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Tasmania’s Derwent Valley with Rodney Dunn

Travel

For our travel column this month we’ve jetted off to Tasmania!

Our tour guide for this brief-but-utterly-beautiful getaway is Rodney Dunn of The Agrarian Kitchen, a sustainable farm-based cooking school. The Sydneysider-turned-Tasmanian worked in the food magazine industry, as a food researcher for Better Homes and Gardens, and was a food editor of Gourmet Traveller up until his treechange in 2007.

Rodney treated our photographer Caitlin Mills to his acclaimed Cooking with Truffles Masterclass, and a trip to some favourite spots around the Derwent Valley, in the south-east region of Tasmania.

13th July, 2017

Our Derwent Valley tour guide, Rodney Dunn, pictured at The Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Farm – just look at that light! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Rodney Dunn
Thursday 13th July 2017

My wife Séverine Demanet and I live in the small town of Lachlan in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley (just 45 minutes from Hobart), having moved here from Sydney in 2007. After watching way too much River Cottage UK, we decided a move to the country was what we wanted!

I grew up in the country (in the small town of Coleambally, NSW before moving to Sydney in 1997 to finish my chef apprenticeship at Tetsuya’s) and had a great childhood; we decided this would be a great experience for our own children, and there was also the attraction of growing our own food.

I’d first visited Tasmania with Gourmet Traveller and fell in love with the state – I meet all types of people who become enchanted by its spell. It has a very unique feel about it that puts people at ease; laid-back and full of natural beauty, as well as having an edge of sophistication with a vibrant food and art scene (centred around MONA, which brings visitors from all around the world).

The Derwent Valley is an incredibly beautiful part of the world. It is one of the oldest settlements in Tasmania, so it has a lot of historical buildings as well as old English hedgerows and lines of poplars as remnants of the Hop industry that thrived. One of its most beautiful features is the Derwent River that snakes its way from the highlands down to the estuary in Hobart.

This time of year, It’s cold, frosty and foggy, and this is what makes it incredibly beautiful! We get dustings of snow on the mountain tops and, provided you rug up, it can be one of the most unique and invigorating times to visit – think red wine and open fires. By spring, the countryside’s flora awakens and puts on a show to behold, with beautiful blossoms and green countryside so vibrant it can hurt your eyes!  In summer, it can be mild compared to the mainland, but is often one of the warmer parts of Tasmania, and everyone gets out to enjoy the weather and the Derwent river for fishing, swimming and picnics. Then there’s a true autumn here thanks to the established European trees, as well as Tasmania’s own native deciduous fagus (deciduous beech) in nearby Mount Field National Park to celebrate.

The school’s apt home is a 19th Century renovated schoolhouse in Lachlan. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Our tour guide, Rodney Dunn at his farm-to-table business, The Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Farm. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Set on five acres, The Agrarian Kitchen grows and uses heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables in its cooking classes, as well as sourcing ingredients from local farmers, fishermen, gardeners and artisanal producers. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

We visited the Derwent Valley on a fresh, foggy morning. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The best truffle scout around. ‘The largest problem with truffles is the use of truffle oil, which has nothing to do with a real truffle. It’s like saying I don’t like vanilla when imitation vanilla essence is all you have ever tried,’ explains Rodney. ‘Truffles are easy to use and cook with once you understand how.’ Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Although Australia is the fourth largest global producer of black truffles, Rodney finds that another hinderance is the cost (around $1,000-$2,000 per kilo).  ‘All people ever need to use in a dish for six is around 10 to 20 grams, so a small to medium truffle would give you enough for a dinner party of three to four courses.’ he adds. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Fresh eggs from the chook shed. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Rodney preparing the pasta in the converted classroom kitchen. Designed for communal cooking, the space features high performance AEGappliances. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

From the Cooking with Truffles Masterclass. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘Our classes are never more than 10 people to make sure everyone gets the appropriate attention from the teacher and we ensure that everything learned can be replicated at home,’ tells Rodney. ‘All the AEG cooking equipment we use is for domestic kitchens’. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Dining together after a big day of gathering and cooking is a highlight! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

ACTIVITY • THE AGRARIAN KITCHEN COOKING SCHOOL AND FARM

When we decided to move to country Tasmania, we really wanted to live this way of life. We wanted to experience what real food tastes like, and we felt that most people who love food never get this experience themselves. We also found that there is a huge knowledge gap and a large interest in getting back to this traditional food knowledge. So, we started looking for a property where we could establish a farm-to-table cooking school, and we came across this 1887-built schoolhouse. Over a year, we renovated the building, established a vegetable garden and converted the classrooms into a kitchen and dining room, before holding our first class in November 2008.

The Agrarian Experience class menu is created by me, from what we have in the garden, and we all head out to pick the ingredients we need and then cook, before enjoying the fruits of our labour together at the dining table – I think that good food is always better when shared and talked about! The Masterclasses are all dedicated to a single subject, for example: sourdough bread-making, cheese, charcuterie, and cooking with truffles (which Caitlin attended)… and some are run over two days to allow the students to properly learn the subject. We also aim to give practical skills, so students will continue what they have learned at home. Our classes are all hands-on, intimate and inclusive, with cooking done together as a group rather than split off in individual bays, and all with AEG cooking equipment for domestic kitchens.

