Sunday, 19 June 2016

Take a country cooking class in the Southern Highlands

Everything about Fox Hill Farm in NSW's Southern Highlands screams country charm.         Photo: Carla Grossetti
Lynne Derwin loves nothing more than to teach visitors to Fox Hill Farm the joy of country cooking.
Up until 2009, chef Derwin and her husband John, a civil engineer, ran the highly successful Roundstone Vineyard and Winery in the Yarra Valley until it was destroyed in the bushfires that roared through the valley in February 2009.

Lynne Derwin loves sharing the joy of country cooking.       Photo: Deirdre Worsley
The couple lost everything apart from a flock of Suffolk sheep, which relocated to Fox Hill Farm with the Derwins in 2012. The fact the sheep are huddled together outside the kitchen of Lynne's new homestead located in the Southern Highlands gives the classes real warmth and connects us to Lynne's life in Victoria and, of course, that devastating loss.

This flock of Suffolk sheep are part of the family at Fox Hill Farm. 

The mood, however, is anything but sombre and while the hands-on class touches on Lynne's past, it is very much devoted to the here and now, of learning the secret of rustic home cooking, with time and patience essential ingredients.

A visit to Fox Hill Farm puts that 'tree change' back on the agenda.       Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
The day starts with a gumboot gambol down to the kitchen garden to gather ingredients, followed by a demonstration led by Lynne who is on hand to help you master the art of making everything from golden crusty bread to kale and watercress soup, lamb with mint dressing, beef bourguignon, potatoes Provencale, mixed leaf salad, a beet and feta salad and roast pears with maple syrup and vanilla creme fraiche. It's an ambitious yet manageable menu.

Guests arriving at Fox Hill Farm are offered treats of kohlrabi topped with smoked trout. Photo: Deirde Worsley
Each person is assigned a course and rather than there being a 'knives-out' competitive vibe in the kitchen, what I loved about this class is that it felt like a family affair - especially considering Lynne's daughters, Kristy and Phoebe, are on hand to help with everything from hosting to the washing up.  

Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Classes use produce plucked from the homestead's kitchen garden. Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
Central to Lynne's class is a desire to show how easy it is to make good, honest home-cooked country cuisine. At the end of the hands-on class, we sit around the farmhouse table and chat about what we learnt, elaborate on what our favourite dish was and talk about any new cooking skills we'd like to learn. We also tuck into a five-course meal - the result of our combined efforts - and a well-earned glass or two of local Sutton Forest Estate Wine, Bungonia Creek Wines and Southern Highland Wines.

Roasted beetroot and feta salad and potatoes Provencale are part of the rustic banquet to share.  Photo: Carla Grossetti 
This is real farm-to-fork cooking as the school responds directly to the seasons, giving visitors a taste of country life while celebrating nature's bounty from the surrounding farmland. Anyone who has ever collected a windfall of fresh herbs and vegetables from a kitchen garden will appreciate the emphasis on local, seasonal produce and how much that impacts on taste and flavour.

Thyme one of the essential ingredients plucked from the kitchen garden to add to beef bourgignon.   Photo: Deirdre Worsley.
The four-hour class also walks you through various basic techniques - from browning meat, to thickening a sauce, deglazing a pan and the importance of assembling your ingredients before you start. Classes are for no more than 10, which makes for an intimate setting in which to ponder what lessons we will take home from today when we next attempt Sunday lunch.

Lynne oversees the lesson as we all chop, stir and mix in unison.    Photo: Deirdre Worsley.

Aswell as learning about how to get the most out of seasonal ingredients, the class is an advertisement for cooking with an Aga oven, which is the centrepiece of Lynne's kitchen. Rather than being a lecture where we all sit around taking notes, the class feels very much like Lynne is working to recreate her family album.

Lamb with mint dressing was one of the hearty mains prepared by the group.    Photo: Deirdre Worsley
The classes run on the second Wednesday of every month and, over winter, catch the Southern Highlands at its magical wintry best. While novices will definitely come away with a greater understanding of country cooking, it's also certain that participants will leave with a few new food-obsessed friends. Those who want to stay and play in the leafy country lanes of the Southern Highlands should visit for inspiration.

The Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Class is followed by a convivial feast.     Photo: Deirdre Worsley
Fox Hill Farm Country Cooking Classes cost $150 and are held on the second Wednesday of each month or by appointment. Visit for more details.

Bungonia Creek Wines are sourced locally and proffered as part of the Fox Hill Farm feast. 

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