Somehow my lucky stars aligned last week. I’ve been longing to get a firsthand taste of the Agrarian Kitchen, a new sustainable farm based cooking school in Tasmania, Australia. But with a 6 month waiting list and my busy schedule, it slipped down my ‘must list’. So how amazing to get an invite to attend a masterclass for dietitians in Sydney by the main man himself, Chef owner Rodney Dunn. While I didn’t get to stop at the farm and smell the rosemary, I did get to chat directly to Rodney about his food philosophy. And even better? I have the recipes from the night to share with you, just as Rodney demonstrated.
Meaning, relating to land, the Agrarian Kitchen sums up Rodney’s approach succinctly. During a successful career as food editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, Rodney realised that the constant quest was for better food. And better food he concluded after years of research, meant close to the source. Well, literally at the source or on the land to be precise. Inspired by the program River Cottage and after failed attempts to grow balcony herbs in Newtown, Sydney amongst carbon monoxide fumes and hungry aphids, a tree change was hatched. Where did he discover artisan food producers and clean, green pastures? An old school house and acreage 45 minutes out of Hobart, Tasmania. So he left Sydney with his wife Séverine and 3month old son, to begin an enviable foodie adventure and “have a go”. And his reputation has grown as fast as his family, which now includes Wessex saddleback rare breed pigs, chickens, British Alpine milking goats and geese. So it’s no surprise that the Agrarian Kitchen was the first place winner of the top 100 Australian Gourmet Experiences for 2010.
Paddock to Plate
The theme of the evening, sponsored by the nutrition team at Meat and Livestock Australia, was on expanding our understanding of the sustainable farming advances with red meat (more to follow on Enviromeat next week) and enhance culinary skills in the spirit of the true Agrarian. According to Rodney Dunn, “Animals take time to raise, so we should approach with great care and respect”. Approximately 10% of a beef carcass is grilling meat, so we need to retrain people on how to use the whole beast. Dietitians can help educate that cheaper cuts can be just as nutritious and delicious, if the cooking method is right. Meat and Livestock Australia have a great guide to Australian Beef and Lamb cuts and very useful tips and handy hints on slow, simmer cooking like braises.
The Agrarian Kitchen’s Spice-Braised Oyster Blade with Salsa Verde
So to give you a taste of the night, here’s my first (shaky) attempt at solo cooking demonstrating sans TV crew, just my trusty iphone. Perfect, aromatic comfort food for a cold Melbourne (or Tassie) night.
A braise allows you to use tougher and inexpensive cuts, can be an easy one pot meal and requires little or no added fats (oil or butter). Rodney’s tip was not to brown off the meat so that the subtle flavours of the spices shine through. You will notice a little glisten of oil in the cooking liquid that has naturally cooked out of the meat, but you are only serving a small broth accompaniment and can skim off this fat when cooled to store as stock. Download the full recipe, along with Lamb Cutlets with Mandarin and Cumin Salt and Beef Involtini with Radicchio and Caramelised Onion here: MLA paddock to plate recipes by Rodney Dunn.
And if Rodney didn’t have us dietitians eating out of the palm of his hand with his back-to-tradition, sustainable approach, there was a final sweetener to end an amazing evening. His stunning hand preserved and hand delivered apricots for our dessert. A lovely kiss of summer on a cold, dark night. So how about it? What are you doing to s-l-o-w down and stop and smell the rosemary? Why not cook up a winter braise this weekend? Or better yet, how about a trip to the Agrarian Kitchen?