Trio of Tasmania chefs talk spring produce
Agrarian Kitchen's Rodney Dunn, Franklin's Analiese Gregory and Templo's Matt Breen on seasonal ingredients. Video brought to you by Tourism Tasmania.
About a decade ago, chef Rodney Dunn had an epiphany. "There was a point in my life," he says, "where I realised that if I wanted to cook better food, then the ingredients needed to be a lot better."
That's a roundabout way of explaining how Dunn came to find himself living and working in Tasmania. A former apprentice chef at Sydney's world-renowned Tetsuya's who went on to edit Gourmet Traveller magazine, as well as teach cookery at the Sydney Seafood School, Dunn decided that to further his own culinary skills, he needed access to the best produce, and the way to do that was to move to the place where it was grown.
Hence the Agrarian Kitchen, in Lachlan, Tasmania, was born. "We source all of our produce as locally as possible," Dunn says of his Derwent Valley cooking school, which has now been up and running for 10 years. "A lot of it we actually grow ourselves."
Dunn's story is inspiring, but it's hardly unique. In fact Dunn is one of an ever-growing band of Australian chefs who have been drawn to Tasmania by the exceptional local produce and the passion for cuisine that the Apple Isle can boast.
The chef and food critic Matthew Evans famously shifted south to start a hobby farm, a move documented in the SBS TV series Gourmet Farmer; renowned French chef Alain Passard spent time in Tasmania this year; and formerly Sydney-based star Analiese Gregory has recently given up her post at Bar Brosé to indulge in Tassie's culinary delights.
"I was drawn by the amazing local produce," explains Gregory, who is now head chef at Franklin restaurant in Hobart. "We use a lot of small suppliers [at Franklin], a lot of small farmers. Our asparagus grower, he picks it in the morning, and delivers it to us two or three hours after it's come out of the ground.
"The other ingredient that I'm really blown away by in Tassie is sea urchin. I've never had it as sweet and as fresh as you can get it out of the waters here. Our diver goes out on Thursday mornings, and we have them in the restaurant by lunchtime."
Tasmania is very quickly becoming recognised around the world for the quality of its fresh produce, for prized high-end items such as salmon, abalone, oysters, truffles, cheese and wagyu beef that are exported across the globe. Plenty of tourists travel to the island state to sample these goods in their home environment, but it's the local chefs who seem to be having the most fun, utilising the seasonality and the freshness that's part of day-to-day life in Australia's southernmost state to produce innovative, exciting cuisine.
Matt Breen, the head chef at Hobart's tiny Italian eatery Templo, has worked in kitchens all around the world, but came back to Tasmania to apply foreign techniques to the superlative local produce on offer.
"Spring lamb is pretty prominent at the moment," Breen says. "We're getting whole beasts in and barbecuing them outside, which creates a beautiful aroma through the whole restaurant."
Visitors to Tasmania really are spoiled for choice. As Analiese Gregory says, "If you go to Hobart for the weekend, there's just too many good places to go to."
And the high-quality eating isn't confined to the state's capital either, with plenty of amazing food experiences, including classes at Rodney Dunn's Agrarian Kitchen, as well as opportunities to enjoy produce at its source, on offer throughout the countryside.
"This time of year you can go across to Bruny Island to Get Shucked," says Dunn, "and eat your own bodyweight in oysters if you like."
That, surely, would be enough to inspire an epiphany in anyone.
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This article brought to you by Tourism Tasmania.