The Gourmet Farmer... Matthew Evans

I can't tell you how excited I was when Matthew Evans agreed to be interviewed for Eco Nest. Think 'excitable child given a latte and a puppy and told she could eat all the lollies she could stomach and stay up all night'. Yes, indeed, I was very excited.

Former renowned food critic for the Sydney Morning Herald, Matthew Evans swapped fine dining for milking cows, and moved to his very own piece of land, called Puggle Farm in Cygnet Tasmania, where he lives happily in amongst beautiful bushland and clucking chickens. His farming adventures have been translated into the heartwarming and nourishing SBS television series, The Gourmet Farmer.

He is author of the must-read Never Order Chicken on a Monday (and trust me you won't after reading the book) and the very generous cookbook The Real Food Companion (amongst others), and here he gives us a little insight into life on a Tasmanian farm and the man himself.

Matthew, you're a self-proclaimed 'good food junkie'. What sparked your passion for wholesome, unadulterated produce?
I think it stems from my years as a food critic. I became aware that so much of what we eat has spent so long in storage, in transit, and been handled so much, and this has all affected its flavour. I rediscovered the flavour of home grown, home cooked food, its integrity, and have been smitten ever since.

Why is it important for us to care about where our food comes from?
I think it's good for the earth, for the wellbeing of the animals we eat, and possibly for our health because the more you know where your food came from, the more you can know and trust that what you eat is sustainably, ethically and humanely produced. It’s about accountability, of growers to us, and us to growers. We already know that the more vibrancy a food has in terms of flavour, the more antioxidants it’s likely to contain.

You packed up your bags as a renowned food critic and unpacked them at a Tasmanian farm where you now grow your own produce and sell a range of artisan foods. What do you love most about your new life in Tassie?
I adore being in touch with the land. People in the valleys around me have either never lost touch with the soil, or have moved here and discovered it again. We're very much a part of the environment in which we live, and my sense of being truly, deliriously alive has never been greater.

You raise a few different animals on your farm. Which is your favourite farm animal?
The favourite animal has to be the house cow, Priscilla. She's a jersey, so the milk is full of cream and sweet as a child's kiss. She's bossy, stubborn, moody and the most ridiculous folly for a smallholder like myself, but I can't help but love her for all her personality traits and her milk. That's even after she tried to kick me as I milked this morning.

As you started out as a novice farmer, did you find it difficult to use your own animals as food?
I always intended to eat meat produced on Puggle Farm, but I certainly didn't relish the death thing. I still don't like it, but the reality is that if you're going to eat meat (and even if you're not) animals will die. To me it matters how they live, and that they die as humanely as possible. Then it's imperative that we make the most of the food that comes at such a price.

How did you draw the distinction between loveable pet and food?
There's no denying there's a strong attachment to animals reared on the farm, but I am a conscious omnivore; I have chosen to eat meat as part of my diet, so it's far, far, far better to know where your animal protein has come from, how it has lived, what it has eaten, how it has died, than to just buy meat on a plastic tray in a supermarket fridge. Animals destined for the pot are usually earmarked for eating as soon as they're born, though it does still tug on the heartstrings to see some of them go to the cutting shop.

If you were to be reincarnated as a dish, which would you be? (I think I'd come back as a rabbit ragu)
I think I'd be a little chocolate and whisky pot with treacle butterscotch. Bittersweet, a bit intense, tinged with good spirit (or is it just alcohol??), and a bit soft at the heart.

So then what's your favourite food, the meal that makes the whole world good again?
Pasta. I think I can eat a lot of pasta in a week and still enjoy every mouthful. It can be as noble as a star or as humble as a shoe, but it's always really satisfying even when eaten alone.

What would you do with a beautiful free-range whole duck, a bunch of purple carrots and a bag of pears?
I'd cook the duck in red wine and sage in the cooker overnight, braise it and shred it to have with hand-rolled pappardelle. I'd serve the carrots as an entree, simply roasted and scattered with goat fetta, and would make a tarte tatin with salty caramel pears for pud.

Thank you Matthew for a fantastic interview. Here's to good food!

All images above via SBS.


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