Six years ago, Rodney Dunn moved his family from Sydney to a remote spot in Tasmania to try living from the land.
Rodney, a former chef and food editor and his wife Severine were looking for an alternative to inner city life following the birth of their first child, Tristian. They wanted to grow their own food and somehow combine this idyllic life with a business to fund it.
The couple settled on a charming former school house oozing character set on five acres outside of Lachlan, a 40-minute drive north of Hobart. And so the Agrarian Kitchen was conceived, where they teach others how to grow and cook using the produce from their own plot. Part farm and part upmarket cooking school, it is wholly lovely.
Their “Agrarian Experience” day is an overview of what they have done and the philosophy behind it. The day starts at 9am with an espresso and a still warm cake. The other participants, ironically primarily from Queensland, trickle in to chat and flick through Rodney’s extensive, magnetic cookbook collection.
In front of a crackling kitchen fire, Rodney then explains the format of the day and what we will be cooking for lunch. We don wellies and jackets to spend a few hours perusing the herb garden, vegetable gardens and poly tunnels used to extend the growing season. (The day I go in early November, there’s a cold snap with snow falling on Hobart’s Mt Wellington).
Everyone takes a turn milking the goat whose efforts are later turned into icecream and curd for a salad. We admire the Berkshire pigs with their new litter of frisky piglets and the smokehouse where they are transformed into edible feasts. A gaggle of geese wanders by and broody hens and their chicks are herded from the tangle of broad beans back to the hen house. It is relaxed, informative and bucolic.
Along the way, we pick what’s needed for lunch then head back to the kitchen to team up for lunch preparation. I volunteer to do the Sicilian roasted pork leg stuffed with onion, olives, pine nuts and currants. This is way beyond my normal culinary scope.
At around 2pm and with well-developed appetites, we sit down to lunch. Tassie wines are matched to each of the courses that include twice cooked soufflé with spinach and raclette, a quinoi dish, a broad bean salad and to finish rhubarb mascarpone dacquoise. Everything is an indirect lesson about the richness of the produce that Tasmania offers.
The day winds up at 4.30pm, just enough time to take a drive around the local area before heading back to the nearest town, New Norfolk, for some more jaw-dropping exploration and a stop overnight.
Originally Rodney and Severine envisaged doing everything themselves, by running a few classes each week, but overwhelming interest in their self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle has seen a packed schedule booked months in advance and a necessary coterie of support staff.
The family lives onsite with their kitchen and dining room shared with the business. I am sure that after the frenzy of the work day when the class participants trundle off clutching Rodney’s recipes and the chef’s apron they have used during the day, they cannot wait to pour a Tassie pinot noir and relax in their own garden of Eden.
Words by Janet Kieseker