Annabel Langbein talks food, how she became a cook and having the queen for tea...
Wellington-born Annabel Langbein learned to cook from her home economist mother, then left home at 16 to live off the land, growing vegetables, cooking over an open fire, trapping possums and crayfish and jumping out of helicopters to recover live deer.
She self-published her first book of recipes in 1988, and since then her 25 cookbooks have won numerous international awards, been translated into multiple languages and sold more than two million copies. She’s also known as the star of her international television series Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook.
Annabel now lives on the shores of Lake Wanaka, where she and her husband Ted have transformed a boggy swamp into extensive vegetable gardens and orchards over more than 20 years.
At this year’s Food Shows in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, Annabel will share delicious recipes from her new book ESSENTIAL Annabel Langbein. This gorgeous compendium is her biggest and most beautiful recipe book yet, bringing together her own personal favourites and most popular recipes, as well as plenty of brand new ideas and hundreds of clever tips that will make you a better cook.
Tickets to see Annabel live at The Food Show in Christchurch, on at Horncastle Arena from 7-9 April, are available from www.foodshow.co.nz.
When did you decide that cooking was something you wanted to pursue?
Cooking is almost in my DNA – I could cook with my eyes shut and it’s almost like a language for me. My mother used to joke that I was born with a wooden spoon in my hand! Certainly as a young child I loved to bake with my mother and I can still remember the easy sense of pleasure, satisfaction and usefulness that I felt when baking – that magical transformation of simple ingredients such as butter, flour and sugar into crisp biscuits and tender cakes. I remember having my first dinner party when I was 15 and starting to write down recipes around that time too – dishes I had tasted and loved from friends and other recipes from my mother.
But I didn’t always think that cooking would become a career – back then it certainly wasn’t the fashionable profession it is these days. And so it took me till my mid-20s, when I found myself having a multitude of cooking experiences – running my own croissant business in Brazil, setting up a film catering business, writing for Cuisine and the NZ Listener magazines, teaching and doing some consultancy work in New York – that I realised I could turn my passion into a career.
I was in my 20s when I wrote to Julia Child, asking her what I could do with my passion – I knew I didn’t want to be a chef. She suggested I go to America and attend a conference for cooking professionals – not chefs but teachers, stylists and consultants. So I did and it opened up my world.
For three years I was a judge on the Julia Child Cookbook Awards and the thing was that so many of the recipes in those cookbooks didn’t actually work, it was horrifying! I realised that the thing I loved most was writing recipes for home cooks that made it easy for them to be successful in the kitchen – working out that roadmap so that it’s the easiest most practical way to get from a list of ingredients to a dish you feel proud of on the table.
I am endlessly curious about food, and love experimenting and working out how to use new ingredients and coming up with new recipes, I just love it. Twenty years ago I wrote and published my cookbook The Best of Annabel Langbein: Great Food for Busy Lives, not just as a recipe collection but as a means to show people how to cook, how to choose ingredients, all those little tips and tricks that make you a better and more confident cook. It was hugely successful we had to reprint it over and over again, and sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Now with three decades of kitchen experimentation and adventures behind me I feel I have even more to share that can empower and enable people in the kitchen, so I’ve put together a new book ESSENTIAL Annabel Langbein, which carries on where The Best of Annabel Langbein left off 20 years ago. If The Best of Annabel Langbein has been a mainstay on your kitchen bench for the past 20 years, my new book will be your trusted kitchen companion for the next 20.
Do you have a food philosophy?
Food is the ultimate connector – it connects us to nature and the world around us, to our family and friends, to our own culture and other cultures, and to our creativity. Nature is so key – my mother always taught us that everything you eat or might want to eat starts off as a seed or a spore, and will take weeks, months or sometimes even years before it is ready to eat. So when you grow food and farm you respect the earth and act as its guardian and when you cook you respect and honour the ingredients.
Even if it’s something really simple like poached eggs on toast use free range eggs, good bread, fresh butter, lightly flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper. By starting with good ingredients, nature has done the hard work for you so your job is so much easier.
