Starts at 60 chatted to celebrity cook Maggie Beer about her career, cooking and her foundation to improve the quality of food in aged care homes. In between filming The Great Australian Bake Off and a special for Foxtel, plus appearances on MasterChef Australia, here’s what the fabulous 72-year-old foodie had to say.
Where does your passion for cooking come from? Who inspired you to take your cooking to this level?
When we moved to the Barossa, the very fact that we had access to the kind of knowledge that years of tradition installs in a region, meant that I absorbed so much via osmosis. Colin had won a Churchill scholarship to farm pheasants and because so few people knew how to cook them correctly, I began with that very practical entry into the food world – necessity! When we decided to open the Farm Shop, including the Pheasant Farm Restaurant, it all felt like the next natural set of steps in the progression of our country life.
What are your earliest memories of being in the kitchen? Did you ever imagine your life would end up like this?
It would be amiss of me to suggest any of my food life has necessarily been planned. That’s not to say I haven’t been enthusiastic about the opportunities that have been put in front of me, but up until I was 34, even though I had had many jobs and enjoyed them, I didn’t really know what it was I wanted to ‘be’. Moving to the Barossa when I married Colin changed all that. The impact of being surrounded by amazing produce and feeling our way into farming with the seasons lead me to cooking in a very subtle, but absolute way.
You are a familiar face on Australian television. How do you cope with busy lifestyle that fame – alongside an already demanding business – brings? Do you have health, exercise or other lifestyle tips for people juggling multiple roles?
My business is my creativity and vice versa, so for me, it’s really wearing the same hat. That doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed sometimes though! I’m like most of us, I’d imagine; when we are well, we are more likely to let our focus on health slip, but as soon as something falters it brings our attention back to just how precious our good health is.
The ripple effect of eating well, and the wellbeing that comes with that, can’t help but be appreciated over the feeling of grabbing something quick to eat in the car between appointments. I know each time I make the mistake of rushing any meal, I remind myself of just how wonderful it is to make the time to cook. I also spend a lot of time in my garden, it’s the most wonderful way to de-stress for me.
Do you have a ‘go-to’ recipe for entertaining?
Roast chicken with verjuice (liquid made from the juice of unfermented grapes – Beer was the world’s first commercial bottler of the product).
What are the five things you couldn’t live without in your kitchen?
Seasonal produce, my espresso machine, our kitchen bench (which was once a butcher’s block), music (at volume!) and verjuice
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to home cooks?
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.
The Maggie Beer Foundation is at the heart of your crusade to improve the quality of food in aged care homes. What impact is it having?
We have had a steady stream of success based on the goals we set out as our overall plan when we began. There are the big picture achievements such as our education programs, helping to create a network for all those wanting to make a change, benchmarking best practice with recognition for those doing great work, and our Wellbeing Gardens Program, but there are a lot of seemingly everyday changes that I have noticed have had an equally positive impact; things like making meals times more social, starting gardens to grow fresh vegetables and herbs on site, allowing more autonomy of choice for residents when deciding on their meals.
With the staff, we do hands on cooking demonstrations to share new recipe ideas and ways of incorporating simple things like fresh stock, real butter and fresh rather than frozen veggies. We also work to trouble shoot the inevitable challenges both the kitchen staff and management are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. It’s an overall achievement, and one of combined efforts, that has made me especially keen to continue to bring an awareness to aged care cooking in the greater food world.
Have you ever encountered ageism, in life or work?
Interestingly, I haven’t. I’d like to think the passion I have for what I do would extinguish any thoughts of whether I was up to the task at hand!
Do you enjoy turning age-related stereotypes might be like on their head?
Oh, yes! I enjoy turning any kind of stereotype on its head!
What do you have to say to anyone who underestimates what a 72-year-old woman can do?
Watch this space.
What’s coming up next in your career?
More of the same. The simple fact that I love what I do makes every day a new chance to share my love of food with others. Helping people to bring the joy of a good food life into theirs on a daily basis is what drives me and I am lucky to have every opportunity to do so.
Do you ever dream about retirement or is life just too much fun to think about stopping?
Absolutely not! I have more ideas than I have time to follow up on them! There is nothing I would rather be doing that what I am now. My passion for food and bringing ideas to fruition is what drives me so until the day arrives when my mind is no longer buzzing with all the things I’d like to create, I figure I’ll just keep going.
What would you do if you ever stopped cooking and creating?
I honestly don’t know, but it would be a very sad day that’s for sure.