650 Lachlan Rd, Lachlan.

The Derwent River near New Norfolk – our next stop! Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

New Norfolk is the antique capital of Tasmania and Rodney rates The Drill Hall Emporium as one of the best antique stores in the country. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Drill Hall Emporium is run by Sue James, and her daughters Donna and Tammy. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Classes are led by Rodney, as well as a supporting cast of Tasmanian cooks and producers. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Just around the corner is The Flywheel Store. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Here, Rachel James creates gorgeous business cards and stationery on the letterpress printing press. ‘There’s also a beautiful range of antique office equipment and paper too,’ tells Rodney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

STORE • THE DRILL HALL EMPORIUM

New Norfolk is the antique capital of Tasmania, and I would rate The Drill Hall Emporium as one of the best antique stores in the country, hands down.

It is run by Sue James, and her daughters Donna and Tammy, who we met when we first moved to the area. They find the most amazing pieces, from old whisks and jelly moulds to leather club chairs and French armoires… and bring them all together in one place. I’ve spent way too much of our money at their store, but all totally worth it!

17 Stephen Street, New Norfolk.

Just around the corner is another mother-and-daughter business, The Flywheel Store. Incredibly unique, its offering is based around a letterpress printing press, on which Rachel James creates gorgeous business cards and stationery. There’s also a beautiful range of antique office equipment and paper too.

42 High Street, New Norfolk.

‘This time of year, It’s cold, frosty and foggy and this is what makes it incredibly beautiful!’ says Rodney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

Back in Hobart, Rodney also recommends MACq01: the city’s newest luxury, storytelling hotel. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Store is housed in the gorgeous Bronte Building (1806) in the Willow Court Precinct, New Norfolk.

Inside The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Store. ‘We have many local gardeners drop in excess produce from their home gardens for us to use,’ explains Rodney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

The buildings of the Willow Court Precinct are slowly being restored with the aim that other sympathetic businesses will one day occupy the spaces. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘The Derwent Valley is one of the oldest settlements in Tasmania, and one of its most beautiful features is the Derwent River that snakes its way from the highlands down to the estuary in Hobart,’ explains Rodney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

EATERY • THE AGRARIAN KITCHEN EATERY AND STORE

The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery and Store was born this year in June, after we saw the gorgeous Bronte building in Willow Court precinct in New Norfolk. Dating back to 1806, it was part of Australia’s oldest mental hospital, and has loads of natural light, pressed metal ceilings and original lino floors, with the bones of an amazing dining space.

We were always getting people coming out to the farm thinking they could eat there, so the advent of this space meant we could give people a taste of our philosophy, without them having to cook it first!

The retail store sells products with the theme of cooking, eating and gardening, including tools, seeds and any excess preserves made by the kitchen in the produce heavy months of summer and autumn.

The thing I like most about the eatery is that it is a relaxed space in which people can enjoy real food from authentic ingredients (from our garden and the community garden across the road, as well as Derwent Valley beef and lamb) cooked with good technique, and often over  the fire. This place brings together young and old, local grannies and Melbourne hipsters all with a love of good food!

11A Bronte Building, The Avenue, New Norfolk.

‘It’s the best of country hospitality!’ says Rodney of the renovated Georgian homestead accommodation. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

‘This time of year can be one of the most unique and invigorating times to visit – think red wine and open fires!’ welcomes Rodney. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

STAY • STANTON BED AND BREAKFAST

Less than 15 minutes from The Agrarian Kitchen Cooking School and Farm, Stanton Bed and Breakfast is one of those special country bed and breakfasts. Firstly, it’s a gorgeous old Georgian homestead, and has been beautifully restored and decorated by Lisa West.

Three rooms are available, and guests are free to explore the 16 acres of paddocks, orchards, gardens, ponds and the winter creek. Stanton has got a rich history, which includes a run-in with a notorious Tasmanian bushranger, and every beautiful brick used in construction was handmade on the property 200 years ago.

The hospitality is first-class and, as I’m told by our guests who stay there, Lisa’s breakfasts are second to none! We also sell some of her hand-crafted tableware through The Agrarian Kitchen store.

504 Back River Rd, Magra.

 

If you’re looking to head back in to Hobart, I would recommend MACq01: the city’s newest luxury hotel.

Located on Macquarie Wharf (hence the name), it occupies the majority of what was once a market, latter a shipping shed, and now a newly built replica building with design enhancements. The hotels position on the waterfront, apart from being really central, offers the best views out over the Derwent.

MACq01 is also unique as it’s a storytelling hotel, allowing guests to tap into the history of Hobart, and make people feel a part of all that has come before, rather than just being a place to stay.

There’s 114 rooms and the Old Wharf Restaurant,,which chronicles Tasmania’s early industrial pioneers of mining, whaling, fishing, boat building and farming, to the backdrop of passing boats!

18 Hunter Street, Hobart.

Located on Macquarie Wharf, the hotel is really central, and its boat shed replica building is amazing. Photo – Caitlin Mills for The Design Files.

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