Creating fabulous food is undoubtedly Maggie Beer’s calling, but it took until she was 34 before she answered it. The growth and success of her business is built on instinct and a good stock of amazing women.
Now, at a fighting fit 72 years young, her focus is on improving the lives of aging Australians through food – and she’s putting her money where her mouth via the Maggie Beer Foundation.
Is this the life you imagined for yourself?
I never imagined this life. It crept up on me and I often think how lucky I am. It was through total necessity that I started cooking for others. We had been living in the Barossa Valley for 6 years and used to sell pheasants from our farm shop but no one knew how to cook them without spoiling them. I started to cook everything that we grew: it was organic in the true sense of the word. There was never a plan other than to immerse myself in what I had around me. I have no formal training but I have an instinct, I understand food. There has been a lot of luck in my life.
What did you think you might like to do?
I spent many years feeling I failed by not going to University and finishing my education. I had to leave school at 14 because my parents lost their business and my brother and I were sent out to work to help pay the rent. Cooking was an important part of my upbringing – it was my base but I had no formal training so I wasn’t looking for a career in cooking. I was always searching for what I wanted to do in life, even though food was right in front of me.
In the 1960’s you could get anywhere if you showed aptitude so I talked my way into a lot of great jobs but I was still searching for what it was that was going to make a difference to me.
Which women have had the greatest influence on you?
My mother found the most joy in every day, I inherited that. My aunty Gladys was a teacher and headmistress and like a second mother to me, she supplied endless books to help my education and was always there for me.
I have been so lucky with the women in my life. When I was a house manager at the Women’s College in Sydney the Principal, Doreen Langley, encouraged and believed in me. After retiring at aged 70 she went on to study criminal law. She was an amazing role model.
In my mid 20’s I trained as citizen law clerk. Earner Beckett was the US consul General in Sydney and I was a citizenship law clerk. Earner was an amazing mentor who showed me that we could do better every day but never with criticism. That lesson was gold and when I began training apprentices in our restaurant I used that same philosophy and continue to use it in everything I do.
When has life given you lemons?
When at times my children have had serious illness. Without doubt that has been the most fearful I have been. It’s a feeling of being totally powerless, not being able to fix things.
How does your sisterhood support you?
I have 3 close friends from school days. It doesn’t matter whether we haven’t seen each other for a year, we swing back into it.
Sometimes it’s impossible to separate work and friends. I have had the love, respect and friendship of my Marketing and Sales Director Sarah for 13 years.
I am also part of a choir in the Barossa Valley that has been together for more than ten years. Every Wednesday night at my house we gather to sing. We all have such busy lives but it’s the grounding of our week and I rarely miss it. Where possible my book tours and filming of shows are scheduled around it. There is such joy in singing, fellowship and a real closeness that has developed between the women. When something happens to someone in the group there is a surrounding without intrusion and it’s through song. It’s strong and special. I try, honestly try so hard to be at all our gatherings, because I really miss it if I don’t do it.
What mark would you like to leave?
To make a difference so that beautiful food can be accessible to everyone – none more so than those who don’t have the choice to look after themselves. Particularly those in aged care but right through society. Good food gives physical and emotional well-being. My cooking is about what’s to hand but it has evolved I am now learning about the science of why it’s so important. It has changed my life to some degree.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m very sentimental and I LOVE peanut Butter. I can’t even be trusted to have it in the house.
Favourite Lipstick colour?
I am a lipstick girl. I do not feel dressed without lipstick. It’s funny that my favourite lipstick happens to be a food I can’t bare. It’s a deep orange called ‘Chilli’- and I hate chilli. (Laughs)No matter where I am in life I have to have lipstick.
Maggie’s Recipes for Life has just been released. $39.99 with all proceeds donated to the Maggie Beer Foundation. To buy a copy of the book online visit Maggie’s website www.maggiebeer.com.au