(Disclosure = I provide ProBono support to OzHarvest in SA, which includes marketing, communication and events)

As Charity Partner for Tasting Australia OzHarvest supported several across the program, and held a signature event – Cooking for a Cause with Chef James Henry of Paris Restaurant Bones.

And what an incredibly positive night it was.

For one, guest Chef James Henry was a disarmingly unassuming and pretty downright delightful bloke who’s pared-back no-waste but perfectly put together approach at Bones is grabbing global culinary attention.

For another, we were joined by Rodney Dunn of sustainable farm-based cooking school The Agrarian Kitchen – another warm, genuine and inspiring soul doing some pretty amazing immersive paddock to plate cooking experiences in my birth State Tasmania.

Joined with around 30 other participants that included food identities, business people, bloggers, and members of the community – and a committed band of OzHarvest volunteers.

And together we were there to Cook for a Cause – the OzHarvest partnership program for teaming up to prepare some delicious food for people in need using good rescued produce.

And as is often the case when I help out for my favourite cause – it was just an incredible honour to play a part.

Laura with James

About James Henry and Bones Restaurant

We chatted informally with James for 10 minutes or so, about his philosophy and approach; talking about whole animal eating, tales of provenance and basically letting the product speak for itself.

Australian born James has an impressive heritage; training under multi-Hatted Chef Andrew McConnell (Cumulus Inc, Cutler & Co, Golden Fields…) who describes his “combination of humble ambition and raw talent [as what] really sets him apart”.

While his move to (and subsequent rise to fame) in Paris seems to have been one of following opportunity ‘I had a French girlfriend”  and “was only supposed to help out a week or two” (of Au Passage) it has been a road well worth travelling, if rave reviews and restaurant success are anything to go by.

I kept thinking about this underlying message of accessibility.

Whether this is about having access to the best, seasonal raw ingredients – or in terms of an authentic, pared back no frills approach being accessible to the diner.  He struck me as having a pretty laid back but laser sharp focus on keeping it real.

And a no-waste approach is central to that – driven by provenance and ethics, but innovation and economics as well.

He recounts that some of the most successful dishes at Bones have come about through a desire not to waste.

Read more here.

Hear him talk about his philosophy and approach in this video.

About Rodney Dunn and The Agrarian Kitchen

While not formally part of the program, what a surprise delight to have Rodney Dunn join us at the event.

Rodney and his wife run The Agrarian Kitchen – the sustainable farm-based cooking school just outside of Hobart in Tassie offering paddock-to-plate cooking experiences that include ‘The Whole Hog’ ‘Charcuterie’ or ‘The Agrarian Experience’ by season.

It’s now on my ‘soon must do’ list.

Rodney and I at the benches

Rodney is former Food Editor of Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine and one-time apprentice to Australian Chef, Tetsuya Wakuda.  All sessions at The Agrarian Kitchen are multi-experience events, sometimes over a number of days, that include not just cooking and eating but covering a a range of styles and methods, understanding the produce and its source.

Think breaking down a carcass, making sausages, whole animal thinking, gathering from the garden.  Each class reportedly is some 6 months or more in the making, with produce being brought to it’s seasonal best in time for the class.

It was a brief meeting, but if my experience at this event was anything to go by, I’m sure there is an incredible warmth and generosity of spirit running throughout the Agrarian experience.

Read more here

Or head over to The Agrarian Kitchen.

On to the Food

We headed over to the benches.

Picture a space now bustling with activity, alive with participants, yellow t-shirts (volunteers) and happy chatter – about 30 of us in total on the night.

We were using what was available, in season and in surplus  – because when you are in the business of food rescue and minimising food waste this is is what it’s all about.  The produce had been rescued by OzHarvest over recent days from local markets and food businesses.  So if you think about it, it’s food in abundance, seasonal, available, and in most cases ready to use now.

We made a delicious seasonable vegetable soup with pesto – Soupe au Pistou – adding a blended pesto of garlic, finely chopped herbs and olive oil.

There also had been a large supply of apples rescued so we also made Apple Tarts, fanned pretty rustically on a pastry base baked with a simplified creme patissiere.

Delicious.  Nutrituous.  And without OzHarvest the produce would have gone to the tip.

Pretty darn good.

And at the end of the night, all meals were packed up and collected by the amazing driver Carolyn who shipped it away for delivery first thing the next day.

On Cooking for a Cause

Everyone I spoke to that night had such a great time – there really was an awesome buzz in the room.

And to be honest, I’m always genuinely struck by the very moving energy at OzHarvest events, Cooking For A Cause sessions in particular.

Cooking For A Cause is the OzHarvest partnership program, designed for professional teams – mostly corporates – to come together to prepare meals for charity.

Working teams come together in an OzHarvest Kitchen, under the guidance of one of many supporting Chefs, Cooks and Food Identities, to prepare delicious food using produce that OzHarvest has rescued from local food businesses. This food is then packaged up and delivered to partner agencies for people who need it.

Admittedly not every Cooking for a Cause session is conducted in the Tasting Australia Town Square with James Henry (and Rodney Dunn!).  

But they all have an unmistakable buzz.  

I reckon it’s because there is something so genuinely heartfelt about preparing a meal for another. It’s natural, it happens with ease.

Forget rock climbing, fire fighting, bungee jumping. This is authentic and real.

Lay down mazaire over team building sessions I’ve seen in my time.

And there’s been a few…

To contact OzHarvest about registering your team for a Cooking For A Cause – or just to stay in touch – go here.

To check out other photos from the night, head over to the OzHarvest facebook page, over here.