Let’s take things back a bit. What was the light-bulb moment when you decided to trade your fast-paced life in Melbourne to follow your passion for health and well being in Byron Bay?
In the late 90s we had just sold our wonderful pub Gowings Grace Darling in Collingwood and I was looking for a career pathway that would help me understand why I lost my Dad to cancer. I fell lightly into fitness instruction and then deeply into the study of human nutrition. In the beginning of my health science journey there was a subject called ‘food as medicine’ that focussed on the healing properties of food based on Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. It was 1999, I was 33 and had been running restaurants and pubs for 15 years – I had found my calling. Ten years later I packed up my bestie and my three legged dog and we all headed to Byron Bay.
How would you best describe your philosophy on food?
My recipe for ‘food as medicine’ investigates the benefits of individual ingredients, the synergy of combining ingredients and the health outcomes they might provide. I then add a jolly good dose of happiness and a dollop of reality into the research based evidence I find.
As the chef-in-residence at The Kitchens, you’re hitting the stage fairly regularly with live cooking demonstrations. For someone who may not have caught you there yet, what can people expect?
On most Thursdays and Saturdays and occasionally on a Friday you’ll find me at The Kitchens’ Cooking Stage dishing up all sorts of ‘food as medicine’ based recipes, traditional cooking techniques and a few healthy sweet treats. Demonstrations and tastings run for about 45 minutes at 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. Local foodies can expect to sharpen their skills in the kitchen, enjoy samples, and hopefully take home a few tips and tricks as well. The Kitchens’ innovative concept, local artisans and unique offerings are all major drawcards for me. There is nothing quite like The Kitchens in Australia and I am very lucky to be a part of such a dynamic vision.
What’s your best piece of advice for home cooks on the Gold Coast looking to take a more health-conscious approach in the kitchen?
People have this notion that they want to save time in the kitchen, but they never spend the time they save, so I ask them to make time to have a cook-up at least once a week. Four hours in your kitchen plus the shopping – you’ll find all you need right here at The Kitchens – and a handful of great recipes will have you stocked up for days and enjoying guilt free whole foods that, most importantly, you have made yourself. Eating out exposes us to a myriad of trans fats, from cooking oils to preservatives, so cooking from home for a few weeks can have life changing results.
You’ve been involved in the industry in many difference facets over the years – how have you seen the food landscape change in your time?
I launched my wellness business in November 1999 so over the past 18 years I have contributed to the rise of clean eating, the push toward plant-based diets, have watched myriad fad diets rise and fail, and proudly kick-started the ‘food as medicine’ revolution. While global media is full of reports of ultra-healthy foods, from blueberries and beetroot to cocoa and chia seeds, there is not one food to fix all. Essentially we need to incorporate a myriad of flavours, ingredients and culinary techniques into our lives each day. Often articles about superfoods claim to reflect the latest scientific evidence, and assure readers that eating these foods will provide ‘health kicks, strong immunity and youthfulness.’ However, actual evidence concerning the benefits of superfoods is harder to identify. My advice is and has always been – listen to your gut, get your head to organise it and your heart to deliver it.
What’s your earliest memory of food?
My dad taught me to cook, as did my maternal grandmother. I grew up at the restaurant table in my father’s first restaurant in Melbourne in the late 70’s. I was about six when I had my first near-kitchen-triumph, a hot pink pavlova (I had discovered cochineal) that took eight hours to cook in a dodgy old gas oven and turned out as flat as a Frisbee. Nonetheless, this fuchsia fantasy became the foundation for my love of cooking.
Your boundless experience and very wide knowledge base was further diversified with your studies in Chinese medicine – what drew you to this area of knowledge?Somewhere between a Lazy Susan and learning Japanese language since primary school, I developed a love and respect for all things Oriental. In the Indian summers of the 70’s we would burn joss sticks and play the I Ching, the Book of Changes. The Chinese philosophy of the yin and yang was instilled in me from an early age. I also taught yoga and Pilates for many years so the healing principles of the East have influenced my life and work greatly.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My dad told me early on in the restaurant business that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, “So just do your best, Sambo”.
Finally, what’s your ideal way to spend a weekend?
I work most Saturdays so Monday is my Sunday and, when possible, I spend the morning swimming or surfing at Wategos, my favourite beach in Byron Bay. Long lunches with great food and friends is always on my menu.