths, straight from the bush/vine/earth.
There is such an abundance of food and we had such a blast eating uncooked vegetables:
beans, tomatoes, asparagus (OMG, so yummy), raspberries, blackberries, etc.
How anyone could hate eating fresh vegetables after tasting such glorious flavour is beyond human comprehension.
The cooking preparation is actually pretty straight forward.
We paired up to tackle one dish each, but weren't opposed to helping each other out
when there was a waiting period for our own dish (eg. ribs are in the oven, rice and lentils are steaming).
Which, by the way, I and a wife got dessert: I handled the custard and she handled the meringues.
And the general sense of community was surprising.
We were a group of people who had never had very much interaction before,
but here we were: laughing and chatting as we cleaned, sliced, chopped, ground, mixed, whisked, fried, roasted, boiled and simmered our dinner.
All under the watchful eye of Rodney, who must've been run off his feet
as he went from pair to pair to help anyone with a question.
The SO on the other hand, paired with one of the other wifes to do the corn and cumin fritters.
And he loved it!
Bear in mind that when asked to cook dinner, the only things he can come up with
that doesn't involve a can or packet, are steaks, sausages, mash potatoes and very basic salad.
So to watch him concentrate as the onions softened on a heavy cast iron pan
in a cloud of fragrant cumin seed fumes was refreshing.
The rest of our party would be tasting the fruits of our labour,
as the class is limited to a maximum of 8 people, which really is the perfect group size to ensure
everyone gets the hands-on experience and makes light work for our dinner of 13 people.
When just about everything is ready and the madness in the kitchen has slowed down,
Rodney was more than happy to talk about a range of topics:
how to make a great compost (which almost sounded like a cake recipe),
what classes were planned next (the whole hog - a 2 day experience, handmade pasta, tortes and gâteaux),
what might be in the pipeline for the Agrarian Kitchen (incidentally, a smoke house), etc.
And he'd always be able to follow that with a book from his huge bookcase in the dining room.
There was just about every type of cuisine on those shelves:
from different cultures and continents, to preserving and roasting.
If their garden was first on my kidnap list, those books would be a very close second. (^_^)
Dinner itself was magnificient. Accompanied by all local ales and wines, we savoured every bite.
If we hadn't been the ones preparing the food,
we probably wouldn't have believed this came from a garden less than 100 metres away
and harvested less than a few hours ago.
And finally our dessert, which is to die for.
However, I will always appreciate the convenience of pre-made custard,
while my mouth waters in rememberance of the fresh homemade stuff.
But we already knew that there is nothing to compare against homemade and freshly harvested produce.
How do you pit something against how Nature had always intended, with the tiniest coaxing from Man?
This experience simply cemented that fact and inspired me to dream and plan for my own piece of heaven.
Rodney and Séverine are wonderful inspiring hosts, and we had the most enjoyable time, learning and sharing their space at the Agrarian Kitchen, come rain or shine.
The Agrarian Kitchen Pty Ltd
650 Lachlan Road
Lachlan, Tasmania 7140
Tel: +61 (0)3 6261 1099
Fax: +61 (0)3 6261 1427
This review has also been written for BerryTravels. Keep updated with new reviews on other eateries and sights on your f-list via the RSS feed berrytravels!