If MONA isn’t enough to tempt a visit to Tasmania, I know JUST what win will you over – The Agrarian Kitchen! This little piece of foodie heaven is as close as I can imagine to the perfect tree change for ex- Sydneysiders Rodney Dunn and Séverine Demanet (a husband and wife team) – abeit a LOT of hard work! The Agrarian Kitchen is a sustainable farm-based cooking school in Lachlan, about 45 minutes North West of Hobart. Séverine and Rodney originally moved to Tassie in 2007 after finding the perfect location for their culinary dream – a 19th century schoolhouse! 18 months later their farm and kitchen were ready to go, and the first cooking classes began!
The Agrarian Kitchen is set on five picturesque acres and incorporates a working farm with pigs, chickens, goats and geese, as well as an extensive organic vegetable garden, orchard, berry patch and herb garden. The cooking classes are led by Rodney, who is former food editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine (and still a contributing editor). Of course the kitchen also often hosts local chefs and foodies for additional classes and events. Séverine also has her hands full looking after the pair’s 4 year old son Tristan, and doing all the accounts and admin for this burgeoning local business!
I must admit I have not attended an Agrarian Kitchen class for myself – BUT I know someone who has! The very sweet Catherine of Little Glowing Lights recently blogged her experience over here – a sweet little round-up and more gorgeous photos to whet your appetite! For a closer look at The Agrarian Kitchen classes you can also check out some new and very informative video lessons they have put together.
The Agrarian Kitchen
650 Lachlan Road
ph. (03) 6261 1099
Read on for a very insightful mini-interview with The Agrarian Kitchen‘s Séverine Demanet!
What inspired you and Rodney to move to Tassie and to start The Agrarian Kitchen?
We were living in Newtown in Sydney in a 2 bedroom apartment, and we had been thinking for a while about moving out of the city. However, I was a little cautious at first, as I was a city girl from Sydney and wasn’t sure about leaving, whereas Rodney was a country boy who lived in Griffith, NSW and had moved to the big smoke in 1997. (We had been together since 1998, and then after getting married in 2004 we wondered about moving to the country).
Rodney used to watch “The River Cottage” DVDs and I guess this was his inspiration to leave the big smoke. We started to think about places to move to and we got the idea that perhaps Tassie could be the place, but we had never been. While working at Gourmet Traveller Magazine as Food Editor Rodney was invited on a famil to Tasmania which was organised by Tourism Tasmania. He fell in love with Tassie and then brought me down a few months later. I loved it and then we looked for 2 years for the perfect place where we could live and also set-up our cooking school. Our son Tristan was born in March 2007, and six weeks later we found a potential property on the internet. We asked our best friend who was living in Hobart at the time to inspect it for us and if it had potential, Rodney would fly down to see it. 1 week later Rodney flew down, loved it and then we moved down in July that year. I hadn’t seen the property in person, only on film and in photos as our son was only 6 weeks old and I didn’t want to fly with him. The rest is history. We were also fortunate that after we moved, Tourism Tasmania put out a Tourism Promotion Plan grant and we were successful applicants in receiving a grant to assist us with the renovations needed to turn our property into a cooking school.
It must be awfully busy looking after your property and garden and animals and running cooking lessons too! What does a typical day involve for you at The Agrarian Kitchen?
Not only do we have to maintain 5 acres of land, flower garden, vegetable garden, animals, cooking classes – we also have a 4 year-old son, Tristan. We also live and work on the same property which can be difficult and we are still finding the right balance between personal life and work and I am not sure if after 3.5 years that we have found it yet.
Rodney and I currently work 7 days a week but from July 2011 we are no longer holding classes on a Sunday to allow us time to ourselves and more importantly to our son Tristan. We thought that moving to Tasmania was going to give us less pressure than when we were in Sydney, but it seems our business took off in a positive way very quickly and now we are busier than ever before! We do have staff here Monday to Friday, but then Rod and I continue to work in classes on Saturday and Sunday – therefore no time off!
When a class isn’t scheduled our typical day is waking at 7.30am. This gives us some time in the morning to spend with our son before staff arrive as we try to give him some normality when a class is not on. We have breakfast and then once staff arrive Rodney usually spends the day outside with Rhys getting new fencing put up, maintaining the garden and maybe preserving our excess produce for us to sell on-site. If not doing that he also has to respond to emails, develop recipes for Gourmet Traveller magazine (where he is still a Contributing Food Editor), developing ideas for his cookbook which is supposed to be published in 2012, developing new recipes for class and testing them. Rhys usually feeds our animals and milks our goat – this is quite precious to us as it allows both of us to spend time with Tristan in the morning.
Our son goes to day care 2 full days a week, usually Mondays and Wednesdays and I try to complete all of our accounts payable and receivable, payroll, website updates, take class bookings, print class recipes, maintaining wine stocks and responding to mails. On average we receive 30 emails a day which all need to be actioned. My main role is maintaining the administration side of things. At around 4 pm we all start to set up for class the next day, and try to be finished by 6pm.
When a class is on our son stays at my parents place the night before therefore this usually means he is away from us 3 nights a week while we have class. Rodney wakes up at 7.00am, puts on all the fireplaces (in winter), feeds the animals. I wake at 8.00am and then prepare for the arrival of guests at 9.00am. I now have a permanent Kitchenhand to assist with the cleaning during class. Class commences at 9.00am and ends at 4.30 but guests do not leave until 5.00pm or sometimes later. We then set up for the next class the next day and usually finish around 8.30pm. We hold 3 back to back classes a week and sometimes 4.
Which key staff do you employ at The Agrarian Kitchen?
We have 3 full-time staff including Rodney, myself and Rhys our other Chef / Farmhand
We have Stacey who is our permanent Kitchenhand and Administration Assistant who works 4 days a week (just appointed today)
We have my (Séverine‘s) parents who work 2 days a week in the flower garden and doing maintenance
We have our Head Gardener, Rainer who works 2 days a week
We have Lee our Gardening Assistant who works 2 days a week
What do you love most about running this business?
I think that our favourite thing about running this business is that what we have created here is what we love. Even though we work extremely long hours and sometimes it is hard work we don’t see it as “work”. We are living the lifestyle that we always dreamed of and most importantly, our son is growing up on a farm eating produce that we have grown. Something that I never had while being in the city, and it is only now that I realise how important this actually is.