There is nothing quite like the aroma of fresh baked goods and homemade food wafting from a bustling kitchen. Perhaps the sensation carries us back to our childhood. Or perhaps it is that our simple love of good food and the nourishing, comforting smells makes us feel instantaneously relaxed and at home.
Walking into Veet’s home in the heart of Mullumbimby exudes this same level of homeliness. Polished floorboards hold scattered red cushions and colourful throw rugs, low tables cradle stacks of dog-eared cook books and hand-thrown pottery, open windows allow the winter sun to filter into the kitchen over the stainless steel benches, throwing light off the edge of newly sharpened knives that sit waiting for culinary action. Gentle music plays in the background, succulent fruit and unblemished, vibrant produce overflows from wooden bowls on the countertops and fresh lemongrass and rosella leaves boil on the stove for tea.
What stretches before me with luxurious anticipation are four days in Veet’s home at her Vegetarian Cooking School.
Veet’s career path originated in teaching. Before moving to Byron Bay almost a decade ago, Veet was teaching in a juvenile detention centre on the outskirts of Perth in Western Australia. The passion she held for her work placed an imminent move to Byron Bay on hold for several years, until her partner finally persuaded Veet to join him on his journey East and, despite her reluctance, as soon as her soles touched the soil, Veet was at home.
After working for nine months at the English Language School, Veet decided to start up her own small business, delivering homemade vegetarian lunches and meals to people around the Shire. Getting lost, facing unwelcoming dogs, hauling containers of food up long steep driveways, the delivery service was not all Veet had envisioned. However, a move to a new home in the centre of Mullumbimby allowed Veet to turn her delivery service into a pick up service, her large freezers outside stocked with an array of healthy vegetarian meals that people could simply collect, depositing payment in the wooden honesty box provided.
The home cooking service quickly escalated to small catering jobs, and then larger catering jobs, until Veet’s entire yearly calendar was a neat collage of retreats and events. Combining her passion for vibrant, nourishing food with her love of teaching in 2009, Veet began offering cooking classes from her home and interstate and this merging of careers has most recently culminated in her latest project: The Vegetarian Cooking School.
Veet’s school offers both practical culinary and chef skills alongside a solid nutritional understanding of a plant-based diet. Made up of nine unique components, students can choose to complete the entire course or pick and choose the modules – which range from raw food to Ayuvedic cuisine to fermentation and more – that interest them the most. Completing Module one is essential to move onto any of the subsequent components of the course and is run several times a year, while the remaining modules are spaced out over weekends to allow people to travel from interstate.
The kitchen is not a strange nor barren landscape for myself. In fact, I have been working in kitchens, all vegetarian, vegan or raw, for the last decade or so. Yet I was keen to embrace this course with open eyes, eager to learn from Veet’s experience and pick up some new kitchen tips and recipes for myself. What I ended up taking away after four days however, was so much more.
The days are lengthy yet adequately spaced out, beginning bright and early at 8.30am and stretching through until 5.30pm. Each day begins with a group discussion and gentle grounding exercises, offering the opportunity to leave our hectic lives at the doorstep and immerse ourselves fully into the routines of the kitchen. Veet consciously keeps the groups small so that each student receives personalised attention.
Reading over the menu in the course prospectus, it seems almost impossible that we could create so many varied dishes and meals in the course of a single day!
A shared lunch each day is the main course and incorporates multiple dishes including vibrant salads, hearty curries, steamed vegetables with exotic dressings, shared tapas plates, tempeh bakes, quinoa burgers, vegetable skewers, nourishing soups and an array of condiments such as cashew mayonnaise, sage and walnut pesto, salsa verde, gomasio and dukha.
A short break and period of time for self-care precedes the dinner preparations, which are made and then packed away into containers to take home and share. Venturing out each evening into the dark street, our arms are laden with brown rice sushi, Mexican pinto beans, French Ratatouille and hearty Italian lasagna, as well as numerous side dishes of sautéed greens, stir-fried vegetables, marinated mushrooms and various salsas and condiments.
Out of mere interest I attempt to count the various dishes we create over the course of four days. I lose track at thirty-five, knowing I must have missed at least a dozen or more! The dishes are flavoursome and artfully presented, yet simple and easy to recreate again in the kitchen at home. Even with the sheer offering of various dishes and taste sensations, we never feel overly full nor do we lapse into a dreaded food coma! Veet’s cuisine is light and delicious, utilising the freshest seasonal produce with simple methods of cooking to bring out the natural taste and quality of the food itself.
Veet’s cooking utilises almost one hundred per cent organic ingredients with a real focus on local food. The weekly farmers markets are her grocery store, not only for fresh produce but also for things such as macadamia oil, miso paste, olives and pecans. For dry goods, Veet shops at local health food stores and buys in bulk to avoid plastic packaging. Although buying in bulk from a national distributor would be more cost effective, Veet prefers to put her money back into her local community and support small businesses. Every decision Veet makes when it comes to her ingredients is made consciously and she is forever questioning her ethics around where her food is coming from; although Bolivian quinoa is a fluffier, lighter, even tastier grain, Veet is loyal to the Tasmanian variety. The decision not to purchase seaweed from Japan means sticking to Australian dulse and wakame. And although many newly famous superfoods do indeed have tremendous nutritional properties, Veet prefers not to source these foods too often, all too aware that the insatiable western appetite poses a threat to these small communities and their ways of living and sustaining themselves.
Throughout the four days, extra curricular activities keep our small, enthusiastic group on our toes – an early morning trip to the farmers market, a knife sharpening lesson with Veet’s partner, a meditation exercise with one of Veet’s kitchen assistants, time spent swooning over Veet’s vast array of recipe books and conversations around food ethics, food science and food hygiene.
Veet’s sensitive and gentle nature encourages the group to share any challenges that arise for us and time is set aside each day for a period of self-care which allows us to rest, take a nap in the sunshine, read on the daybeds of her wrap-around balcony, or take a walk through the flower-lined streets of the small iconic town. These breaks allow us to return to our chopping board and aprons refreshed and revived, ready to cook together, laugh together, create together – the sound of chopping, baking, sautéing and chattering a melody that becomes gently addictive and ever so endearing as the days meander on.
Over the course of four days I discover many new recipes, new cooking techniques, new flavours and deeper insights into nutrition requirements. On top of all of this, what I truly learn about is myself. By the final day I arrive feeling a little tired, a little scattered, a little distracted by the beautiful Sunday outside and the amount of work that is slowly piling up at home in my inbox. As if Veet has already sensed this headiness within, upon our arrival she turns on the stereo, turns up the speakers and we dance, letting go of the thoughts in our head and shaking up the emotions in our body. We step back into the kitchen invigorated once again.
With my arms loaded up with containers of aromatic food, recipes, scribbled notes, my camera, homework tasks and a very generous goodie bag, I leave Veet’s house with mixed emotions, elated from the experience and a little sorry I will not be returning again the next day. Already, my sights are set of the remaining modules of the course and my own kitchen now beckons with glee. I anticipate that Veet’s cookbook will rarely stray from my kitchen countertop and her wise words will continue to echo in my mind amidst my ongoing kitchen ventures.
Veet runs Module One of her Vegetarian Cooking School Frequently and also offers catering for events, retreats and functions. To find out more or contact Veet, visit her website at veetscuisine.com.au