I had a magnificent Great Aunt, named Ruthie, who lived at Lorne on Victoria’s southwest coast. Her house was an imposing white weatherboard, hidden behind a dense hedge, across the road from the beach.
In her sun room she had scripted over a doorway, “Non fatuum huc persecutus ignem”: It is not by some idle whim that I came to this place.*
Ruthie had a keen interest in cooking and was not afraid of expressing a strong opinion. I have a distinct memory of her casting her eye over Jill Dupleix’s New Food (this must have been 1993) and disdainfully declaring that ‘there was nothing new in it’.
After her death, we also discovered the gem, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, on a bookshelf. If you ever see this in a second-hand bookshop, I implore you to PICK IT UP. No one but Mrs. Beeton can instruct you in quite the same way how a dutiful wife may skin a rabbit for her husband’s dinner.
It was from Ruthie that I first heard of the restaurant and cooking school, Sunnybrae. This was a long time ago, in the days before I cared about such things, but I figured that if Ruthie was impressed, then it must be impressive.
I was extremely fortunate to have the chance to attend an all day cooking class at Sunnybrae on the recent Melbourne Cup Monday. Sunnybrae is run by the very knowledgeable George Biron and it is in Birregurra – about a half hour drive into the hinterland behind Lorne.
George informed us straight out that it was to be an ‘adults cooking class’. There was no hand-holding. We whipped through about 15 dishes in the day. The notes George gave us were sparse so listening and concentration was a must.
An undoubted highlight for a city girl such as myself was picking the asparagus straight from the expansive vegetable garden and then cooking and eating it immediately (with blood orange and a maltaise sauce).
My other favourite dishes that we made were:
- Avocado and apple salad with coriander and lime.
- River shrimp and calamari with aioli.
- Perilla and Thai basil salad.
- Pavlova roll.
- Star anis and lime ice cream.
However, while we learnt many new dishes, it was the ‘philosophy’ that George wanted to impart. He told us that he wanted us to remember:
- Cook with what is seasonal and fresh.
- Be inspired by what is at the market; plan your menu after shopping.
- Keep dishes simple and focus on flavour and texture.
I also was observing George a bit and noticed that he rarely used any sort of measuring implement for his dishes. He prepared everything using taste and feel and knowledge. That is something that I definitely have to work on – being an intuitive cook rather than sticking blindly to recipes. I guess it’s something that takes a lot of experience but I’m working on it!
All in all – not only did I learn a lot about food and cooking, but Sunnybrae is also a beautiful and special place and I highly recommend visiting if you ever get the chance.
* Well, this is what my mother once told me, anyway. A little internet searching reveals a literal translation of something like: ‘It is not foolish to follow passion/fire to this place’. Someone else has translated it as: ‘It is no will-o-the-wisp that I have followed here’, which seems closer to mum’s translation. Any latin scholars out there who can help?!?
UPDATE 23rd November: I looked up the source book cited for the will-o-the-wisp translation. It is: Maxwell, Gavin (1964) Ring of Bright Water, 9th edn. (First published 1960.) Longmans, Green and Co. Ltd.: London. The book is about a man and an otter who lived in the remote wilderness of the West Highlands of Scotland. The quote is on the first page (p.3 in my edition). The book starts as follows:
I sit in a pitch-pine panelled kitchen-living room, with an otter asleep upon its back among the cushions on the sofa, forepaws in the air, and with the expression of tightly shut concentration that very small babies wear in sleep. On the stone slab beneath the chimney-piece are inscribed the words ‘Non fatuum huc persecutus ignem’ – it is no will-o’-the-wisp that I have followed here.’