Homemade bacon, a creamy pasteurised egg, potato mousse and breadcrumbs, garnished with loose peas, lemon and salt and served encased in a smoking bail lid jar. It’s Chef George Cooper’s take on a British TV Dinner – a meal that he recalls eating a lot as a child growing up in Burton upon Trent in England.
As you open that air-tight jar and the smoke releases itself up through your nostrils, Cooper tells stories of his childhood that make sense of what you’re about to eat. The homemade bacon? Cooper’s response to memories of disliking the metallic taste of the processed kind. The fresh, firm peas on top? His nod to the delight of walking in his father’s vegetable garden, snacking on peas plucked straight from their pods.
This is the kind of experience you can soon enjoy year-round with the advent of Cooper’s new venture: Tiller Dining. It’s a farm-to-plate dining and tourism experience with a twist, taking up residence at the family’s recently purchased 21-hectare farm at Yallingup Siding in the Margaret River region.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating Cooper’s exquisite food (he previously operated as Food By The Chef, servicing private dinners and events throughout the south west) will be familiar not only with his unique style – commanding modern techniques to work classic ingredients into distinctive dishes – but also with the uniqueness of the dining experience as a whole.
“My food is driven toward evoking memories,” Cooper says, speaking to Fabric Quarterly via mobile phone at the top of a reception-drawing hill on his property (he’d just finished feeding the cows). “But my private dining had its limitations.”
Among logistical difficulties and space limitations, a major reason behind the move to Tiller Dining is that of reconnecting diners with where their food comes from.
“I really enjoy connecting people back to nature,” says Cooper. “Produce doesn’t just turn up at your door – there’s a farmer behind it. With this, I’m educating my clients as much as feeding them.”
Fittingly, his vision for Tiller Dining goes beyond simply funnelling customers in and out of the 25-seater dining room that’s currently under construction. As the name suggests, it involves working the land and having customers, who’ll be required to purchase tickets for dining sessions, walk the land prior to being seated. A visit to Tiller Dining may even involve catching marron or pulling vegetables for one’s own meal.
Nothing’s set in stone just yet, but Cooper suggests that dining sessions will involve 12 to 15 dishes, meaning 12 to 15 stories, enjoyed over the course of two hours. He wants each experience to be rich, each diner to leave with a knowledge of the land and the Cooper family. And as for the menu?
“My classic dishes will still be on the menu, but they’ll be reinvented,” Cooper says. “Some others will be designed to connect you back with nature, while others still will simply showcase produce, but in a clever, molecular way.”
There was also mention of a take on the famous Cromer crab sandwich served with local gin, tonic and native garnishes. Something to look forward to, if there ever were.
Tiller Dining is set to begin welcoming guests from late 2019.