Disclosure: I visited the Agrarian Kitchen as a guest of Rodney and Severine, but all opinions are my own.
Be prepared: visiting the Agrarian Kitchen might involve a stabbing, painful case of the Life Envies. If you love kitchen gardens – this is the garden you would have in our dreams. If you love cookbooks – this is the cookbook collection you would have. And if you like to cook, this is the kitchen you would spend your days in.
Rodney Dunn and his wife Severine Demanet opened the Agrarian Kitchen eight years ago as a place for them to create ‘paddock to plate’ cooking experiences. They found this farm (5 acres surrounding a 19th century schoolhouse) in the Lachlan Valley, 45 minutes outside Hobart in 2007. They then proceeded to renovate extensively (and acclimatise to the the biting Tasmanian winter) before forging ahead, newborn baby in tow, to open their cooking school in 2009.
‘During the first year of our operation, it was just the two of us’, says Rodney. ‘I would teach the class and Severine would wash up, in between caring for Tristan. She would put him down for a sleep in time to help serve the meal and pour the wine. If we were lucky he would sleep through until the end of class.’
That was then. Now, the Agrarian Kitchen is a bustling, beautiful garden paradise, and the cooking school has won international accolades.
When I visited recently, our day began with coffee and cake, chatting with our group of eight and admiring the cookbooks.
Oh my giddy aunts old donkey, the cookbooks. It’s an amazing collection. (Rivals my mothers, which is saying something.)
Next, we clambered into the house gumboots, gathered our baskets and went out for a roam around the garden, animal pens and smokehouse. Across their five acres, Rodney and Severine have created a vegetable and herb garden, berry patch, and orchard, all functioning around principles of sustainable practice. From the poly-tunnels to the smokehouse, it’s a living work of art. Really beautiful.
We gathered ripe and seasonal provisions for our feast, and all the while, Rodney – charming, taking even our stupidest questions seriously – explained their farming practice and pointed out interesting things in the garden. For instance, we stood chatting and tasting herbs for ages, while Rodney explained that purslane has the highest omega 3 of any herb – a great nutrition boost for salads – and chive plants made the loveliest (edible) purple dandelion-like flowers. Lemon balm mint has a lovely flavour ( and makes a nice tea) while lovage, an under-utilised garden hero can be used ‘like a stock cube’ according to Rodney. Also, tomato plants love a tea made of beetroot leaves. From Rodney, to me, to you. You’re welcome!
We got up close and personal with Rodney’s goat. I was so excited to milk her, which felt, unexpectedly, like squeezing a hot, furry, water balloon, something I’ve had on my bucket list for quite some time. We collected enough milk to cook with, and to taste (fun fact: fresh goats milk tastes like a very creamy cows milk. The ‘goatiness’ develops with age.)
Next, we headed into the kitchen, where a most glorious moment came for me (hallelujah! )when I found the stools tucked away under each perfectly stocked counter-space. I’d been stepping from foot to foot for a while like an high-strung pony and worrying about how to manage the next four hours on my feet. My back would never stand up to a commercial kitchen. Also, I’m pretty sure that Gordon Ramsey doesn’t bring you a coffee while you read through your cooking plan.
We all strapped on our aprons and grinned at each other across the long bench. Real life Masterchef! With coffee! And stools! I could not have been happier.
We split into pairs to work on each section of the menu, under Rodney’s guidance. Here’s our menu:
My team-buddy and I were put on the Wagyu beef dish, which featured the most glorious Cape Grim beef.
Pretty soon the kitchen was full of activity as we all chopped and diced and simmered. We made ricotta and ice-cream with our goats milk and learned to roll a pasta rotolo – sort of a roulade – in a clean tea-towel, rather than glad wrap. Rodney advised and taught. Tips from a chef! So much fun. Here’s one: little patty-pans make the perfect blind-baking-bean holders when making individual pies. Also, ‘never miss an opportunity to develop flavour, ‘ says Rodney. ‘Always cook your onions for ten or fifteen minutes to give them a chance to release the sugars. Have patience.’
After a couple of hours, our feast was ready to hit the table and we all sat down for a glass of wine and to taste our creations – which were delicious of course. Ingredients fresh-collected from the garden and cooked by an enthusiastic team of eight. Plus, all that country air had worked us all up quite an appetite.
It’s so fun to be in the company of other food-lovers, learning a new skill and wandering through such an astonishing garden. Plus, it’s hard not be inspired spending time with somebody like Rodney, who, along with his wife, has imagined and executed his dream with such panache. If you are visiting Tasmania, the Agrarian Kitchen might well be the highlight of your trip.