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What meal do you remember most from your childhood?
I'm not sure if I was three or four years old but the memory is so vivid. At the time we lived in Rose Bay, Sydney, just up the road from the flying boat squadron. There had been a huge storm buffeting the shore, then a black out. Mum had candles burning within minutes as we huddled around the small kitchen table and she served us golden syrup dumplings. Was it the smell, the taste, the feeling of safety? I'm not sure but not only is it my first food memory but it was the only time Mum ever cooked them and yet even just talking about them my whole body smiles.
What’s your favourite dish to make?
This will vary depending on what's in the peak of season, but a frontrunner, whenever I can find it, is fresh sea urchin, totally unadorned.
What first drew you to cooking?
I guess the path chose me in that it was a necessity that turned into serendipity. When we first started breeding pheasants we could sell them just for novelty value but no one knew how to cook them. Any written recipes that people might have tried were pretty horrific and would have resulted in dry, overcooked birds - so no wonder they didn't come back a second time. Cooking came naturally to me so that's what I started to do - cook our pheasants; our quail; pickle our quail eggs; make our pate and utilise every bit of the birds. We started the farm shop and sold fresh birds with instructions on how I cooked them and offered roasted pheasant and stuffed quails as picnic food on the side of the dam. Still I wonder how I had the audacity, with no experience or training, to start a restaurant (the acclaimed Pheasant Farm Restaurant which closed in 1993) but I'm so happy I did. And today we're a farm shop again, serving picnic fare, so we've truly come full circle.
What do you love most about the food culture in Australia?
I think our produce in this country is fantastic and has the capacity to be even more so because of the ever-increasing amounts of dedicated producers passionate about what they do. If I had to describe Australian cuisine, it would probably be fresh and vibrant. We’re very lucky in Australia to have such a diversity of cultures that we can swap and borrow from to make up our own version of local cuisine. We are such a young country so we are developing an Australian cuisine that is an ever growing thing, which is wonderful, but ‘produce as the star’ will always be key.
What do you think is one of the most important lessons people should learn about cooking?
Shop and be seduced by what looks the freshest, the most vibrant and then find a good recipe to follow if unsure of how to cook it that way your food will be at the peak of its season, at its most affordable, and most importantly; full of flavour. The next step is to keep it simple. Good produce needs so little done to it, so don't overcomplicate things. Follow the principle that less is more... the more being your enjoyment in sharing your table, and having everyone in the family involved.
What is one of the most interesting ingredients you have ever worked with and why?
Wattleseed is one that springs to mind. When we were doing The Cook and the Chef I was introduced to a wonderful recipe for wattleseed, date and macadamia cake. I’m lucky enough to be able to get wattleseed at our Farmer’s Market too, through a local grower in Eudunda. It has the most wonderful roasted, nutty flavour, almost like coffee, and works so well in homemade bread, added to a dukkah mix, sprinkled over salads or even used in sweet dishes like cakes or rice puddings.
What has been the proudest moment of your career and why?This is a very hard question to answer! I’ll have to give my top 5 which are a mix of personal and business achievements:
1. My partnership with Colin and two strong daughters and 5 beautiful grandchildren
2. Creating the Pheasant Farm Restaurant against all odds
3. Being named Senior Australian of the Year
4. Building our export kitchen in the Barossa where every product we make on a commercial scale we do with the same care and flavour as if it was made in my own kitchen. Short cuts are an anathema to me.
5. Having a group of friends I sing with every week – just for joy!
Maggie Beer is one of the celebrity chefs featured at The Good Food & Wine Show 2012 in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. The Good Food & Wine Show is coming to Sydney on 22-24 June with a host of celebrity chefs, including George Calombaris and Adriano Zumbo. For tickets and more information about the events nationally, visit www.goodfoodshow.com.au.For more recipes and food news like us on Facebook.
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