2 minutes with Severine Demanet
Business: The Agrarian Kitchen
Lives: Lachlan, Tasmania
Tell me a bit about yourself and your family?
I was born in Sydney and grew up in the Western Sydney suburb of Belmore. My dad is from France and mum is from Mauritius. I speak fluent French and have a younger brother, Nathaniel. I met my husband, Rodney Dunn in Sydney in June 1998 and married in 2004. We left our city lives and jobs to move to Tasmania in June 2007 and opened The Agrarian Kitchen cooking school; my parents retired and moved to Tasmania a few years later. We have two children, Tristan 9 and Chloe 3.
I had never lived in the country before. My family thought I was a little crazy when I told them what our plans were. My brother said that I wouldn’t survive in the country, “you squeal when you see a mouse or spiders and you can’t handle seeing or handling raw meat”. I think they are proud of me now, I don’t freak out when I see spiders, I have helped pluck our geese without freaking out and there is a video on the web of me watching Rodney dispatch one of our chickens and I was ok. I still scream when I see a mouse though.
How did the move to Tasmania come about?
We had been looking for property in Tasmania for about 2 years before we moved. We had originally found another property further out in the Derwent Valley but after trying to purchase it twice the bank would not lend us the funds. At the time, we felt like it wasn’t meant to be and were close to giving up. Then, when our son, Tristan was 6 weeks old, Rodney had another search on the internet and found the Lachlan Old Schoolhouse. Our best friend, Luke Burgess had recently moved to Tasmania and he visited the property for us. We were anxiously awaiting his call to let us know if it was worthy of flying down to have a look ourselves, and it was. Rodney flew to Hobart as I stayed behind to stay with our newborn son. Rodney was very excited and positive about the house. Lots of photos and videos were taken and upon returning to Sydney, we made the offer. It sounds a little crazy because I had not been able to visit the house in person but it all felt right. We finally moved into our new home in July 2007 when Tristan was 4-months old, dead in the middle of Tassie’s extremely cold winter. It was a shock to our system.
What was the inspiration for opening The Agrarian Kitchen?
It was actually my idea. Rodney wanted to find a way to reconnect the kitchen with the land and we first thought of having a restaurant but I wanted something where we could be more flexible because Tristan was so young and we wanted to start a family. I thought that Rodney would be a good teacher as he was always very calm and patient. At the time, we thought that just the two of us would run the cooking school. We were living where we worked and so I would wash all the dishes in the classes, and quietly duck out of class to check on our son every few minutes; feed him and put him to bed for his afternoon nap. He would sleep quite a lot in the middle of the day, which allowed me to work in the class, serve the wine for our guests and set up for the next class. But, Tristan would sleep too long in the day which meant he wouldn’t sleep at night when we were exhausted. Rodney also mowed the lawns, planted the seeds and we weeded the garden when classes weren’t scheduled. We did not have any family in Tasmania and after 1.5 years of doing everything ourselves we were quickly burning out. We didn’t expect the classes to be so well received and we were adding more and more classes per week and the demand was increasing. Finally, we couldn’t do this by ourselves anymore. We were both getting very stressed and if we were going to add more classes we wanted to be sure that what we offered to our guests would be consistent and of a high level. We decided that we needed a “team” of people to help us to continue moving forward. Today, we employ 7 local people including ourselves.
How much land do you have on the farm and what's growing and living on your land?
We have 5 acres of land. We grow many different varieties of heirloom vegetables and fruit including corn, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli, berries, rhubarb, kale, sorrel, radicchio, turnips, artichokes, beans, peas, broad beans, garlic just to name a few. We have honeybees, milking goats, geese, pigs, chickens and sheep on our property. We like to know where our food comes from, therefore all our animals are raised here on our farm and are used in our classes as well. We use our goat milk to make ricotta, we raise our pigs for our whole hog and charcuterie classes. Our bees provide honey for use in our classes as well. I hated honey before moving to Tasmania. I had actually only ever had supermarket bought honey and it was revolting and turned me off. The day that we finally had honey from our own bees changed my life. Now this, is what honey was supposed to taste like. I love honey now, but it has to be the real deal.
How many people have been through the cooking school since you opened?
To be precise, 7,381 paying guests have attended a cooking experience here with us. That doesn’t include the many journalists, writers, chefs and TV personalities who have visited us. Many of our guests return to attend more and more classes in each of the seasons. In saying that, our most frequented guest is Marie, who owns her own winery and restaurant in Victoria. She has attended 26 days of classes here with us. When you spend about 8 hours a day with 9 guests in a class, you meet some amazing people from all walks of life from all over the world. It has been quite an experience.
There's a new project you have been working on, what is that?
We are in the process of setting up our new Eatery and Retail store at Willow Court, New Norfolk just down the road from us. The cooking school will remain here on the farm at Lachlan.
Is Tassie home now, could you see The Agrarian Kitchen relocating to another state?
After 9 years of being in Tasmania, it definitely feels like home. I guess one should never say never, but at the moment, I can’t imagine moving the agrarian kitchen to another location, it just wouldn’t be the same. It would be sad and hard for me to leave this behind after spending the last 9 years building it to where it is. Too much work, energy, tears time and money have gone into building the agrarian kitchen here. Being able to look at the vegetable garden and farm and seeing it grow from something small to where it is today is very special.
We also feel that we have a responsibility to our current staff to continue the agrarian kitchen here. Not only do we have a mortgage, but they do too. Lee, our gardener is an extremely hard worker, not only does she make the garden look beautiful but makes sure it is productive, her beautiful flower arrangements made using everything found on our farm decorate the cooking school and her handmade ceramics are also used in classes. Adam, our farm manager makes sure lawns are mowed, trees are pruned, wood is chopped and stacked for winter, feeds our animals, milks the goats and is a whizz on our tractor. Stacey, does everything from baking the morning sweet treats for class, attends to guests and completes assists me with the endless office administration; then we have Sue, Annalise and Evie who clean all the dishes during classes so that our guests can enjoy the cooking experience – it’s non-stop cleaning dishes for 9 guests! There’s also John who helps out on weekends to feed the animals when we are away. We all get along very well and they are like family to us.
What's your advice to families considering a tree change?
Always go with your gut feeling and do what you feel is right. Don’t listen to others who may say that you’re crazy for making a drastic change. Rodney and I were just saying last night, “imagine if we never made the decision to move to Tasmania, we would have always wondered, “what if” all the time”. Don’t give up.
What music do you dance to when no-one is watching?
I rarely get the opportunity to crank up our Bose sound system in the cooking school because of classes being on. But, on Sundays, I love to play Jamie XX’s “Loud places”, the kids and I love to dance around the dining room when this one comes on.
You can follow the adventures of Severine and Rodney on Instagram @agrariankitchen