Will you find her in the kitchen at parties? Not likely. The doyenne of Australian home cooks would rather be carving up the dance floor. As told by Jessica Irvine.
What are your greatest strengths?
Optimism and tenacity.
What is your greatest weakness?
I’m a control freak.
What scares you?
People who don’t care.
What virtues do you admire most in people?
Empathy, intelligence and a drive to bring about change.
What other job would you choose to do?
I’d put all the things I love together and open a shop that sells music, books, great coffee, food and wine. Oh, and a florist, too, to be surrounded by the scent of flowers.
What’s one thing about you that would surprise people?
Given the chance, I’d be on the dance floor all night!
What are your most treasured possessions?
A box of letters from my parents, a beloved aunt and dear friends, from the days when we all wrote letters to each other. And the boxes and boxes of photographs I’ve never sorted out that frame my life with my family; [husband] Colin, our children and grandchildren. And, finally, a tiny porcelain guitar that was the last gift my mother gave me – even though it was broken in half then, it said so much.
What is your idea of absolute happiness?
Living in the Barossa, surrounded by family and belonging to a place, a community. And loving what I do in work and play.
If you could have dinner with two famous people, who would you choose?
I hope past and present is allowed! Luciano Pavarotti, to sing as we cook pasta together; and Vikram Seth, with an extra copy of his book, An Equal Music, as mine is missing.
What travel experience is on your bucket list?
A return trip to the United States to visit my favourite haunts, San Francisco and New York, with the chance to go on to New Orleans. I’ve also always had a yearning to go to Cuba and I’m pretty keen to visit South Africa in the winter to get a feel for Cape Town – perhaps I’d even venture further afield and take in a wildlife park.
How do you switch off?
Reading, singing, surrounding myself with music and cooking.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Lashings of butter.
If you could turn back time, what would you change in your life?
I would have found a way to have been a better mother, not from the loving side of the equation but for the fact that the business was all-consuming at that time.
What is your greatest achievement?
Being part of a movement that can – and will – bring about change in the way food is viewed in aged care.
Who is your personal hero?
[Late politician] Don Dunstan: a man so far ahead of his time, a great intellect, an amazing leader and a passionate cook.
What’s the most Australian thing about you?
I’m grounded; I love cheeky people who make me laugh and I love fun.
Where would we find you at a party?
Singing around the piano or on the dance floor.
If you were an animal, what would it be?
A wild duck. Not because I want to be a good meal but for the thrill of landing with webbed feet, scooting along the top of the water – a sense of unbridled freedom.
If you were down to your last $20, what would you spend it on?
A bottle of extra-virgin olive oil, ripe tomatoes and sourdough bread.
How would you like to be remembered?
Having a love for life with my rose-coloured glasses intact.
SEE ALSO: Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop