You’ve just released your latest book, The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures. How important do you think sourcing natural, unprocessed ingredients is when cooking?
It’s really important because it gives you a sense of connection. When you’re busy it can be really easy to hand over your life to an industrial food chain so without even realising it you end up eating a not very healthy diet and spending a lot of money. When you work with fresh, natural ingredients there’s a real engagement of your senses so you can smell, touch and taste everything about that moment of ripeness or perfection. It titivates your senses in a way food out of a packet never can. A lot of processed foods tend to be very high in sugar and fat and that’s what makes them taste good, but it’s empty calories.
What would you say was the biggest influence in your life in terms of defining your ethos?
Probably growing up in a family where my Dad grew vegetables for the table and my mother was a stay-at-home mum who was really interested in cooking and creating a beautiful home atmosphere and who also did a lot of entertaining. I learned from her the importance of taking pleasure from the small moments and rituals of daily life.
You’re very widely traveled, where is your favourite destination?
Wanaka. It’s such an uplifting environment and I’m always thrilled to see what the garden is up to.
What do you feel has been your greatest challenge so far?
Probably when our two kids were little and I had a big high-powered job and I got really burnt out trying to be the perfect woman. I had to take stock and slow down and re-evaluate what was important. That’s why I waited until the kids were off doing their own thing before embarking on this new chapter of TV and global publishing
What makes a great dish? Why?
Often the best dishes are the simplest and the reason they are is they emphasise whatever fabulous ingredient is in them. I’m probably different from a lot of people who get wowed by the performance of snazzy restaurant food. To me the artistry of a great chef comes to life on your palate as something wonderful, but at home I tend to be more of a cook, and I’m interested in simple, honest flavours. I enjoy meals when you can taste the care someone has taken in preparing it, rather than be wowed by the culinary gymnastics of it all.
What is your “go-to” dish?
Fresh fish fillets on an oven tray with a slather of a tasty topping such as pesto or tapenade or curry paste – seven to 10 minutes in the oven and you’re eating.
Your recipes are a great balance of health and taste, but what would you say is your biggest food guilty pleasure?
Cheese – I love it. Especially those oozy, smelly French cheeses.
Any spectacular kitchen disasters to report?
Microwaving my first cake for 60 minutes – I invented a new building material. Making a strawberry refrigerator cake for an outdoor catering job on a hot day – by the time it had sat in the middle of a hot paddock for several hours it oozed its way over the tablecloth and onto the grass. Making and icing a carrot cake at a friend’s house and it wasn’t until just before the guests arrived when I put the oil in a dressing, shook it up and watched the bubbles foam that I realised they had put detergent into the oil bottle I had also used for the cake… shall I go on?
You’re a very busy woman – how do you unwind at the end of the day?
A deep bath with a glass of wine and a book.
What one piece of advice do you wish someone gave you earlier?
That it’s just so important to keep it fun. I used to find it really hard to make decisions but now I realise not making any decision is worse than making the wrong decision. Get into a pattern of making decisions and you create an environment in which you can move forward and create change in your life.
What’s next on your agenda?
I feel like I’m just warming up. This month I’m off to the Frankfurt Book Fair and then book launches in Europe and then home to work on new projects. It’s a really exciting time to be in this world of multimedia because it’s at such a big crossroads and that presents so many exciting opportunities for invention and creativity. Watch this space!
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