It’s been almost a decade since restaurant critic Matthew Evans threw it all in and headed south from Sydney to farm his own plot in the Huon Valley, Tasmania. The experiences of the city-boy-turned-farmer have been documented in the SBS series Gourmet Farmer. A lot has changed: in the first series of the show, Evans was a single man with a dramatic 10-year-long defamation case behind him and an unknown future on the farm ahead.
Now, he has a partner and a son, is toiling on his second farm and has opened a restaurant of his own. Evans and his wife Sadie Chrestman traded their first property Puggle Farm in for the larger (and even more excellently named) Fat Pig Farm last year, and now they’re opening up the property every Friday to diners who want to sample the fruits of their labour.
One of Evans' Wessex Saddleback piglets. Image via Alan Benson.
And labour it has been, albeit one of love. Evans farms rare Wessex Saddleback pigs, a small herd of beef cattle, beehives, a market garden and fruit orchards. On site, there’s a micro-dairy where Evans is experimenting with cheeses and a purpose-built cookery school with commercial kitchen and dining room. Evans and Chrestman’s restaurant and cooking school has been four years in the making.
“Our aim is to enjoy the bounty of the farm, with 90 per cent of everything we cook coming from our land,” Chrestman told Qantas Travel Insider. “We’re welcoming guests to our own farmhouse table to share the kind of experience we’ve enjoyed since we started Fat Pig Farm.”
The menu revolves around what’s growing on the property at any given time.
The Friday Feasts menu change from season to season, month to month and week to week, depending on the farm's bounty. Image supplied.
Called Friday Feasts, the experience is less a traditional restaurant and more a convivial meal with like-minded people at the table of a farmhouse kitchen. Guests can take a tour of the farm first to meet the pigs and inspect the dairy – but if you’d rather luxuriate by the fire with a glass of pinot noir, you’re more than welcome.
Drunken Raspberries. Image supplied.
We can’t tell you what’s on the menu because it changes each and every Friday, but we can tell you what Evans and Chrestman served up at the inaugural Fat Pig Farm Friday Feast. Upon a farmhouse dining table that must have groaned under the weight share plates were piled, replete with delicacies such as leek and bacon tarts; a ploughman’s-style platter of Fat Pig’s ham, marmalade-roasted corned beef and pastrami with herb salad, Bruny Island’s Nanna Cheese and pickled Japanese turnips; baguettes hot from the wood-fired oven (nicknamed The Dennis – not to be confused with the wood-fired stove, Bessie); pork and cider stew with kohlrabi and beans and much, much more. The five-course meal is accompanied by wine, cider and beer from nearby producers including Elsewhere Riesling and Willie Smith's Original Cider.
The Fat Pig Farm dining room. Image supplied.
You may remember that Evans was the critic whose scathing review of a Darling Harbour restaurant in 2003 landed his publisher in court for defamation. Is he worried about the boot being on the other foot?
“Yes, it’s quite weird,” says Evans. “But I’ve been here before. I was once a one-hatted chef, and I was reviewed by a few papers in those days. It’s not something I relish, but every customer is a critic, really, and our job is to make people happy.
“I’m excited about sharing the joy of food that we grow and cook, and know that we’re only as good as our last meal – and the next one.”
Evans tending his patch. Image supplied.
Evans and the Fat Pig Farm team are also offering cooking classes. They’ll take various forms but the regular ones are dedicated to the seasons. Right now, eager students can attend Spring on the Farm classes. There’s a limit of eight people per class. The participants get to tour the farm, picking produce ripe for eating. Next, students gather around the island bench at the cooking school to learn how to get the most out of the harvest. The day includes a morning tea, a long, leisurely lunch with matching wines and something to take home – it might be handmade sausages, or a round of cheese that will mature over time.
Wood-Roasted Pork Leg. Image via Michelle Crawford.
So there you have it. A gourmet farmer and chef and his wife have extended an open invitation to dine at their kitchen table on Fridays. Reviewers welcome.