When Maggie Beer felt the sting of burnout at the stove of her Barossa Pheasant Farm Restaurant, she was at the peak of her first big wave of renown as a national culinary star. Suddenly it all stopped.
But out of the ashes of that period of debilitation came what would turn out to be her biggest selling book. Alongside Melbourne restaurateur and food writer Stephanie Alexander, with close friend and publisher Julie Gibbs, and a class of aspiring cooks in tow, they cleverly documented their one-off cooking school venture and together produced The Tuscan Cookbook, a culinary gem, now translated into several languages including, remarkably, Italian.
The successes in Italy set Maggie back on her path, which culminated in the sale of her remaining stake in her eponymous food empire for $25M, completed in 2019.
Now 75, Maggie has had more than her share of highs and lows. But look at IGTV today and you will see Maggie doing her half hour, bi-weekly, Cooking with Maggie sessions, recorded on an iPhone in her home kitchen at Nuriootpa, SA. Think quince, chicken and verjuice and you’ll understand immediately what I mean.
These efforts perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the lockdown, where the domestic arts and science are exalted in a new here-and-now. At last count more than 3 million people have viewed the videos over the last two months.
These videos are often the last thing I look at before my day ends. Maggie’s reassuring voice and no-nonsense approach to cooking evoke memories of my mother’s family, and the countrywomen who presided over kitchen and hearth, wholly at ease.
Despite a promising start, 2020 has been the hardest of all, losing her adored daughter Saskia, without warning. Our conversation was recorded just before Saskia died, bringing home to us all just how fragile life is and how unpredictable our fates remain.
Maggie still has important work to do, with a fledgling Foundation, too important to ignore, to nurture. Her public advocacy to improve not just the nutrition but the quality of what is put on the tables of Australia’s elderly, especially those living in aged care, has never been more urgent.
How Maggie made it all happen is the story of this episode. It was a joy to make.