Food News

Exit interview: chef Ali Currey-Voumard farewells The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery

The chef on late night lamb souvlakis, her favourite playlist and what’s next.
Ali Currey-Voumard

Chef Ali Currey-Voumard (Photo: Will Horner)

Will Horner (main)

For chef Ali Currey-Voumard, the Tasmanian cooking school The Agrarian Kitchen has been her life. As a teenager she cut a deal with owner Rodney Dunn, swapping her volunteer hours in the school’s kitchen for a cooking class. After working in a slew of Andrew McConnell’s Melbourne establishments, she returned to The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery in 2017 as head chef.

Under her direction the restaurant, and Currey-Voumard’s reputation, flourished. The weekly changing menu has been described as thrilling and comforting with added wit and sparkle, and diners flocked for those legendary sourdough potato cakes. Taking home Gourmet Traveller‘s 2019 Best New Talent award didn’t hurt, either.

With her final service at the restaurant done and dusted last Monday (April 1) Currey-Voumard now reflects on her time at the venue and what’s in the store for the future.

How did you celebrate your last day at The Agrarian?

I put on my playlist of music – Gimme, Gimme, Gimme by ABBA, Electric Blue by Icehouse, a lot of old Madonna and Kylie Minogue, and Why Should I Love You by Kate Bush. It gets a bit rogue.

We’d had a busy Sunday service, so we were expecting lunch to be quiet. But on this Monday, we were slammed. It was a beautiful sunny day, there were a few regulars and my friends from Melbourne. But I don’t think we were in the mindset for a busy service. It was pretty difficult, to be honest.

We had a sit-down staff meal afterwards, and I was gifted a set of knives. I’m notorious for stealing people’s knives, so finally I have a set of my own.

We went to Tom McHugo’s pub for a few drinks, but everyone had left by 9pm. My girlfriend (Laura Dyba, The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery’s restaurant manager) suggested we go home, even though it was still early. But as we walked up the pathway to our house, the garage door opened. There were about 25 friends inside, and they had set up a bar, and Pete Cooksley (chef at Lucinda) had coal-grilled lamb in my backyard. We drank Lambrusco and ate lamb souvlaki until late – I won’t tell you how late.

Ali Currey-Voumard with staff from The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery (Photo: Instagram/@ali.dente)

What’s your fondest memory of your time at The Agrarian?

I remember helping sand down the bricks for the wood oven when the restaurant was opening, and tearing off the plastic to the new surfaces – we built the kitchen together. There are thousands of memories, but the main thing is that we are all so close. It’s so special to work with such a small staff pool. It’s the end of a special era, but the start of a new one.

What dish are you most proud of?

Last week we cooked with an oreo dory, a super-soft member of the dory family. We served it with oyster mushrooms from Dean Smith, a supplier who grows them in a train tunnel under his house in Mount Rumney, and a sauce of garlic and butter. The fish becomes rich and sticky.

What won’t you miss about the kitchen?

When you’re stuck in winter, and you have heaps of swedes and cabbages to cook with. In those moments I think “I’ll do anything for basil.”

During your time at Agrarian, how have you grown as a chef?

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is always start simple. You might come up with these crazy intricate dishes, but have to learn to stop that voice in your head that says “add more”. I’ve also learnt a lot about people management, and the type of leader I want to be, and how much of a leader I want to be. It’s insanely gratifying but also emotionally taxing to be managing people with empathy and kindness. I don’t regret it, but I’ve learnt not to take that home with me.

What’s in store for the future?

My friend Jackson Duxbury (beverage supervisor at Franklin) and I are running Ooroo, a wine pop-up series. It’s a testing ground for a restaurant and wine bar that we’re planning on opening early next year in Hobart.

We want it to be neighbourly, but not a pub, and equally focused on food and beverages. There will be an excellent bowl of polenta, or an excellent bowl of greens. It’s food you want to eat, without it being tricked up too much. We just want people to have a good time.

The next Ooroo pop-up is at Franklin on April 21 from 4pm, 30 Argyle St, Hobart, Tas. No bookings, walk-ins only.

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