When Peter and Helen Brierty looked to wind down and invest in a retirement hobby back in 1995 they decided to build a garden centre with a small cafe attached focusing on modern Asian food.
They bought five acres on the edge of the Sunshine Coast hinterland and designed a lush tropical garden and named it the Spirit House. What's more, they employed a well-travelled young chef, Annette Fear, as the cafe’s cook.
Nearly 20 years later, the retirement hobby has blossomed a tad. It's now a multi-award winning culinary oasis renowned as one of the top restaurants in Queensland. Even more surprising is its evolution into one of Australia's most popular cooking schools.
Moreover, executive chef Annette Fear remains and she's passionate about sharing her knowledge and assisting diners explore the diverse flavours of regional Asian cuisine.
Part of the Spirit House's beauty is that diners sit in one of the nation's most tranquil garden sanctuaries. Set around a large central pond, the five acres of lush tropical gardens feature little dining nooks and hidden courtyards where visitors are transported into a world of blissful relaxation. At night, the gardens are transformed with flickering candles and lanterns throughout as well as the sounds of small waterfalls gurgling and splashing against the rocks.
For co-founder Helen Brierty, the idea of the Spirit House was to highlight the range of locally-grown fresh produce thriving in the region.
"We're right in the heart of ginger territory here and we also have access to great local seafood straight from the trawlers at Mooloolaba. There's beautiful local prawns as well as spanner crabs from Noosa and Hervey Bay scallops.
"We get our pork from a farmer in Gympie and source all our tropical fruit and Asian herbs nearby. People now grow betel leaves and piri-piri locally and they're all available at the markets – even in small towns such as Yandina."
And the cooking classes are held every day. Often oversubscribed and running for around four hours in total, Brierty says they're capped off with a luncheon where everyone eats their own creations washed down with Australian wine.
"With a maximum of 18 students, participants gather around a stainless steel bench in a purpose-built kitchen where we offer around 20 different classes ranging from Asian BBQ to wok cooking to preparing a Thai banquet or even making the pastes needed to create gorgeous curries.
"It’s just a lovely business to be in – a place where people come to explore, relax and enjoy themselves," Brierty says.
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This content is produced by Good Food in commercial partnership with Tourism Australia.