SEVEN busy friends with a love of cooking and in desperate need of some relaxation, decided that instead of a night out wining and dining, we could make a day of it by taking part in an Agrarian Kitchen cooking class.
As we entered the property in Lachlan, a 45 minute drive from Hobart, we were struck by the beauty and peacefulness of the Tasmanian bush, which banished any lingering tensions from our busy lives.
It was here, in the rolling hills of the Derwent Valley, in a 19th century schoolhouse, we would spend the next 7 hours unwinding, cooking, learning and laughing.
Like so many mainlanders looking to break away from their hectic city lives, Rodney Dunn and his wife Severine Demanet sought refuge on our tranquil island nine years ago.
As the former Food Editor of the Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine and apprentice to internationally renowned chef Tetsuya Wakuda, Rodney wanted to create an environment that would help people reconnect what they eat with where it comes from.
The Agrarian Kitchen is set on five acres with a menagerie of pigs, chickens, goats, geese and honeybees.
When they can't dip into their own vegetable patch, orchard, herb garden or berry patch, he and his wife use local growers, fishermen and producers to provide ingredients of their classes.
The classes are now becoming so popular, people are flying in from all over the country to take part in the paddock-to-plate experience.
Our class starts as all good days should- with coffee, and cake.
We take a leisurely amble through the beautiful edible gardens where Rodney explains their philosophy for gardening and cooking and encourages us to get acquainted with our herbs.
To avoid using harmful chemicals for pest control, they use companion planting, grouping plants together in a way that attracts beneficial insects, keeps pests at bay and helps the herbs support each other by providing shade or adding vital nutrients to the soil.
And it appears to be working, we spotted plenty of little critters during our walk, including this tiny frog!
We have never been able to grow it to any substantial size before it goes to seed, but we learnt that it relies more on daylight hours for its cue on when to go to seed. It likes shorter days (and who doesn’t!) so Rodney suggests growing it in winter.
But if it does go to seed, then do not pull it out. Grow those seeds and dry them out to use later or sprinkle on a dish. They are beautiful and have a subtle peppery orange flavour.
We had no idea there were so many types of mint. We were schooled in four varieties with completely different flavours. We were also delighted to see how a herb could be integrated into the garden as an attractive ground cover.
We need one, now. Not only do these small bushes smell delicious, letting off wafts of lemon if you brush against the leaves, they can be made into tea just using a few leaves and hot water, and they have delicate pretty flowers that attract tiny bees.
After our crash course in herbs we met the resident goats. It turns out they would be providing the milk that we would later use to make ricotta. And, we would be milking them!
On a stroll through the orchard we picked rhubarb for our rhubarb and currant tart. On the way we also discovered Shiso, a deep purple lettuce-like plant to be used in our cucumber pickle. Shiso is actually a member of the mint family and has a spicy cinnamon flavor.
Then it was off to the old bath worm farm to dispose of rhubarb leaves.
On the way we stumbled across a pretty row of native strawberries and I tried a white strawberry for the first time. After finding three more, I decided that I would add these to my must grow list!
We continued on to the greenhouses to pick the enormous zucchini flowers and ogle at the watermelons, avocado tree and countless tomato plants.
A highlight was arriving at the 'berry' section of the property. It included white currants (who knew these existed!!), gooseberries (yes, I now understand why a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc describes a 'subtle hint of gooseberries'), blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and more strawberries!
We pulled out enough yellow beetroot, carrot and turnips for the group and headed back to the kitchen.
The next 2 hours were the most relaxing we have experienced in a kitchen (perhaps because we did not have children under our feet!). The skills of the novice chefs in the kitchen were varied, yet Rodney created a warm, friendly and inviting environment without even a hint of culinary snobbery.
Here is the menu we prepared:
Despite initially being the most daunting, ricotta was surprisingly simple to make. Fresh goats milk (collected earlier) heated and combined with a small amount of vinegar created this beautiful cheese.
For us the highlight was making and eating the zucchini flowers. They were paired with a cold, crisp glass of Frogmore Creek Chardonnay.
We were amazed by the selection of produce that was being pickled and fermented onsite and can't wait to go back and do the fermentation class.
So if, like us, you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life or share an amazing experience with friends, we can highly recommend this culinary class.