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Food

Impress: Maggie Beer

If there is one person who embodies the themes of nature and nurture, it is Maggie Beer. The nature side comes from her intuitive use of fresh, seasonal ingredients in her recipes and her vast range of food products. The nurture side from her background as a farmer, tending crops from seed to fruit in the wonderfully fertile soils of South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

Of course, one could posit that Maggie’s nurturing element also comes from her wholesome, nourishing dishes that bring comfort to our bellies and warmth to our hearts. Or, from her soft caring nature. What you see on TV is what you get with Maggie. She comes across as very maternal, and she is. She’s thoughtful, happy and humble, very much like your best-loved auntie who cooks your favourite recipe, a dish that seemingly hugs your soul and lingers in your memory forever after.

All this is quite remarkable when you discover the Maggie Beer story. Originally a Sydney girl, Maggie turned a fondness for food into a way of life when she married her true love, Colin, and moved to the Barossa to support him in his dream to farm pheasants.

Maggie took to farm life like a duck to water, growing crops, preserving food, cooking and even starting up her own restaurant. Then she started making her own pâté - her first ‘product’. It was the start of her 35-year ‘overnight’ success.

“It was only when I came to live in the Barossa 42 years ago that I really understood the seasons, because here we have four very distinct seasons and we live the rhythm,” Maggie tells me when we sit down for a chat on a warm day in the heart of the Barossa Valley.

“All I have ever had to do to cook is follow it as it happens and relate to the produce at hand.”

As her orders grew, so did her range, to pastes, jams, dips, oils and, of course, verjuice. In the early 1980s, festooned with an oversupply of Riesling grapes, Maggie turned adversity into opportunity. Having often read about an ingredient called ‘verjus’ in French country cookbooks, she produced what is thought to be the world’s first commercial batch of verjuice, a product these days synonymous with the name Maggie Beer.

“I’m quite proud of the verjuice story,” says Maggie. “It’s been around since Roman times, but I’ve pulled it out of obscurity and lots of people have followed, and that’s wonderful because verjuice gives this lovely acid balance to food.”

 What’s in a name?

These days, Maggie Beer is a household name, the brand probably more so than the woman. It is a double-edged sword lending your name to a brand. It helps in the beginning to get recognition, but should the business grow, it can be like the mariner’s albatross, each weighing the other down. However, it is here where the yin and yang of life has rewarded Maggie. She has only ever given out love and respect, and it has come back to her. She is lauded as a matriarch of the Australian food scene and her business is a reflection of her, run in a morally healthy way by good, honest people.

“I often have to pinch myself because I feel that coming to me and it’s not something you seek out,” Maggie says of the adoration she receives from the food loving public.

That is not to say she hasn’t been shrewd and tough enough to make strong  business decisions. She admits she is a control freak, even cooking all the dishes for this photoshoot, But she has done it all her way. The natural, nurturing way.

“I’ve always been onto this continuous improvement, it’s part of me, I’m driven. But all I have ever done, one step in front of the other, was do what I love and believe in it, without any grand plan, just loving the moment.”

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Impress: Poh Ling Yeow
Words by Mark Hughes on 14 Jun 2017
It is so easy to fall in love with Poh Ling Yeow. She's wildly attractive, intelligent, funny and vivacious. She has a dazzling charisma, but at the same time is approachable. And she’s oh so talented. A professional artist before starring on the first season of Masterchef, she is now a true celebrity of the Australian food scene and host of her own show, Poh & Co., on SBS. “It’s really lovely to be back on a second season of Poh & Co. and working with friends and family, because ultimately that’s where I get all my inspiration from,” Poh tells me when we sit down for a chat on the set of our Impress photoshoot. “It’s a very truthful depiction of how I draw my ideas, the kind of everyday influences that I have and the people that I come in contact with. “The thing that I love about the show most is that it touches on very common, suburban aspirations, you know, wanting to have a vege patch or build your own pizza oven. It’s got currency in terms of people being able to relate to it very easily.” Working on TV and being able to chat with people from all walks of life has also benefitted Poh in the fact that she has been able to feel more secure about her own food identity. “I used to be very purist about the way I cooked, but now I’m relaxing and understanding what my identity is, which is a Malaysian-born Chinese Australian. So I feel like my food should absolutely reflect that. “Now I feel I have this license to be a little bit more free and playful with my food and it absolutely reflects what food is all about. It’s all about multiculture, about mixing ingredients and techniques.” The other exciting development in Poh’s life is opening her first restaurant, Jamface, in Adelaide’s Central Markets. “It’s actually just a little café – a very casual place. I’m cooking light breakfasts and lunches. The main focus is actually my pastry. I’m well known for my Asian food, but the thing that I absolutely love is French pastry. You should come down and check it out.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Poh:  
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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