Home Grown Chef
“This place is going to look after me and my customers for the rest of my cheffing days”
Story by Richard Cornish
Annie Smithers is up to her ankles in deep, dark, chocolate brown soil. The award-winning chef has recently moved her kitchen garden from Malmsbury to Lyonville. The food she grows here is cooked in her du Fermier restaurant in Trentham. "We’re a good couple of hundred metres higher here in Lyonville," says Smithers with her hallmark sing song drawl. "Which means colder winters, shorter growing season and a few problems with germination," she says.
Her new property is 9.5 ha of deep, fertile volcanic soil with access to plentiful water. Here she has planted row after row of berry canes that in summer will yield different varieties of raspberries and darker boysenberries. She has a planted a vast section for perennials where she has her asparagus patch. Under the earth and the mulch are her treasured asparagus crowns that she carefully lifted from her Malmsbury garden to here. In a few weeks she expects the little green spears will pierce through the soil. "If they are a sparse crop I will blanch them and serve them with a lightly poached egg and herbed bread crumbs," she says. "But if it is a bumper year then I will be less precious with them and make puff pastry tarts."
Nearby are the artichokes she was able to move. With luck they will send up little flower buds by late spring that she will cook slowly in white wine and extra virgin olive oil in the Provençal dish barigoule.
Over in the annual section, Smithers has been able to get in a crop of peas and broad beans, their little oval leaves quivering in the cold breeze. Within a few weeks they will shoot up and send out their little perfumed white flowers which will wither and become broad beans.
“I know it sounds wasteful but I love to double pod them, then grind them with immature garlic to make the most delicious paste to spread on toasted bread,” she says.
In the meantime, Annie Smithers is off to the south west of France and the Basque Country for a holiday. She is also taking a bespoke cooking tour around the region. “This is the first I have organised off my own bat,” says Smithers. While she is on her European sojourn, her Italian born chef Ingrid Gaiotto is taking over du Fermier for a four week pop-up called La Tavolata. The format is the same seasonal set four courses as usual at $69.95 with an Italian bent.
Smithers looks forward to her return mid spring. She has erected a 6m x 20m poly tunnel, a greenhouse in which she has planted soft leafy greens and small root vegetables. By then she will know if she has been able to cheat the cool climate in Lyonville. “This place is going to look after me and my customers for the rest of my cheffing days,” she says with warm grin.
du Fermier, 42 High St Trentham Fri-Mon Lunch
(03) 5424 1634