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Chef Tim Bourke returns to The Farm Eatery to lead new Barossa cooking school

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Recent events have prompted Elli Beer to press reset on her successful Barossa restaurant The Farm Eatery, returning to the original blueprint she set out to achieve with her sister Saskia: sharing a love and knowledge of food.

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Barossa restaurant and cooking school The Farm Eatery and Experience Centre has emerged from COVID-19 restrictions with a lick of vibrant orange paint and a revamped offering of cooking classes, led by accomplished chef Tim Bourke.

Elli Beer and her sister Saskia, who tragically passed away in February this year, established The Farm as a function centre in 2008. They evolved the Eatery and Experience Centre aspect of the business in 2017 as equal parts restaurant and cooking school to share their family’s knowledge and love of food.

However, The Farm Eatery grew so successful as a restaurant, led by Bourke, that the siblings never got to fulfil the original plan for a Barossa cooking school.

“When we established what was supposed to be a cooking school and restaurant back in 2017, we didn’t realise what kind of a monster we’d created,” says Elli.

“We were getting hammered in the restaurant every day. It was amazing, but it was burning us all out.”

The restaurant and cooking school overlooks the dam on the Beer family farm on Pheasant Road. Two-thirds of the space was supposed to be dedicated to cooking classes, with custom-made benches, each with Miele gas cookers. “But we never had time,” Elli says of the planned classes.

Since Saskia’s sudden death in February, and with the restaurant shut down for a few months, Elli has decided to refocus resources to deliver a comprehensive offering of cooking classes.

From previously trading seven days a week, the restaurant is now only open four days, and has been scaled back to just 80 seats, freeing up the chef to focus on the educational side of the business.

The classes will be overseen by Bourke, who originally came to The Farm Eatery from Kangaroo Island’s Southern Ocean Lodge in 2017.

Bourke stepped away from The Farm Eatery last year to focus on his Barossa-based supper clubs at David Franz Cellar Door, but has returned to lead the cooking school while continuing the supper clubs once a month.

“Now that we’ve reassessed our priorities, and got Tim back, we can do what we set out to,” Elli says. “COVID has prompted us to reset to our original intention for this space and the whole farm property.”

The experiences start from $85 and run from 90 minutes to five hours. The shorter classes include Pickles and Preserves, Gluten-Free Cooking, Pasta Basics, Cocktails and Snacks, and Simple Seafood.

Three-hour classes include Pizza from Scratch, Handmade Cheese and Artisan Bread and Butter, Junior Cooks (12 to 16 years), and Plant Based Food, Drinks and Cheese.

The five-hour courses include The Gamekeeper (an introduction to game birds and animals), Meat and Seafood Butchery, Sunday Roast Barossa Style, and Food and Wine Matching.

The eatery will be open concurrently with the cooking school, creating some theatre for restaurant guests who will be able to see the cooking classes running next door.

Although matriarch Maggie Beer has retired from the business, Elli says her mother is often on hand, helping out or floating around the kitchen.

Since the lifting of coronavirus restrictions, The Farm Eatery restaurant has reopened Fridays through Mondays and has enjoyed healthy patronage— a sign of South Australians taking up the call to explore their backyard.

“That adage to ‘be a tourist in your own town’ is working at the moment,” Elli says. “People have embraced post-COVID tourism and the support has been fantastic.”

The Farm Eatery. Photo: John Krüger

In February, the announcement of Saskia’s death led to an outpouring of grief from the community, with a huge turnout to a memorial at Langmeil Winery.

“Saskia and I always worked together. Mum and Dad’s plan was that Sassi and I would together take over this and other aspects of the business,” Elli says.

“We would work together in running everything that they built. I wish Saskia was here to help, but there’s still a lot of great support up here.”

Elli says that when someone in the community needed help, or had occasion to celebrate, Saskia was the first one at the door with a plate of food.

“It’s how she communicated,” Elli says.

“Whether it was taking food to the CFS during the fires, or the day Peter Lehmann died and she was the first one in the kitchen with a roast goose. Food was her language.”

The cooking school space was previously utilised for gin classes run by Elli’s husband Brett, who has now moved to a venue in Greenock. “It’s such a cool space there, so it’s worked out really well,” she says.

Elli is currently collaborating with former Barossan Jason Harris, of Big Shed Brewing, to create a craft beer — a Pilsner. It will be a small-batch, unique recipe under the (family) “Beer” label, and available from the farm shop later this year.

“We can’t continue this nonsense of being Beers without doing something about brewing,” Elli says.

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