It is so lovely and inspiring when you meet people like Rodney Dunn who are truly passionate about what they do. Rodney welcomed me onto his stunning property in Lachlan, Tasmania like an old friend. Walking me around the gardens, watering the plants as he chatted away, picking fruit and herbs straight from the plants and handing them over for me to try, eagerly awaiting my response. A response I’m sure he’s seen a thousand times over by now, the widening of the eyes and smile across my face as I tasted the incredibly fresh produce. There really is nothing quite like a raspberry straight from the bush.
Rodney began his career in the food industry at a one hat Italian restaurant in his hometown of Griffith, NSW, before making the move to the big city and training under Tetsuya Wakuda at Sydney’s iconic Tetsuya’s. He moved on to seek a more creative outlet and found himself drawn to the food media industry where he worked on photoshoots for magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, Vogue Entertaining and Australian Gourmet Traveller where he was eventually offered the role of Food Editor.
After ten years in Sydney, Rodney’s desire for fresher produce led him and close friend Luke Burgess (Owner and head chef of Garagistes) to seek out a small plot of land. “Initially we had that curiosity of looking at how much better things are when you grow them yourself, harvest them when they’re actually ripe and the different varieties that are available but you can’t access. We just wanted a piece of land to grow some stuff,” Rodney explained.
A seemingly small wish that quickly proved almost impossible. “We couldn’t even get a small plot in a community garden, unless you wanted to be miles out of Sydney, but then you might as well have been anywhere.”
Soon enough, miles outside of Sydney is where he ended up, on a journalist famil to Tasmania, his first ever visit to the island state. He quickly fell in love with the place he describes as ‘beautiful and idyllic’ and in July 2007 Rodney uprooted his whole life in Sydney, gave up the safety net of a career some people could only dream of, packed his bags with wife Severine and moved to Lachlan, about 45 minutes North West of Hobart.
The hard working couple transformed an old schoolhouse and five acres of land into The Agrarian Kitchen, a farm based cooking school offering paddock to plate experiences for people with any level of cooking skills, from me (useless) to professional’s like Maggie Beer.
The Agrarian Kitchen became a successful business well before Hobart’s ‘cultural renaissance’, which saw the opening of MONA and restaurants such as Garagistes and Ethos Eat Drink, but Rodney thinks it would be naive to deny that these businesses haven’t had a positive impact on his, with Hobart now seen as a popular food and arts destination. “Where before our interstate customer base was more people who were interested in nature and bushwalking, now its those who come to do the three, MONA, Garagistes and Agrarian, so the cultural side of it I think has evolved quite nicely together,” he explains.
His cooking school isn’t so much about teaching people to cook, but to appreciate good quality, fresh food. “I don’t expect people to walk away and go, ‘I’m going to move to the country and grow my own food’, that’s not what its about,” he says. “It’s about having an understanding and appreciation for food and where it comes from and also what it can truly taste like. So maybe next time they go shopping they decide to go to the farmers market instead and can appreciate and understand why cheap food is cheap for a reason,” says Rodney.
“I say in every class and I feel like a broken record, but what does value really mean? Most people think it’s the cheapest you can get and that’s value. But if you don’t enjoy it and its rubbish, you leave it in the fridge for it to rot then where’s the value? It’s the most important thing we do, is eat, yet we’re happy to scrimp and save on that so we can save for the biggest flashiest flat screen television. At the end of the day the difference between good and bad food is a few dollars and how easy is it to waste a few dollars?
“I’m not trying to be an activist,” he insists, “I don’t need to be. If people come here and they can go out there to the garden and taste and cook, they will realise. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
The Agrarian Kitchen offers year round paddock to plate cooking experiences. You can view the class schedule and availability here and also check out the Agrarian Kitchen Cookbook. Instagram @Agrariankitchen