Recently I navigated 45 minutes outside of Hobart through the rolling countryside of the Derwent Valley to a charming town called Lachlan, home to The Agrarian Kitchen.
The Agrarian Kitchen is the stunning creation of chef Rodney Dunn and his wife Severine Demanet. The couple offer a sustainable and farm-based Tasmanian cooking school serving up the ultimate paddock to plate experience. We were signed up to complete their ‘Vegetarian Experience’ – a course that promised to offer a hearty vegetarian feast to please even the biggest meat advocate.
Due to my inability to cook toast without burning it, I was a little nervous as the car crept up their gravel driveway. A day spent with a renowned chef in his home kitchen seemed, well, daunting to say the least. As I stepped out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the picturesque valley and the sting of the cold winter air against my cheeks. The setting of the cooking school could only be described as idyllic.
Chef Rodney and his wife, Severene warmly welcomed us on arrival and we were soon presented with café quality coffees and seated in a prime position before a plate of freshly-baked brownies beside a roaring fire. It was the perfect way to overcome the cold Tasmanian day.
The brownies had a heavenly gooey centre that could only have been produced by the well practiced hands of someone who knew their way around the kitchen. I was immediately warmed by the welcoming interior of their home boasting crammed bookshelves and a dining table set to host a feast. My nerves soon began to fade away.
Rodney and Severine’s home is a charming converted 19th Century schoolhouse and the kitchen is the true centrepiece, oozing period charm. From the moment I stepped into Rodney and Severine’s home, I felt at ease and ready for a day of foraging and cooking (well attempting, at least).
After we acquainted ourselves with 7 other guests over a brownie or two, we pulled on the provided gumboots and rain jackets and made our way through the light drizzle into their garden. ‘Garden’ does not quite fit the bill – let’s call it ‘their very own slice of paradise on earth’. This paradise was crammed with monster-size cabbages, pumpkins, just-laid eggs, herbs poking their way through the soil, carrots and a variety of seasonal vegetables. As Rodney expertly led us to around his very own paradise, we plucked the vegetables from the ground and tucked them safely away in our baskets. Our hands were covered in dirt and the rain started to cascade in thick sheets, but the experience was utterly magical and the setting was unbeatable.
Once we were safely inside, tucked up in our aprons with clean hands and a hot drink to thaw our frozen bodies, we began to prepare the fresh produce. We scrubbed the dirt from the ground off the potatoes and gathered the ingredients necessary to create the recipe we had been allocated, which in our case was a potato, cauliflower and coriander curry. Rodney explained the recipes, guiding us through the techniques. He calmed my nerves by assuring me that he enjoyed teaching beginner cooks the most.
Throughout the day, the scent of vegetable stock hung in the air like a welcome perfume and a constant clatter could be heard as we rummaged around the kitchen looking for pots and pans to craft the carefully considered seasonal recipes provided to us.
Rodney taught us the art of rolling and frying Lebanese flatbread, how to shape gnocchi with love, how to season a dish to enhance the flavour. We tasted the difference between unsalted vegetable stock and salted and experienced how a simple splash of cream and dollop of Stilton cheese could transform a simple parsnip soup into a mouth-watering masterpiece. Over the course of the day, I started to understand the beauty of paddock to plate and the craft of cooking. It was much more than just the slap-dash approach I had managed to master.
At the conclusion of the class, the dishes were set in front of us in the form of a feast and we piled our plates high. Our meals were paired with fine Tasmanian wine, including my personal favourite, the unique Pinot Noir produced by Three Willows Vineyard on the rugged Cradle Coast (well worth a stopover if you ever find yourself in that corner of the state).
The feast was brought to an end with a steaming mug of Severine and Rodney’s home brewed chamomile tea and one final brownie (don’t ask how many I had during the day!).
For anyone looking to explore Tasmania and encounter a truly unique paddock to plate experience in a magical setting, don’t hesitate to visit The Agrarian Kitchen. Bookings are essential so make sure you book early to avoid disappointment!
Thank you Rodney and Severine for your magical hospitality and for allowing me to meet your gorgeous daughter!