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No.100 Experiencing the Agrarian Lifestyle in Tasmania

It was a crisp Spring morning when we left Hobart to take the 40-minute drive to the town of Lachlan in the Derwent River Valley. Sometimes while on the road, I like to check the temperature app to see how the weather is fairing in New York. With some relish, I saw it was a steaming hot September evening. I rolled down the window and let Southern Tasmania’s fresh sea breeze blow in.

We were on our way to visit with chef and author and Rodney Dunn and his wife/partner Severine to tour The Agrarian Kitchen, the cooking school they started ten years ago. It is located in a beautiful 129-year-old school house on a bit of fertile farmland for which the Derwent Valley is renowned.

The first colonial settlers arrived in the Derwent Valley soon after Europeans showed up in Tasmania, around 1803. The main town of New Norfolk was established a few years later when several hundred settlers from remote Norfolk Island relocated in 1807.


On arrival, we’re greeted by a drove of piglets in the adjacent pasture who rushed to meet us. They were taking a break from their hard work turning the soil in search of tasty roots; all the while creating the perfect soil conditions for a crop next season.

Greeting us in the lofty Kitchen classroom, Rodney has an expresso at the ready. A chef turned food editor for Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, Rodney dramatically changed course and moved to Tasmania to impart his knowledge of food and cooking to others. His passion for honest ingredients was the driving force causing him to uproot from urban life in Sydney and settle in a rural homestead in “Tassie.”

The Agrarian Kitchen’s mission is to attest the power of great ingredients; how to grow them, what they taste like, and how to prepare them. The school offers several courses, the most popular involving getting your hands dirty in both soil and kitchen. It gives you an inside look at a real farm-to-table experience and inspires students with ideas to try at home even if at home you don’t have a farm out the back door.

Heading out into the garden we don The Agrarian Kitchen’s student attire, spiffy custom jackets, and wellies that keep you clean while you dig into the experience. The property came with a garden, but over time, Rodney moved things around, extended the fields, added polytunnels, “learning by failing” as he calls it. Now he has a compact but comprehensive agricultural system producing a good portion of the food for the school and a bit for The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in nearby New Norfolk. Wandering through free-ranging chickens, goats, and sheep, a noisy peacock startles us. Rodney says the peacock just showed up one day and has proved a real pain, utterly full of himself and always causing a raucous. Jokingly Rodney says his days might be numbered.

Rodney’s extensive knowledge of and passion for farm-to-table cooking have garnered him quite a reputation with students coming from all over the world to take his classes. Even home-and-cooking maven Martha Stewart made a pilgrimage all the way down under with an Agrarian Kitchen visit a featured part of her itinerary. And recently London cooking star Chef Yottam Ottolenghi and Rodney joined forces for a public talk in Hobart. Word is spreading about Tasmania’s bounty and the talented chefs preparing it.

Rodney and Severine have created a real gem in The Agrarian Kitchen, an idyllic farm-to-table ecosystem where anyone can experience and learn about growing and preparing food. We could have easily willed away many more days on the farm learning how it all works, but it’s lunchtime! We are hungry and next on our program is a visit to The Agrarian Kitchen’s latest venture The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery.

For people who are not able to partake in The Agrarian Kitchen’s full educational program, a restaurant is a perfect way for more people to engage with the benefits and delights of Tassi farm-to-table. So when the opportunity arose, Rodney and Severin opened The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in nearby New Norfolk.

A prominent part of the town of New Norfork is an extensive compound of now abandoned buildings, formerly an institution for the mentally ill with origins going all the way back to Tasmania’s convict past. The compound has laid idle since the 1970s. The city offered one of the buildings as a home for the new restaurant.

The lofty light-filled dining room is unaltered from its original use, complete with tin ceiling and institutional linoleum floors: the only addition, an enormous brick wood-fired oven. Combining passion, knowledge, and hospitality, the eatery has brought new life to the community drawing new visitors to New Norfolk.

Of course, all the ingredients come from local purveyors and, as much as possible, from The Agrarian Kitchen farm. Rodney has plans to add a kitchen garden behind the eatery for more immediate pickings. Each dish is built around a featured ingredient. To reinforce the produce-focused approach, many dishes are presented in recognizable form: as if plucked directly from the garden bed, cooked and plated without much fuss. The simplicity belies the work that goes into it though.

Some of the dishes I sampled are amongst my most memorable ever! Like the wood-roasted green garlic with salted cumquat and toasted sesame, or the raw lamb with anchovy cream, buckwheat, and bitter leaves. Some amazing cheffing going on here. With a well-curated wine list and friendly staff, it’s clear why the eatery is renowned near and far.

When you go, don’t forget to pick up a copy of Rodney’s book, “The Agrarian Kitchen.” Or get it now and start your Agrarian Kitchen experience right away!

Details

For classes and reservations follow the link. We highly suggest reserving a table at the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery ahead of your visit. It’s open Friday to Monday. theagrariankitchen.com


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

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