My being anglo saxon is a complete accident of birth because that's not how I feel or how I act. I feel totally at home in Europe, Spain or France or Italy.
So says TV chef, cookbook author, food judge, restaurant critic and patron of charities Lyndey Milan when I meet up with her at her Waverton office to discuss all things food including cooking for kids, food bloggers, my legal issues with ACP, the notorious Gordon Ramsay and everyone's heatthrob Anthony Bourdain and read on for a chance to win a signed copy of her new book "The Best Collection"...
Lyndey with her mother Isabel Hall
How and where did u grow up? Was there a focus on food?
I grew up in Australia. Mum and dad were just really good home entertainers. Mum was a really good home cook. We grew up with the hospitality at the table. There was always room for someone else at the table. I was the youngest of four and we all sat up by the table we all used our cutlery, we all conversed so there was all of that.
So when did you first start cooking?
I was about 16 and my mum and dad went away for 3 months. My next sister and I and my brother lived nearby so I burnt the kitchen down a week before they came home (laughing).
What were you cooking?
Oh god yes mum and dad left on the Thursday and we had our first dinner party on the Saturday. I was 15 and a half and Lesley was 21. I came home from school and of course I was the only one there and you do what you're never allowed to do so I put some chips on and I went to turn the tv on and I got engrossed in the tv and the chips were all on fire and I stupidly did what you're not supposed to. I didn't smother it, I threw water all over it. Well this black smoke welled up and absolutely blackened the kitchen so it then died down and went out.
Lyndey with Tony Bilson
_What happened then?
Then I got married had lots of dinner parties and traveled around Europe. We had a combi van which had a stove in the back and got back and ended up in advertising in London so I became a PA to the chairman and Managing Director of a creative agency.
Split with the husband met the next one, said to them I'm staying but not as a trumped up secretary and they said Look you're half running the place anyway if you can replace yourself you can be General Manager so I became General Manager. I used to get in Cordon Bleu cooks to do our boardroom lunches and I would think I can do better than this I mean it was nice but what's this all about. My husband was really interested in food and wine. We ended up coming back to Australia and worked at McCann Ericsson. The food in the boardroom was diabolical, absolutely diabolical. I pitched the agency's General Manager and secretary and I got asked to come in and do the boardroom lunches. I left my son with my sister and he'd sleep for 3 of the 4 hours anyway and that just took off and everyone said Oh my god this food is fantastic.
I was reading all those magazine, Gourmet, Epicurian VET so then I decided to run a cooking school from home so my friend Peter Howard said can I come and help you? Then my marriage ended. So we bought this cafe at Northbridge Plaza. We built the one in the middle that's there now.
Lyndey with Peter Howard
Did you eat dinner with your kids?
No I can't say I was there every night but I made them sit at the table and I cooked for them. On Sunday nights no-one was ever allowed to have a friend over including me so we could get sorted for the week ahead. I was so busy but I still always cooked for them every night.
Lyndey with children Blair and Lucy
Were they fussy kids?
Certainly not! That was not an option. I told them I'm not asking you to like it I'm asking you to eat it but also I would say You've just got to try it, you don't have to eat it but it's your choice and of course there was no dessert if you didn't eat your main course but mealtime was always an opportunity.
Anyway (the cafe) was a really great experience. I started reviewing for the Good Food Guide in 1987 with Leo (Schofield) I knew him from around the traps and Nigel and I were in the social circle and I said to him once you really need to know about this - I don't even remember what it was - and he said We need to get you on as a reviewer so I've been doing it ever since 1987 and I'm the longest serving reviewer. We had that (the cafe) for 18 months and then sold it thank heavens. We did quite well out of it but it was hard work. I'd started doing radio in 88, a bit of writing and a bit of tv. All of the chefs they know that I can actually go into the kitchen and do it.
Lyndey on the set of "At Home with John Mangos" which aired 1993-1995
Do you think that got you some respect?
Absolutely, absolutely. Also I think when you're writing about someone's business you need to be respectful of that. Not that you gloss over things but if it's diabolical I just won't write about it because there's not enough time. Be constructive sure and say this dish was this or whatever.
Would you write about it?
Oh yes yes well my responsibility is to my reader so that's why I always pay for my review. I always get the person that I'm going with to book under their name so they don't know it's me. They can change your table, they can't change the menu or the wine they can change the portion size but like I'm not stupid I can see what's happening for everyone else. I have a view that we expect restaurateurs to be professionals so they have every right to expect that people that write about them are professionals too.
So what do you think of food bloggers?
I think that some food bloggers should be hung, drawn and slaughtered but you're here.
Does that mean me?
No no! That's what I'm saying is that you're here. Look I guess we're all on the same. This is what I say to all the other magazines as well. We're all in the same side of good food. It's all about integrity in what we do. I think new media is amazing but I think some people are quite ordinary but then again I think some people that write advertorials in newspapers are pretty ordinary too. Ann's been saying to me You've got to do a blog and I probably should but it's huge to do it and to maintain it. How do you do it? Your site looks absolutely beautiful. I'm trying to do twitter for heaven's sake-arrgh!
Lyndey then asks me all about my blog and we chat for a good while about NQN and what Mr NQN thinks of it.
Lyndey with Matt Moran
Did you know about what happened with ACP and me?
No tell me!
A lawyer from ACP contacted me and told me that you can't reproduce the cupcake recipes although I always attributed it to them.
