(Disclaimer: this is not a paid endorsement or critique of this book. It is my own point of view. I am not connected in any way to the author or anyone associated with this publication. Although, I did get my copy of the Gourmet Farmer Deli book signed by all three authors at their launch at Fullers. It was pretty cool, but doesn't constitute any bias!)
I bought this book as we have been watching Matthew Evans in his guise as The Gourmet Farmer on the popular SBS tv series' of the same name, and greatly enjoyed seeing Tasmania presented in such a warm way. His ability to make connections with local producers, to learn from them and present their contributions to the culture of this lovely state made us a bit proud of our island home. More than that, it made what we want to achieve seem, well, achievable. Surely if this city boy with, seemingly at times, more enthusiasm than acumen, could make a small farm work here, then surely two locals, who had grown up in regional Tassie could too!
The book is an accompaniment to the TV series, in that it expands on the premise and philosophy behind it, as well as giving a great insight into the true chronology of events happening behind the scenes. Due to the magic of editing, the show made it seem like Evans was embarking on slightly disorganised chaos, with something resembling a plan. The book makes it plain that there was a bit more chaos at times, and a lot less plan at others!
Setting out the book according to ingredients ties it back to the central philosophy of all Evan's work, which is to celebrate good, locally produced food and ingredients, and the closing of chapters with a related recipe makes the philosophy a practical undertaking. In between are anecdotes of humour, poignancy, frustration, wonderment and the reality of farming. Evans doesn't shy away from the role of death in the cycles of farm life and the challenges of raising livestock. The story of the passing of Maggie the house cow, the challenges of birth and the devastation caused by native wildlife to stock makes someone like myself, who wishes to walk this path, question whether I could handle these challenges, and where to seek practical information about dealing with them.
By the same token, there are tales of the beauty of his adopted home, and his wonder at the fact that fresh food of high quality is so abundant here. He speaks affectionately of the nature of rural communities and their ability to set aside differences to lend a hand where they think one might be required.
While The Dirty Chef is basically a memoir of Evans journey from foodie to farmer, it's also a nod to all the people he has met along the way, and who have supported him and his family in their endeavours. It is a great reminder to anyone who may wish to follow him in the same adventure that there will be good times, successes and great food, if the wallabies don't get it first. But, there will also be pathos, death, really bad weather and incredibly stupid turkeys. And for those times, you need friends, neighbours and anyone else you can rope in to get through it. If living on the land is about nothing else, it is about people.
Have you read this book? Or any of Matthew Evans other books? What did you think of it? Do you like The Gourmet Farmer? Let us know in the comments below!