The Australian culinary scene has to be one of the best and most diverse in the world, however, it wouldn’t be what it is today without some outstanding trailblazers that paved the way for future generations to come and better yet, many of these Aussie pioneers are women! As one that is grateful for these inspiring women and has learned many a kitchen tidbit and lesson from them, I thought it important to highlight and celebrate these women with a nod to all that they’ve contributed as well as giving a couple of my favourite dishes of theirs my own spin – an Aussie one to stay in theme, of course! So here are just a few of my Aussie kitchen idols:
Maggie Beer, the heart and soul of the Australian culinary scene. Maggie’s warm presence that’s graced our TV screens for years and comforting home-style meals make you feel as if you’re sat in your mum’s country kitchen whilst she whips you up your favourite home-cooked meals. “My food philosophy will always remain; to cook from the heart, making the most of each and every ingredient I have to hand.” Much like myself, Maggie cooks and lives strongly by a paddock-to-plate philosophy that stems from her farm roots. Maggie’s cooking ethos is less about strictly following recipes to the letter and complicated gastronomic techniques, and more about cooking through taste and feel and letting the good, fresh produce do the talking.
One of her favourite quotes of mine that’s stuck with me is “One of the key lessons I’ve learnt over the years is to feel your way into cooking, recipes are only ever a guide, cooking from the heart is the most inspiring way to create your favourite dishes. Good produce needs so little doing to it, so don’t overcomplicate things.” This is a view on cooking that I couldn’t agree more with and one that’s carried me through both my own personal culinary journey as well as my business and the way I approach the creation of my spice blends and recipes. By teaching us to trust our palettes and in a way, teach ourselves how flavours, textures and ingredients go together, Maggie has lead the development of the home cook and inspired many to become confident in their cooking and develop their own set of skills.
As one of our most celebrated and idolised woman pioneers in the Australian culinary scene, Maggie has risen up from humble pheasant-farm beginnings and created her own empire with a successful brand, myriad of cookbooks, renowned cooking show, and a veggie garden and fruit orchard to be envied. She’s well and truly earned her crown as Queen of the Barossa and a top spot in the catalogue of iconic Aussie women chefs.
A recipe I just love of hers is her Dukkah-Crusted Snapper with Kale Pesto. This much-loved Aussie fish is highlighted with a fragrant herby crust and the tangy kale pesto is just to die for. To add my own flair to this dish, I use our Pistachio & Lemon Myrtle Egyptian Dukkah which not only adds a great crunch but a wonderfully aromatic lemon myrtle flavour and is a great way to showcase this Aussie herb. To echo the flavour of the crust on the fish, I add a little straight Lemon Myrtle to the pesto mix which also adds a lovely tang. Click Here to check it out!
Donna Hay – this iconic food writer and stylist turned TV chef has a culinary resume too thick to staple and is regarded as one of our most successful and praised homegrown chefs. From her stunning range of crockery in pale blue hues to her beautifully designed cookbooks, to her stunningly styled dishes, Donna Hay exudes style and has to take pride of place as our chicest Aussie chef. Her modern twists on Aussie classics are a favourite among home cooks and her food philosophy is all about nailing the basics then adding your own unique flair.
Coming from a trained cooking background, Donna believes in learning correct techniques in the kitchen but shows her viewers and readers just how easy they can be. Her ethos is that once you know the basics, you can go on with confidence to create brilliance. Being a food stylist, she sees strength in the finer details and goes the extra mile to ensure every ingredient has the utmost attention and respect paid to it, and is snap-worthy, of course. Whilst she is herself classically trained and ultimately she believes correct techniques should be learned by all cooks, she’s also a busy working Mum and knows that whipping up a 3-course meal from scratch on a weeknight is just downright unrealistic, so she places great merit on jazzing up good-quality store-bought ingredients. What she can do with a store-bought tub of hummus and couple of chorizo sausages is nothing short of genius, however, one of my favourite quick and simple ‘cheats’ meals of hers is her Lamb, Rosemary and Mint Sausage Rolls. These tasty golden morsels are filled with succulent Aussie lamb mince studded with fragrant herbs. To give this Aussie favourite an even more homegrown twist, I’ve used our Native Mint and Native Thyme throughout the lamb mixture. A sophisticated take on a childhood Aussie classic – Click Here to give it a try!
Stephanie Alexander – a woman I would consider the ‘godmother’ of the Australian food scene and a true innovator in developing the Aussie culinary scene we know today. Her renowned book The Cook’s Companion has been a close guide of mine in the kitchen since it’s release in 1996 and I still find myself turning to it frequently. I consider it my ‘A-Z in cooking’, my ‘culinary bible’ if you will, and I know it has been the same for many a cook around the world. Stephanie is still considered today as one of Australia’s great food educators and a champion of the quality and diversity in Australian food.
Not only does this Aussie food matriarch have a load of cookbook titles under her belt, she’s tried her hand as an owner-chef in many restaurants and she’s flexed her philanthropic muscles with the creation of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation where kids can learn all about good, healthy food habits and get hands-on in the growing and cooking of their food – an excellent initiative I think all of our youngsters need to take part in.
Much like her long-time friend and colleague Maggie Beer, Stephanie Alexander also believes in using the finest, best seasonal produce and grows a lot of her ingredients herself in her own rambling backyard. Her food philosophy is all about cooking with what’s in season and fresh, and most importantly, sharing this food and these moments with family and friends. Women chefs like Stephanie reinforce the idea that food is a way to bring loved ones together and something that should be celebrated and shared – an ethos I love to live by myself.
Stephanie’s approach to cooking is all about the home-style classics and cooking hearty, comfort dishes like Cassoulet, Osso Bucco or her all-time favourite Roast Chicken. One dish however that I always love to make when apricot season strikes are her Grilled Apricot Halves with Lemon-Scented Verbena Ice Cream. Over the years I’ve made my own little tweaks on this recipe depending on what I have on-hand and what’s in season, however, with the release of our new Natives Range, I decided to put an Australiana twist on this dish as a nod to one of my favourite Aussie chefs. When grilling the apricots, I add a touch of Native Thyme giving them a fragrant, herby flavour and intensifying their fruitiness, and instead of lemon-scented verbena, I use our Native Lemon Myrtle to add the tang to this creamy accompaniment. Click Here to read my native take on it!
As a woman in the food scene myself, I am endlessly grateful for these women and the inspiration, education and motivation they continue to give to cooks around the world. They’ve been an integral part of showing just what women can do in what was previously regarded as a ‘Man’s World’ and they make me proud to be an Australian woman.