Why buy it?
Tree change doesn't get more storybook than that of Rodney Dunn’s, a Tetsuya-trained chef who traded pans for a paddock in the Lachlan Valley in Tasmania, where he established a hands-on cooking school in a converted 19th-century schoolhouse. Of course, the pastoral paradise — depicted in evocative images shot by best mate and chef (and occasional farmhand) Luke Burgess — happened over time, and Dunn is the first to admit he was a bit green “when it came to the nitty-gritty of growing things” and keeping animals. So he turned to his many neighbours for advice on sustainable farming, building a wood-fired oven, constructing a smokehouse, how to raise bees, cidermaking. If you’re fortunate enough to partake in one of Dunn’s cooking classes and experience a day of bucolic bliss, you could find yourself yanking on the udders of his British Alpine goat, curdling the milk to make ricotta, which is then transformed into a dish for lunch, or breaking down a Wessex saddleback pig, with take-home smallgoods your reward for the day; if not, then his cookbook is the next best thing.
Recipes have a Chez Panisse sensibility to them, with the seasons dictating the chapters, but having your own farm is not necessary. Cooking instructions are thoughtful and techniques straightforward, as you would expect from a chef who honed his recipe writing craft at Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine, and now spends his days teaching others to cook at his homestead.
Cabbage and buckwheat soup with cheese toasts is a template for how to cook simply with the seasons, while the fried morello cherry pies (“think the best McDonald’s apple pie you’ve ever had”) and potato “scallops” served with kasundi (Indian spiced tomato relish) are riffs on old favourites.
Most surprising dish
Meatloaf. But not as we know it. Polpettone – the Italian version – laden with spices, is braised with tomato, porcini mushrooms and red wine, which forms a rich moreish sauce. And at the other end of the spectrum is the truffle trifle (yes, a sweet one): “As black truffles require fat to carry their flavour, they work brilliantly in dairy-rich desserts manifesting as an earthy, cocoa-like flavour”.
Vegie patch wisdom
On the vagaries and windfall of the seasons: “Gardening is about enjoying the journey, for there is no time when you will ever be truly happy with a garden. Even if you chance upon a moment of perfection, perhaps for a split second, it is fleeting”.
Those who like to cook memorable meals in step with the seasons, and with a yearning for an agrarian experience of their own.
The Agrarian Kitchen by Rodney Dunn, with photographs by Luke Burgess (Lantern, $59.99, hbk)