LOVING LOCAL Belinda Jeffery’s cooking classes
Belinda Jeffery is sharing her love of local, seasonal produce at her Federal cooking classes
SIXTEEN years ago, chef, TV presenter, magazine food writer and cookbook author Belinda Jeffery left behind her fast paced career in Sydney and started a new life on the Northern Rivers. Passionate about local, seasonal food and a loyal supporter of the local farmers markets, her most recent cookbook, The Salad Book, was inspired by the bounty of produce grown in the region. Belinda’s latest venture – a cooking school in the tiny village of Federal – was recently named one of the top five cooking schools in Australia by Delicious on Sunday magazine.
What influence has this region had on your cooking?
The farmers markets have had a huge influence on what I cook. We are just so lucky to have four farmers markets within spitting distance (well, in country terms!) of home, and each week I find myself at one, two, or depending what’s on, even three of those markets. They provide a constant source of inspiration for what I cook, as I try to only use seasonal produce.
Last year you started your cooking classes at the old Federal Village Hall, what was the impetus behind that?
For many years I’ve travelled away to teach both within Australia and overseas, however wherever I go I always greatly missed using the beautiful local produce we have here. So a year ago, I decided to create a permanent home for my classes here so I could make the most of the bounty we have, and having cooked in and known well the lovely old kitchen at Jasper’s Corner in Federal, I knew it would be just perfect for what I wanted.
What is involved in a typical day at one of your cooking classes and what do you hope people will take from it?
We do two different styles of class – hands-on for eight people and demonstration classes for 12. On arrival for both classes, we sit outside with a cup of tea or coffee and home-made cake to talk about the class ahead. For the hands-on class, we then cook for the next three hours or so. As you can imagine, there’s lots of chat and laughter as we all cook together to create a fabulous lunch. Around 2pm we sit down for a welcome glass of wine and to feast on the dishes that we’ve made – this part can go on for quite a while! At the end of the day everyone departs with the recipes
we’ve made, and a goodie bag of home-made jam or marmalade and some local treats.
The demonstration classes are shorter, and I tend to do specialised topics, for example, a pastry masterclass, where I do the cooking and everyone watches and takes notes. There are lots of tastings in these classes, and as they’re so intimate, the chance to give a more in-depth look at whatever I’m teaching.
My greatest hope is that people leave both classes having learnt a lot and feeling more confident and inspired to cook seasonally.
Can you tell us a little about the inspiration for your most recent cookbook, The Salad Book?
I guess I should start at the beginning; and the beginning is our home. As I said earlier I feel incredibly fortunate to live in such a glorious part of rural Australia, and to have access all year round to beautiful local produce. I delight in everything about the farmers markets here – the just-picked beauty and vivid flavours of the produce; the growers and producers themselves, who are there every week, rain or shine, with a welcoming smile, a story, a recipe, a laugh to be had and, more often than not, a treat to be savoured. And it’s not just farmers bringing their cornucopia of vegetables, fruits and nuts – there are also producers of honey, coffee and olives; makers of cheese and tofu; picklers and fermenters of vegetables; butchers, bakers, and yes, you guessed it... there really is a candlestick maker too! We have known many of these hard-working people for over 15 years now, and it has been so special to have them in our lives and to see their farms and businesses flourish, so to write a book based on this edible bounty seemed the most natural thing in the world to do.
■ Find out more at www.belindajeffery.com.au or follow Belinda on instagram @belindajefferyfood
LEFT: Belinda Jeffery, a passionate advocate for local produce.