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A Woman for all seasons

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A Woman for all seasons

Moving to South Australia’s Barossa Valley proved to be the ingredient in life one of our most-celebrated home cooks needed to shine.

Maggie Beer is not just an Australian food icon, she’s an essential ingredient in any discussion about food and flavour.

Renowned for her warm smile and infectious enthusiasm, she has become a beloved figure in the Australian culinary scene and synonymous with the art of creating exceptional food that celebrates tradition and innovation.

Her journey began in the Barossa Valley where she opened a farm shop in 1979 with her husband Colin. That shop morphed into the award-winning Pheasant Farm Restaurant and became part of Australian food history.

With a career spanning several decades, Maggie has authored numerous cookbooks that have become essential in kitchens across the country, inspiring home cooks and professional chefs alike.

Her recipes, often rooted in the seasonal abundance of the Barossa Valley, reflect her belief in the importance of fresh, seasonal ingredients and the joy of sharing meals with loved ones.

She has also been a long-time television personality, where her warm demeanour and genuine passion for food have endeared her to audiences nationwide. Through shows such as The Cook and The Chef, also starring chef Simon Bryant, Maggie has demystified the art of cooking, encouraging viewers to embrace the pleasures of preparing delicious meals with simple techniques and quality ingredients.

Beyond her culinary prowess, Maggie is a tireless advocate for the preservation of food traditions and local agriculture.

Her work with the Maggie Beer Foundation highlights her commitment to improving food experiences for the elderly in aged care facilities, promoting dignity and joy through well-prepared meals that nourish body and soul.

In recent years, Maggie has ventured into the realm of food education, establishing the Maggie Beer Foundation Education Program.

This initiative aims to empower future generations of chefs and food service professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to create exceptional dining experiences that celebrate the diversity of Australian produce.

My Weekly Preview caught up with Maggie ahead of her sell-out visit to the Sunshine Coast on Friday, August 2, where she will speak about the latest edition of her cookbook, Maggie’s Recipe for Life.

What first sparked your passion for cooking and food?

I was brought up in a household in Sydney where, as a young child, food was incredibly important – whether it was using every part of the animal, or fishing or dabbing for prawns in the harbour. There were also the little things like understanding how to choose a pumpkin that was ripe.

What have been the most significant milestones in your career?

Significant milestones were having the luck to meet my husband Colin and coming to live in the Barossa with his vision of farming pheasants and indeed becoming farmers and being part of a community. Then, Colin being awarded the Churchill Fellowship to study gamebird breeding in Europe and America, and that gave us our springboard.

How would you describe your cooking style, and what sets your recipes apart?

My cooking style is very produce-driven. I have labelled myself as a country cook mainly because I follow the seasons of what is available and what I can grow where I live. My recipes are important to me, where adding the small detail will help the less-confident cook, and my dishes are straightforward, even simple, because it is the produce that shines and it’s also very accessible.

What role do you believe food plays in people’s lives beyond mere sustenance?

Good food is the quickest route to wellbeing but it’s not just about nutrition. It’s about flavour and pleasure, and sharing the table – bringing people together. It’s also about empowering people to live well, but joy is never to be understated.

How has your Australian heritage influenced your approach to cooking and the flavours you incorporate?

In farming in the Barossa Valley, we have been influenced by the Mediterranean climate and that links to all the foods of the Mediterranean, particularly Italian. So, it is the seasons and the food we grow that influence me.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?

In a way, there have been many challenges, but that can happen to anyone in all different forms. It’s the ability to see a challenge as a hurdle to be overcome, rather than a wall to stop you, and lateral thinking helps.

Your emphasis on fresh, local ingredients is well known. Can you elaborate on why this is so important to you?

Coming to the Barossa made me aware of the rhythm of the seasons. It was a revelation to taste almonds freshly picked, to understand the difference in flavour of fruit ripened on the trees, and being driven by flavour and by the vegetables we grow is the only way I want to live.

Did you have formal culinary training, or are you largely self-taught? How did this shape your culinary journey?

Being self-taught has the advantage of not having rules you need to follow. So, instinct becomes
your guide.

Beyond cooking, you’ve also ventured into food products and television. What drives your entrepreneurial endeavours?

The television was never planned but became a joy – particularly the years of The Cook and the Chef with Simon Bryant, and The Great Australian Bake Off days, working with such a close team in Matt Moran, Claire Hooper and Mel Buttle, and an annual appearance on MasterChef was always fun, but not what drives me. The food business was always about ideas and maximising or value adding every product we grew.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the culinary world today?

Make sure you are passionate about food and read, research and experience everything you can. Having an inquiring mind and being driven by excellence will set you in good stead.

Looking back on your career, what do you hope your legacy will be in the culinary world?

I hope my legacy will be my work in raising the bar of food in aged care across Australia. The journey has begun and the reality is to give pleasure and goodness through good food to all residents in aged care in every bite.

Are there any upcoming projects or ventures you’re excited about that you can share with us?

The most exciting project is the release of my documentary, Maggie Beer’s Big Mission with the ABC on July 9. There are three episodes working in an aged care home in Perth with the team around me to show what is possible and how to make a difference within a very complex arena of care, where everyone works so hard, and so often within the kitchen without the training required for the complexity to meet the needs of all the residents.

You are about to release an updated edition of your most recent cookbook, Maggie’s Recipe for Life. Can you share the inspiration behind the new edition?

The original Maggie’s Recipe for Life cookbook was launched in 2017 and my updated version incorporates 13 new recipes from the TV documentary series, Maggie Beer’s Big Mission. These recipes are my favourites from the show and have been re-written for the home kitchen. They are simple to make, with accessible and affordable ingredients bursting with flavour, and have a particular focus on protein in each dish.

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