Introduction

Introduction

By
Philippa Sibley
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742705408
Photographer
Mark Roper

I am often asked how I came up with a certain dish or combination: ‘What was your inspiration for that?!’.

My original inspiration was my upbringing. My mother is, and has always been, a passionate and driven foodie and entertainer. When I was growing up, my parents’ dinner parties were epic; the stuff of legend! Lavish, indulgent and well researched. Themed imaginatively and always with a sense of fun. Raw fish in the seventies. Pigeon pie! My father was a pigeon fancier … ahem. I remember a medieval feast to celebrate a play that Dad had been in (they were very theatrical folk) with the moniker ‘Ye Olde Feast’. Featuring on the menu was ‘swan pie’ (goose substituted), and spotted dick for dessert. The guests were required to dress appropriately for the period. Pewter goblets were acquired. Authentic calligraphy was studied for the menu writing. Candles only. No detail amiss. It was such a hoot and, wow, the leftovers!

So began my love of entertaining. Luckily I became obsessed with cooking to match. I devoured cookbooks and magazines and demanded to take over at least half the week of cooking for the family. Dad would bemoan the fact that I was terrible at cleaning up and try and stifle my blossoming creativity, only to give in after a particularly delicious batch of cookies, declaring, ‘Oh, what’s the point? If she can’t find anything to cook in the kitchen, she’ll just go and pull up some grass and cook with that!’

Due to Mum’s similar passion, our library was full of amazing, well-thumbed books on food. James Beard, Julia Childs, Robert Carrier and Elizabeth David were my first culinary heroes. Then in the eighties Stephanie Alexander hit the Melbourne food scene and I promised myself I’d be the Stephanie of the nineties. Stephanie is still the doyenne of those and the decade to come. She is a huge inspiration to me. One of her protégés, Tansy Good, also had a big effect on my career.

I was taken to ‘Tansy’s’ in the late eighties for my birthday and still remember the meal. The dessert in particular rocked my world. It was a perfectly poached ripe yellow peach with a peach bavarois topped with a peach jelly of amazing flavour and clarity. I was besotted. Having only cooked casually in the odd pub here and there and having been disinclined to start an apprenticeship, I was excited to get a phone call from my over zealous (when it comes to food and cooking) mother. ‘There’s an ad in the paper!

Tansy’s are looking for a “reasonably qualified chef ”!’ With youthful exuberance and no real idea I called and somehow managed to get an interview – despite the fact that Mum had misread ‘recently’ for ‘reasonably’. I got the job! I can honestly say those were the most terrifying nine months of my young life. I was twenty years old, inexperienced and uppity. Man, did I learn a lot in a short time! Dispatching yabbies, and butchering hares, pheasants and lambs. Dashing upstairs to make pastry and cakes and service. The yelling, the speed, the expectations! And that was day one! Working with the wonderful Karen Martini and Rita Macali made it all worthwhile, though. I wish I’d recorded the debriefs.

Next came the infamous 1990 bestseller and trailblazer White Heat by Marco Pierre White. Pictures of the food and the rock star connotations aside, the main reason I was inspired by Marco was his laborious banging on about ‘his boys’ and how women shouldn’t eat robust dishes because they are cleaner than men and need a cleaner diet. Then he’d describe his food as being ‘feminine’ and that he was a women’s man. He liked women because they aren’t competitive! I was determined to work for this dude and that I did. I still have the reference he (then rarely) wrote for me, just before I convinced his coveted head chef to move to France with me and then to Australia where we opened est est est, Luxe and then Ondine.

I must also mention, with huge respect and admiration, Michel Roux, a gentleman and scholar. I am on my fifth copy of his book Desserts: A Lifelong Passion. It was the inspiration for my book PS Desserts.

Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal have also been influential to me, as they respect the lessons learnt from the past and are especially ‘old school’ in their approach – tipping their hats to the classics while improving and putting new twists on them.

Marriages are precious when it comes to flavours – tomatoes and basil, chocolate and pear, poultry and mushrooms. I’m celebrating the tried and true, almost like covering a favourite song or remaking an unforgettable movie, with respect and love. Revisiting, though, not ‘deconstructing’. No gels, foams or soils. I’m keeping it real and cooking what I’m good at – what I love to eat.

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