Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born?
I was born in Melbourne and spent the first nine years of my life in Essendon before my family moved to Rosebud West on the Mornington Peninsula. I went to Rosebud High School and then to the University of Melbourne.
2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
At 12 I had no idea what I wanted to be although I did love to write stories.
At 18 I wanted to be a librarian and I also wanted to travel to France and learn to speak French.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
I think I thought that life would change dramatically once I left home and became a University student, and that I might have a major part to play. I soon realised that coming from a very small school I would only be a minor player academically compared with those who had had a more rigorous schooling.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
As a family, books and food were both very important and these two intertwined interests have stayed with me. Travelling and living in France also influenced my interests and gave me further insight into the world of food.
Books last. They will never be obsolete. I enjoy the tactile pleasure of reading a book and books can be very beautiful too. Although I load books onto my iPad for travelling I find I never read this way when I am back home, maybe the newspaper is an exception.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
It is a memoir and includes the chronicle of my life up to the present with as much accuracy as memory has allowed. I believe it will be interesting to all those intrigued by the development of restaurants and food awareness in Australia.
With her Cook’s Companion front and centre in half a million kitchens, Stephanie Alexander is the very definition of a household name. Each day thousands turn to this ‘food Bible’ for definitive recipes, encouragement and advice. But before Stephanie Alexander penned a word for the emerging food media – let alone for The Cook’s Companion – she had spent decades avidly documenting food experiences.
Shaped by her mother’s dedication to good food and her father’s love of reading, she trained as a librarian and all the while observed, notated, assessed and re-created the dishes she loved. Her monthly university allowance rarely lasted more than a week – all spent on pan-fried flounder and chestnut Mont Blanc. She was seduced over pain Poîlane while working as an au pair in Paris, and later over ackee and saltfish in London. In 1966, with no formal training and a newborn baby, but brimming with confidence and sheer determination, she opened Jamaica House with her first husband. The personal toll was great and it was eight years until she emerged on the restaurant scene again.
Stephanie’s Restaurant has become part of Melbourne food folklore, permanently raising the bar for restaurant dining in Australia. At the time of its opening, in 1976, a salad to most people meant iceberg lettuce, no-one had heard of goat’s cheese and ginger came in a tin. Over the next twenty-one years, in order to obtain the best-possible produce, the likes of which she had enjoyed while travelling in Europe, Stephanie championed small local suppliers or grew it herself.
Her indefatigable determination and single-minded vision have influenced – and sometimes intimidated – a generation of chefs, cooks and diners. And now her Kitchen Garden Foundation is inspiring tens of thousands of primary school children across Australia to grow and cook their own food.
A Cook’s Life is a very personal account of one woman’s uncompromising dedication to good food, of how it shaped her life and changed the eating habits of a nation.)
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
I would like every child to have the experience of growing food and learning how to cook it so that we can hope for healthier and happier children who grow to become discerning consumers less vulnerable to the constant promotion of processed and convenience food.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
I admire those who can see the glass as half full. And who are always positive. And I admire good strategic thinkers and enthusiasts about anything at all.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
To devote energy and time to friendship. To advance the cause of pleasurable food education in Australia as far as I can. To stay as healthy as possible.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
I would not dream of giving advice to any other writer.
Stephanie, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.