Is The Agrarian Kitchen the best damned cooking school in Australia? I need to try a few more to make an ultimate call, but Rodney Dunn’s new-ish Agrarian Kitchen – about a 40-minute drive out of Hobart in the quaint Derwent Valley town of Lachlan – is certainly a top contender. I used to work with Rodney when he was the food editor of Gourmet Traveller magazine (and I a mercenary freelance editor), and he’s always been a great bloke and a terrific cook. As he should be, considering he learned his trade in the kitchen of Sydney’s world-renowned Tetsuya’s.
So when I heard Rodney had left the mag to open a cooking school, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
Sarah and I recently did a whirlwind trip to Tassie, including a gruelling climb up much of the fantastically beautiful Cradle Mountain and a picture-perfect dinner at Launceston’s Asian-infused Stillwater River Cafe, and I made sure to make a stop at The Agrarian Kitchen. Classes weren’t in session the day I was passing through, but Rodney invited me over anyway for a tour of the converted schoolyard and the surrounding grounds. Besides, Luke Burgess, a former top food photographer and much-missed owner/chef of the defunct Pecora café in Birches Bay, was coming over to cook pizza in the wood-fired oven.
So what makes The Agrarian such an amazing place? Rodney’s incredible knowledge and skill would have been enough, but he has upped the ante by creating his own small farm, growing and raising all of his own produce. Not only does he grow a dizzying array of herbs, vegetables and fruit, he’s cultivating just about every different type of seed he can get his grubby hands on. I spotted a couple dozen types of tomatoes, from black Russian to heirloom varietals, some 14 types of raspberry, zucchini flowers, umpteen potatoes including a dazzling pink spud, and more fresh produce than I could explain without boring the hell out of Gosstronomy readers. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also raising two Jersey cows for milking, a few pigs for soil tilling and pork, geese for natural lawn-moving, and chooks for eggs and poultry.
What this means for the fortunate eight people who get to sit at the kitchen’s huge stainless-steel benchtop is that they not only get to learn to cook an elaborate meal with a top chef and food personality, but they get to choose the freshest possible produce from the farm and take it from the paddock all the way to the plate. To give a sense of what we’re talking about, here’s a sample menu from their website: Warning – reading this when famished can cause severe hunger pains:
- Prosciutto, ricotta and silverbeet rotolo: Hand-made pasta, hand-made ricotta and silverbeet from our garden, rolled into the pasta and slowly poached, then sliced and served with rosemary and garlic infused butter
- Wessex saddleback pork neck braised in milk
- Chickpea soffrito: sauteed garden vegetables and Macarena chickpeas
- Forager’s salad: collection of ten different lettuces and chive flowers from our garden)
- Blackcurrant leaf ice-cream: freshly gathered blackcurrant leaves infused into cream and churned ice-cream
- Meyer lemon and wild elderflower cordial
Even though our day wasn’t a typical one, we still rummaged around the farm, and gathered fresh zucchini, potatoes, basil and other ingredients. We were also treated to housemade cheeses for toppings, and proscuitto cut from an artisan-smoked and one-year-aged leg, although I can’t remember whether it was Luke or Rodney’s creating, since both are experimenting at the moment. Either way, it was stellar. Wine was provided by yours truly: stellar bottles of Stefano Lubiana pinot grigio and estate pinot, one of Tasmania’s best, which we were able to conveniently pick up at their cellar door on the way. Noice.
The high-ceilinged, 35-square-metre kitchen, with its infinite toys, retro baby-blue Smeg fridge and sunny view of the farm, is painful to see – it is a foodie’s dream workspace. And add to that a wood-fired oven, built inside the kitchen and designed by Alan Scott, the legendary masonry-oven builder who recently passed away, and completed by his son.
The pizzas, of course, were picture-perfect, including passatta made from fresh summer tomatoes and lots of skill and a bit of sweat from a coal-faced Luke, who pull the pies from the red-hot oven. In the end, we sat down with Rodney, his wife Séverine and their young son, toasted Rodney to his success and tucked into some of the freshest pizzas you’ll find anywhere in Australia.
The Agrarian Kitchen, 650 Lachlan Road, Lachlan, Tasmania, +61 (0)3 6261 1099. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.theagrariankitchen.com