And no matter how simple your meal you can make a celebration of it by setting the table and coming together to share – both the food and in a conversation. It’s the best way I know to build a good life and a wonderful bank of lifelong memories.
What’s your go-to breakfast?
I am an egg gal – I eat eggs pretty much every day. And when I’m on the run I go for an omelette as it’s something I can make in literally under a minute, just with eggs, butter, salt, pepper and lots of parsley. So simple and so good!
What’s your most memorable meal from childhood?
My mother used to make us a light and fluffy omelette with parsley that we called Green Eggs, and also a Turkish version of scrambled eggs called Menemen with onions, red pepper and tomatoes through it. Those simple meals have really stayed with me and are still everyday favourites of mine, so I’ve included them along with more than 600 other recipes in my new book ESSENTIAL Annabel Langbein.
If you could eat cuisine from any other cook in the world, who would it be?
Probably Vietnamese food – it’s just so vibrant, fragrant, light and flavoursome.
What’s one thing you will not eat?
Well whale meat – which might sound obvious but I was invited to eat this once in Norway and the whole idea was just so gross. I’m also not mad about snails, I just don’t like the texture. And I can’t stomach lots of the things you might be served in Asia, such as snakes and other insects.
What would you cook if the Queen was coming for tea?
Something very fresh and simple that showcased seasonal New Zealand ingredients. If everything is fresh and honest you can’t really go wrong. I would probably cook a seafood starter like my Creamy Scallops with a Lemon Caper Crumb served up in scallop shells then some lightly rare roasted lamb or a nice lamb shank casserole and lots of seasonal fresh vegetables. And for dessert, something like a tangy lemon tart with fresh raspberries or a really good pavlova with cream and fruit. Old school really but so good for that.
What are you looking forward to about being at The Food Shows?
I’m really looking forward to sharing recipes from my new cookbook ESSENTIAL Annabel Langbein as well as loads of tips and ideas. And to meeting all the great people who are going to be attending my sessions. Food is such a universal language we all share, and you never stop learning.
What will you be doing there?
I’ll be showing three clever “springboard” cooking methods from my new book that will set people up with all the tools they need to create an endless variety of simple and affordable meals using whatever is in season.
What can you make in less than 10 minutes?
My Miso Salmon and Noodle Bowl is my go-to for a busy night and if you use precooked udon noodles you can have it on the table in well under 10 minutes.
If people feel overwhelmed by cooking, where should they start?
I have designed my new book to be a ‘bible’ people can go to when they are busy or harried or new to cooking – it’s just so comprehensive with so many tips and hints and recipes for every occasion. When I am teaching people I always start with something they like – and then right away they get excited. And choose dishes using some of the less intimidating cooking methods until your confidence increase. So either try the prep-ahead approach with something that will slow cook or the grill-and-toss approach by cooking a steak or chicken breast and then tossing it into a bowl of chopped salad ingredients with a nice dressing – just like that you have a yummy 'meal in a bowl' dinner.
What food trend do you foresee coming about in 2017?
People are becoming increasingly interested in the provenance of their food and knowing it has been produced ethically and sustainably. More and more people are keen to eat local fresh food that is in season, and to cut down on waste.
In terms of flavours, Korean food is gaining popularity, as are healthy meal options including smoothies, smoothie bowls, grains and soba noodles.
Fermented foods are becoming more mainstream and the popularity of foods for those with food intolerances doesn’t show any sign of abating!
Baking is growing in popularity – the simple pleasure of home baking is a good counter to all the uncertainty and change in the world.
The trend to reduce sugar is on the rise too but I am inclined to think just eating less processed food and cutting out fizzy drinks will address this!
What’s your favourite guilty pleasure food?
I am a cheese glutton. I just LOVE cheese – from an oozy, slightly funky washed-rind to a nutty dense hard Comté, I love it all!
Annabel Langbein will be at The Food Shows in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland. For more info see www.foodshow.co.nz
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