Inspiration

January 15, 2015

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noun

  1. - stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity

2014 was a hard year for me. Writing and processing book number two ‘Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads’, out February 24, really took a lot out of me. I questioned myself so much last year, about my actions, that I felt as if I was going crazy. Every time I thought I had the world’s food problems solved I hit a brick wall, and hit it hard. In next month’s journal piece I will talk more about that wall-of-food which I now believe is all down to food manufacturing, intense farming, food wastage, making foods a commodity and simply that the majority of people just don’t give a damn.

Anyhow, early in December and in need of some inspiration, Sharlee and I had a little treat as our joint birthday present: a foodie trip to Tassie to see my chef mate David Moyle at his new Hobart restaurant, Franklin. But we especially went to visit and attend a cooking school held at The Agrarian Kitchen just outside of Hobart. It’s run by the legend (well, I think he is) Rodney Dunn and his wife Severine Demanet. Sharlee and I didn’t expect to be blown away as much as we both were. It was real. It’s everything I see myself doing in the future ,if I have the balls. But, most importantly, it was honest and true to what food really is all about. You might think me crazy going to a cooking school when I’m supposed to be a professional chef! But it was just what I needed…somebody else to hold the reigns and allow me to drift through the day listening, learning and being inspired.

The day started with an hour’s drive from Hobart to Lachlan, soaking in the beautiful scenery along the Derwent Valley. With the river to the east, and me dreaming of fly fishing and catching huge trout, we turned right into a stunning signposted driveway. Then the magic started. We were greeted by Rodney at the door and served herbal teas, all made from the garden, and a delicious corn and blueberry cake to nibble on. The corn was from last year’s harvest that he had dried and ground to a polenta – eggs from his hens, local butter and blueberries from his garden (there’s a pattern emerging here, you’ll see). After a little debrief with all eight attendees, Rodney explained how the day would unfold. He discussed the menu, explaining who will cook what dish; then started us on the garden and farm tour.

We started in the tea garden – with every type of herb you could imagine – just outside of the front door. Rodney explained how his garden evolves with time, slowly taking different shapes through specific planting for his needs. It was a cracking way to start! We were lead into the first field and Rodney told us his plans for the next few years – an olive orchard which he has planted out, pumpkins in between and potatoes in rows throughout. We visited his Berkshire & Wessex saddleback pigs that he slaughters for different cooking schools throughout the year. We met the goat and everyone had a go at milking her, which we would use later in lunch recipes. We stepped inside the home built smoker and wandered through the old orchard.

I had to stop to take a breath. So many thoughts were racing in my head and filling me with excitement. I had that buzz that growing and eating food crazily does to me. It was at this point Sharlee turned to me and said ‘Calm yourself, I can hear your head racing with ideas and excitement.’ If I’m honest, in that moment, I wanted to cry. It was an amazing day, the weather was superb, that perfect mix of spring-summer, and the farm’s gardens looked amazing. Such a diverse time of year with the spring produce coming to an end but still very much there, and summer’s almost in full swing, and there are signs of early autumn, too – all around you in the shape of fruit, stems and leaves. Beautiful. This garden was about six weeks behind my own garden in Melbourne, so I was in my element. And we were only half way through!

We visited the asparagus, horseradish and wasabi patches. Come on Rodney, please! You’re killing me…wasabi?! Dozens of different varieties of heirloom veggies, the worm farm, the Barnvelder hens, his own meat birds (where he’s been crossing and breeding Indian game birds over White Sussexes), his green houses holding cucumbers, eggplants, many types of chilli and then one of the best small berry plots I have ever seen. It would take pages to write about all the varieties! I got to taste a gooseberry again and, even though it was a little under ripe, it’s something I haven’t tasted for about a decade now.

It was time to go in and get set on the menu. When we arrived inside we found iced tea, full to the brim with fresh mint and citrus – it almost reminded me of Pimms. I’ll not bore you with all the cooking bits, but below is the menu that we cooked in teams. When it came to eating each course we sat in his lounge (a converted schoolhouse with stunning large windows, beautiful crockery, cutlery and napery surrounded by cookbooks) and each course was matched to a local wine, homemade beer and cordials. We were so in the moment; all of us engaged, deep in conversation with each other. Sharing food stories of our present, past and future food stories. Our own stories. I know we all could have stayed there all night, drinking and talking, solving the world’s problems. But sadly with the time around 5pm and a dinner reservation at Gargistes back in Hobart, we had to go.

Raviolo of ricotta and egg yolk, nettle & lovage cream

Poached wagyu, coriander & horseradish relish

Quinoa, broad beans, fried artichokes & garlic dressing

Grilled zucchini, onions, radish & fresh curd

Rhubarb, berries & elderflower trifle

Rodney executed the whole day – the cooking and the tour – brilliantly. It must be hard for him to come up with new dishes each time, factoring in what’s growing around the farm. Plus the challenges of hosting eight guests, four days a week. People being in your home and always being ‘on show’ must make for exhausting days, but what is happening at The Agararian Kitchen is truly seasonal and sensational. No ifs or buts. They are true to the belief of eating from their land and surroundings, – a hard way of life, I know. It’s easy to say your restaurant or business is using ‘local’ ingredients. But when you leave that at the door and you enter your home and eat anything you want out of season, it’s not real. This shit is real. And I just want to thank Rodney for giving me some inspiration when I needed it the most.

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