'I blame milk. That unassuming, ubiquitous white substance that we take for granted in Australia. It was cow's milk that turned my life around, and set me on a path that has changed not only my way of living but also my world view. Yes, that innocent stuff that comes from the bovine udder was the inspiration to help me make the move from gritty, urban inner Sydney to impossibly lush green Tasmania. From a clean and cushy life to one that involves—quite literally—mud, blood and tears. And to the non-food types among you (apparently there are some out there), the story seems more unlikely with every telling.'
Milk has long been a favourite topic for Matthew Evans. The former chef and food critic turned Tasmanian smallholder says his best-ever job was 'running around the streets of a suburb called Weston in Canberra, delivering milk to people's doorsteps three nights a week after school'. Real milk, he says, used to be 'unhomogenised, gloriously cream-topped full-fat milk [that came] in 600-milliltre bottles'. Yes! I remember it too and it was indeed great tasting milk back then! It was a less-than-memorable milk in a $12 (!) cup of coffee that Matthew Evans drank at a 'swank' three chef's hats restaurant in Sydney that got him thinking that milk was no longer simply milk, but 'a barometer of an industrial food system'. This set him on a journey to not only discover why some food tasted better than others, and why some growers were better known for the flavour and quality of their produce. In turn this led to a move both philosophical and physical from Sydney to Hobart, and then to a farm in the Huon Valley where he could raise chooks and rare-breed pigs, and keep a cow and grow vegetables.
In his memoir, The Dirty Chef (subtitled 'from big city food critic to foodie farmer'), Matthew Evans writes eloquently about his life in 'Tassie', a place where 'in the cooler months, mist clings to the hills and frost as thick and white as royal icing slinks into the hollows'. He shares his experiences as he transforms from 'an urban dag to country boy in the bush': the birth of a lamb, the death of the family cow, the (wickedly) high cost of fencing, the joy of eating carrots pulled fresh from the garden, the fattening of pigs, and the humane slaughter of hand-reared animals. There are recipes, too, at the end of almost every chapter. And coming from The Gourmet Farmer, they're good, down-to-earth recipes, such as apple and saffron tea cake, salty pear tarte tatin and Hristina's cherry strudel, for example.
Listen to Matthew in conversation with ABC RN's Richard Fidler in this podcast, where he talks about his life on the farm and his philosophy on food and how it should taste.
The Dirty Chef by Matthew Evans, Allen & Unwin, $29.99. With sincere thanks to Matthew and the publicity team at Allen & Unwin for giving me the opportunity to read and review this memoir. I have thoroughly enjoyed it and now look forward to trying my hand at some of the recipes. Being summer, I think I'll start with the cherry strudel!
Cookbook reviews and interviews with food writers and chefs.