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New moon rises on Highlands cooking school

Moonacres Cooking School is the latest offering in award winning farmer Phil Lavers’ ongoing food vision to share his sustainable production and soil philosophy with fellow foodies.

If you’ve met Phil Lavers, you’ll appreciate he’s not one for blowing his own trumpet. The award winning owner and farmer of Moonacres Farm at Fitzroy Falls and Moonacres Kitchen in Robertson is generally happier letting his produce, and head chef and business manager Stephen Santucci, look after any necessary parlance.

But as the newest gem in Lavers’ sparkling crown, Moonacres Cooking School opens its doors this month, the usually economically worded Lavers is happy to chat.

“I guess you could say the cooking school is a solution to a problem,” says Lavers, who for the past decade has delivered his organic produce to some of Sydney’s and the Highlands’ best chefs.

“Often these days people don’t know how to cook and they don’t understand where their food comes from so we want to connect people with their food and for people to realise that the quality of our food really depends on the quality of the soil.”

Nestled beside the Big Potato, just a short walk from Moonacres Kitchen, the school is part of Lavers’ long term plan to establish a foodie education hub in the Southern Highlands, explains Stephen Santucci,  formerly of Vini, Surry Hills.

“When Phil established Moonacres Farm in 2006, he already had the idea to introduce a cafe, a school and a restaurant into the Highlands that would all feed into one another and share a philosophy. That philosophy is to enjoy healthy, seasonal and hand-crafted local foods grown sustainably.”

Lavers moved with his family to their 56 hectare farm in 2006 after saying goodbye to a life as a financial trader and beginning life as an organic farmer in the Highlands. Trial and error were his teachers. 14 years on, the farm remains key to the Moonacre family’s food plans.

“The farm is always at the centre of everything we do,” says Stephen. At the cafe, in the bakery and now at the Moonacres School, our focus is on educating people on why it’s so important to nurture the soil, how and why our produce is farmed the way it is and traditional and creative ways we can prepare that food for optimum flavour and health.”

Helping the Moonacres team offer classes, lectures and demonstrations at the new foodie education hub will be an impressive line-up of chefs, producers and artisans. These will include cheese maker Kristen Allan and O Tama Carey, acclaimed chef of Sydney’s Lankan Filling Station who will teach a Sri Lankan cookery class. Others whispered to be on board are Kim Douglas from Pizza Madre in Marrickville and Danielle Alvarez, head chef at Fred’s in Paddington and renowned for his farm to table cooking.

The school’s large kitchen is decorated in country-style and and boasts an enormous Esse range cooker and stove. A communal dining table is positioned in the centre of the large space where students and teachers will come together at the end of class to feast.

Karon Di Francesco, Moonacres School manager, says it makes sense to offer an educational program alongside the award-winning farm and cafe.

“Phil knows so many food artisans and chefs from years of supplying some of the best restaurants in Sydney with produce from the farm, as does Stephen,” says Karon.

“Cheese makers, pasta makers, high profile chefs, sough dough bread makers, picklers and fermenters, charcutiers, and they’re all itching to come to Robertson and run courses at the Moonacres School.”

Local food artisans, experts and producers will also be sharing their knowledge and skills in the kitchen and on the farm.

“If we do some charcuterie courses, for example, the charcuterie will be from animals that are bred locally and we’ll get Frank the farmer to come in and chat about the produce and his farming practices,” Stephen explains.

“It’s just so special to get the local producers who grow the food or nurture the product to be part of the learning process in the school.”

Cooking classes will be limited to intimate groups of 12 participants or less and will include traditional cooking classes for adults and children. There will also be a seasonal calendar and special courses around celebrations like Christmas, Easter, Ramadan and the Winter Solstice. Other seminars and events will be dedicated to teaching farming skills and techniques, says Karon Di Francesco.

“Our authentic food and farming experiences will help participants to develop skills, increase knowledge, learn lost traditional arts and celebrate beautiful, fresh and local foods to share together around the table.”

This is an exciting new foodie initiative for our community and beyond. Book early – you don’t want to be late to class.

Moonacres School, 74-76 Hoddle St, Robertson

For more information about classes etc


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