That's so interesting. How long ago was that?
It was a long time ago at the beginning of my blog.
Yes you must always get permission in writing to cover yourself. I mean I send out recipes so I decided I'd do 4 recipes from my book and even though I own it, I got it in writing from the publisher as they own the copyright otherwise it will just bite you in the bum. That's really interesting. They are getting really snakey about copyright, with people that formally approach them, they even say no sometimes.
Do they not see it as PR?
I don't know, a lot of questions would come to me and would pass them onto them but I think things have changed.
Lydney with Antonio Carluccio at Tasting Australia
You do a lot of things...
I do far too much honorary work.
I'm on the council and also the board of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW so apart from running the Easter Show I chair the wine committee where we give out awards over 14 days. I was acting chair of the wine show this year and I've got another book coming out in March. I'm one of the founders and patrons of a female chef mentoring program called Tasting Success. Then I judge for Electrolux Appetite for Excellence and do the Good Food Guide. Then a bit of consulting, I bring the regions of NSW to the Rocks.
Australian food is not multinationals and it's not corn chips and chilli dip, it's actually a lot of small producers doing a lot of stuff. In 1997 and 98 when we started I couldn't help myself. We started a coffee competition and olive oil then we added pasta we now do aquaculture, fruit cake and pie, deli meat, branded lamb and beef. It's interesting to see as everything is done blind and our standard is really high.
We've got in each panel a technical expert, a palette expert and someone else and statistically if you have 3 people one person cannot skew it. If one person is widely different the chairman of judges then comes in and has a look at that class and judges that as well.
Ann (Lyndey's PR consultant): They might have 60 people entering the thing and it's not a matter of first second and third they've got to hit the number of points required.
Lyndey with Tetsuya Wakuda
Do you think Australian chefs are different from overseas chefs?
Well Spanish food is either incredibly traditional and they have no idea about presentation it's just slop on a plate or it's this amazing avant garde leading edge stuff which may or may not be fabulous. In Australia historically there is an irreverence of the Australian personality. I think being a truly Multicultural society has really enhanced things so much but also we never had an Escoffier who told us how to do it so we weren't constrained. About 10 years ago Murdoch magazines as it was then did some research and 65% of Australian households had a wok. Now that's extraordinary. 75% on the Eastern seaboard. 65% in the country. 65% in the country!
Do you have any interests outside of food?
Singing and having a good time. My daughter sings and she was the leader of the Australian girls choir and she lives in London and is a children's singing and drama teacher. She just came in 10th in the Australian songwriting competition for the contemporary section. She texted me For Christmas I'm giving you singing lessons because I think you've got potential and I'd hate for you to embarrass you while in public and I said I never embarrass myselfso I went and loved it and the teacher said you've got the same signing voice as Lucy but only higher you should've have been a dramatic opera singer so I said Get over it, I'm not singing Wagner, I just want to sing alongside a piano and I sang solo at my 50th birthday and I sang with my kids
Name 3 chefs: marry, fire and work for...
Ann: You've payed kill bonk marry haven't you?
I don't think I should answer the fire one...
Ann: You could always put someone from overseas like Gordon Ramsay
I wouldn't dignify him by mentioning his name. That's the ultimate revenge, he does it all for publicity.
Lyndey giving Gordon Ramsay a swear jar
You're not a fan?
Oh look I know him. I had fun with Anthony Bourdain when he was out here. He was cute. I took him out to dinner, he's gorgeous. I don't want to marry a chef, I'm not an idiot (laughs). Why would I want to marry one? I think zero zero zero I know them all too well.
Ann: Work for? Anthony Bourdain?
I like being the employer I'm too long in the tooth for that. I don't define myself by chefs I'm me, I'm a unique individual and I do what I do. We can play the three adjectives games.
Sure what are three words that would describe you
I'd say forthright, sensitive and fun.
Lyndey with Margaret Fulton and Tetsuya Wakuda at the launch of "The Best Collection"
So give me the hard sell on your new book.
I've done 6 books this is a compilation of the best of my 4 books. *goes through photos... and there's a photo of my darling John.
How long have you been together?
2.5 years and we celebrate every month. This is my portrait. That's my mum. There are 140 recipes which is pretty amazing and it's divided up. I think entree, main and dessert is pretty boring although you can still do that but I've got no plate small plates, large plates, sweet plates and chocolate plates. I can't remember who said (9 out of 10 people love chocolate and the other one is lying. They're all tried and true, some of these are 15 years old and they're all contemporary. Good food is good food is good food. Fad and fashion change like that silly Kiwifruit coulis.
_There's no Kiwifruit coulis? _
No no kiwifruit at all! The Spanish overcook their seafood so with my paella I steam it on top and for the last 5 minutes we add the seafood. I collect recipes from overseas and bring them back and simplify and Australianise them.
And because we're doing the 5 days of Christmas with 5 days of fantastic giveaways, thanks to Lyndey we are giving away a signed copy of The Best Collection. All you have to do is tell us:
What is your favourite classic dish and how would you give it a modern twist?
*Add your entry via a comment to this story. You can enter once daily as long as your answer is different. This competition is open to Australian residents only.*
*The winner (hand picked by Lyndey) is Lisa Q. of ACT!
This competition finishes midnight AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on the 30th of January, 2010.
Good Luck to everyone!