Oaks Kitchen & Gardening School, Words By Sharon Timms
If you’ve ever been to Oak Beach, 40 mins north of Cairns, you’ll notice a distinct lack of oak trees but an abundance of tropical palms in the lush natural surroundings of this pocket of Tropical North Queensland.
It’s this spot here where Ben Wallace, former chef at Longrain Melbourne, along with his partner Rachael, have taken up farming on a four-acre property where they grow vegetables, fruit, herbs, produce spices and host cooking workshops in a rustic shed overlooking their tropical gardens. Conveniently located a stone’s throw from the luxurious Thala Beach Lodge, it takes less than an hour from Cairns city to get here yet feels like a complete escape.
It’s all about the scent: Tropical North Queensland laced with spices and jasmine never smelt so good. As we come up the meandering driveway at Oaks Kitchen & Garden Cooking School, Ben disappears into a dense patch of eggplants and shoulder-high lemongrass, popping out as we arrive at the house with armfuls of produce from his flourishing veggie patch. The property, belonging to Rachael’s restauranteur parents, has a kitchen garden history that this innovative couple have now extended to a cooking school.
A large French provincial table (a throwback to Ben’s traditional cooking skills) is set in the middle of an open-aired shed lined with cooking utensils, spices and dried herbs. A rustic smoker sits along the side, begging to be fired up and fed with local trout, duck and beef, while the yet-to-be-cooked menu reads like the best combination of a Thai hawker market and city diner.
The Oaks Kitchen is stocked with vital supplies, including plentiful bunches of kefir lime leaves, bush lemons, multiple varieties
of chillies, coriander and bunches of bananas. The shelves hold Oaks Kitchen and Garden olive oil, vinegar, home-made spice mixes and a thousand jars filled with dried tea leaves, all harvested from the garden.
Whether you’re a Masterchef or more of a burn-your-toast kind of cook, Oaks Kitchen & Garden provides an exceptional experience in South East Asian cuisine designed for all confidence levels. The classes are intimate – a maximum of 8 people – where guests are invited to ask Ben and Rachael any questions about South East Asian cuisine and culture, cooking techniques and sustainability as
they chop and muddle their way to culinary decadence. The garden is constantly growing and evolving, producing an abundant selection and continually changing range of ingredient used in Ben’s bespoke menus. “I really want to showcase what this region has to offer,” says Ben.