Joost Bakker – kitchen Spy

Sustainable designer and gardener Joost Bakker. Photo: Luis Ascui, Getty Images

Published August 26, 2014

Dutch-born Joost Bakker‘s early interest in drawing has led to a creative life that fuses food, design, philosophy and art. He has installed flowers at top-flight restaurants, constructed sustainable ”green houses” around the country (including Federation Square and at the Sydney Opera House) and recently his zero-waste-producing Melbourne restaurant has been turning heads.

This year it was renamed Brothl, for the broths made from bones Neil Perry’s restaurants throw away. We caught up with the 41-year-old in his self-built straw-bale house (clad in strawberries, no less), where he lives with wife Jennie, daughters Ruby, 11, Charlie, 9, and Remy, 6, pet dog Molly, five chooks and two goats.

Read the full story on good food.com.au here.

It was eye-opening visiting Joost’s Monbulk home, which is covered in those clay pots filled with strawberries. He had a lot of stories to tell about eating fresh foods (particularly freshly rolled oats and freshly milled flour) and about farming techniques, most of which I couldn’t squeeze into the Epicure story. Here, for your pleasure, are a few extra quotes…

Joost on oat rollers
“I used to sell them on my website but now I’ve only got two – one that I travel with and this one stays here. But my mum and dad have got one, the whole family, all my friends. Especially people like my brother, who had problems with his cholesterol and stuff and soon as he started (eating fresh oats) the doctor said, ‘what the hell? What have you done?’ And it just sorts that kind of stuff out. It’s really good for mental health.”

Joost on oats and mental health
“The ones that I used to sell were made by a guy who – his name was Wolfgang Mock and he was studying psychology in the 60s in Germany and he made an oat roller and realised through his studies that fresh oats are really good for mental health and can stimulate positive thinking in your brain. So he made oat rollers when he was studying suicidal prisoners and next thing he knew he was making oat rollers for all his friends and I think he’s made two-and-a-half million oat rollers since then, he ended up not even going in psychology but he makes wheat grinders and oat rollers – millions of them.”

Joost’s oat roller
“My one is a Schnitzer, named after a Dr Schnitzer, who was a dentist in Germany that realised that great dental health was closely linked to having freshly milled wheat and flour. He was treating a whole series of towns and there was one twon that never suffered from tooth decay and he realised that that town still had a bakery that was still stone-grinding their flour fresh. So, he made that link and he again is responsible for millions – if you google Schnitzer mills – they say that eight per cent of the German population roll their oats fresh every morning because of him.”

Joost on fermenting rice
“I use Rainfed Rice, which is from about an hour-and-a-half outside Byron Bay and it’s biodynamic, grown by the Fawcett family, and they grow it like wheat, so they don’t actually flood the land, which is apparently how they did it traditionally in Japan 5-6-700 years ago. The idea is, when you flood land you actually stop the soil from breathing, so you actually make the soil less ‘alive’. But of course it’s great weed control, which is the main reason they flood it.”

Joost on Masanobu Fukawa
Masanobu Fukuoka is a bit of a hero of mine. He was a Japanese scientist who, in the early 1950s, after World War Two, was paid by the government to go and inspect rice fields for rust and disease. He discovered a rust-infested crop and then he climbed back onto the road and he noticed there was wild rice growing that was totally fine. That’s when he put two-and-two together and he spent 40 years of his life perfecting the method of rain-fed rice, never tilling the soil. So, what he used to do was he used to cast the rice two weeks before harvesting barley, over the top of the barley top and then he would plant rice over the top and then harvest the barley and that would trample the seeds in and it would start to germinate so the birds didn’t get access to it and then he’s repeat it with the rice.”

More on Masanobu
“He was a bit of a hero in the 1980s. He ended up achieving the highest yield in Japan. His theory was that you should never have to til the soil. What’s below the surface should never see sunlight – it was always full of microbes and activity. So he would use Australian acacias to lock down nitrogen into the soil, he would also use things like clover – he used to make clay pellets and have clover seed inside and cast them over the fields and the birds couldn’t get access to them and the clover would fix the nitrogen into the soil. It took him a long time but eventually in the late 70s he was surrounded by conventional farmers who were spraying the crap out of their crops and using MPK fertiliser and it made him a bit of a rockstar – even his dad thought he was mad (his dad was a rice grower, he said, ‘what are you doing?’) – and a lot of biodynamic growers now use Masanobu’s method – even on a much larger scale.”