The mornings are cold in Tasmania at this time of year. Frost tips the grass and smoke rises lazily from chimneys around the small village of Hadspen, 10 minutes outside of Launceston in the island’s north. Within the thick, rough-hewn stone walls of the Red Feather Inn, however, cosy is the order of the morning. Especially once the freshly scrambled eggs and Bircher muesli arrive on the table in the dining room, with its low ceiling, homely antiques and gas-log fire.
Designed by colonial Georgian architect John Sprunt, the inn was built in 1842 and was one of Tasmania’s first coaching inns for weary travellers. Purchased by Lydia Nettlefold in 2006, the old building was completely renovated and redecorated to create luxurious accommodation over five rooms and suites in a style that blends French provincial with the inn’s colonial roots. There’s a well-stocked library, a secluded garden (where many of the vegetables for the kitchen are grown) and large bathrooms with free-standing baths and raw stone walls. Manager Ian White and his wife, co-manager and chef Tanya White, are on hand to provide everything from a gourmet meal at the inn’s shared table, to a master key if one happens to lock oneself out of one’s room, ahem. While there is no shortage of dining options in Tasmania, a meal at the inn is a must – the night we visited, we enjoyed a rabbit and pork terrine and salmon rillettes with house-baked bread before tucking in to a steamed wallaby pudding with pickled cherries, roasted quail with beetroot risotto and for dessert, vanilla and pomegranate ice-cream with gin-soaked quinces and hazelnut praline.
While it would be quite easy to do nothing more than lie back on one of the many couches and avail oneself of the plentiful holiday reading, the inn also offers an impressive line-up of cooking classes that take place in an adjacent building. This weekend, it’s all about smoking as a cooking and preserving method. The class is taught by Craig Williams, a local bush guide whom one suspects could survive for months without venturing anywhere near a supermarket, and who taught a class on butchery here the previous weekend. There are many ways of smoking food but today we are focusing on the simplest method – hot smoking. Using indirect heat, meat is cooked and flavoured by smoke – various flavours can be achieved by using different woods to fuel the fire.
Craig has brined the salmon and chicken that we will be smoking – this helps to preserve the meat and also reduces cooking time. After patting dry, we each add our own flavours to the meat from the vast array of herbs, spices and sauces that are on hand. While some of the eight participants in the class opt for hot and spicy, others veer toward mild and sweet – the options are only limited by our imagination.
The smoker is ready and the salmon fillets are placed on a rack over smoking wood chips and then covered with a lid. Half an hour later, the fish has started to curl and beads of moisture are beginning to form – it’s ready. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be morning tea, but no-one can resist having a taste of the salmon, and it has all disappeared within a matter of minutes – perfectly cooked and delicately flavoured by the smoke.
The chicken breasts have also been brined and, once seasoned and cooked, form part of a delicious lunch that has appeared on the large table in the cooking school, courtesy of chef Tanya. Twice-cooked cheese soufflés are accompanied by roasted venison (thanks to last week’s class), slow-roasted tomatoes, a salad fresh from the garden and even some freshly smoked mutton bird (a Tasmanian delicacy that tastes like a bird that eats an awful lot of fish).
Back in the kitchen, we learn how to make sausages – it’s surprisingly easy to mince together duck, venison, wallaby and some seasonings, and then pipe it into sausage casings. While some of us struggle with tying the snags into links, others prove remarkably talented, and there are soon strings of sausages hanging from hooks above the kitchen bench. As shafts of afternoon light start to fill the kitchen, we snack on freshly made sausages and smoked bacon, and compare notes on how we will be incorporating this simple yet satisfying cooking method into our repertoires at home.
Red Feather Inn runs a range of cooking classes throughout the year. For more information email email@example.com.
Photography by Alix Clark