Justine Schofield - A recipe for comfort
Like many Australian’s, Justine Schofield’s fondest memories are of the long summer holidays of her childhood. However, unlike most Aussie kids, Schofield’s annual beach stint was spent in Normandy, France.
“When I was still in primary school, my parents would put me and my brother on a plane to Paris in the school holidays,” says Schofield. “Twenty-four hours later, my grandmother would pick us up at Charles De Gaulle, and we’d drive to her home in Normandy.”
Australia’s long summer school holidays coincided with bitter Normandy winters. “It was so windy and cold, but I loved it. My grandmother would take us to the white cliffs at Calais and we’d have mussels on the beach.”
Schofield’s grandmother and those early food experiences in Northern France left a mark. “I remember the anticipation I’d feel during the drive from the airport to her home, and the excitement, knowing that upon arrival, the smell of something delicious would be coming from the oven,” she says.
“My grandmother always had something braising, and, if I was lucky, she would have fulfilled my wish and it’d be Blanquette de veau that I could smell, my all-time favourite.”
Back in Australia, it was no different. Schofield’s mum Francoise is also a terrific cook and often appears on Justine’s television program, Everyday Gourmet with Justine Schofield. Francoise opened a restaurant in Bowral, Le Pepot, when Justine was a child.
“Mum thought the food in Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s was so bad,” says Justine. “She recalls her first date with Dad, they ordered lobster and it arrived with canned beetroot on the side. I’ve heard that story many times.”
Francoise, like her mother, took cooking for the family very seriously, she too would cook slow-cooked comfort dishes, particularly for a late lunch on Sunday afternoons, recalls Justine. “Mum and Dad worked so hard in the restaurant,” she says. “7am to 6pm most days, and then they’d come home and cook a proper dinner for us, there was no such thing as takeaway in our family.”
“My friends all got to eat their dinner in front of the TV, she says, “but not at our house. Like my grandmother, Mum would always set the table and we’d eat together. On Sunday afternoons we’d have a family meal that she’d cooked over the course of the day.”
“It would always make me think of my grandmother, the properly laid table, the slow-cooked dishes,” she says. “Often it was a ragoût, or a braise of some sort, a dish that would last for a few days.”
Braises – Pot-au-feu and lamb navarin are also favourites. “That kind of long, slow cooking is especially comforting in winter, and my memories of eating those dishes with my grandmother and my family make them the ultimate comfort food for me.”
They are also the dishes Schofield had on high rotation during the lockdown period in autumn. “People were looking for comfort, stuck at home for weeks on end, with lots of time on their hands, so comfort food made sense, and that’s certainly what I was eating.”
Justine was also testing recipes for her new book, Comfort Winter Warmers (Pan MacMillian), due to be released in May 2021. “I had the slow cooker out,” she says.
Justine is an ambassador for Tefal and uses their slow cookers and pressure cookers when testing her recipes. “I use the slow cooker to make classic dishes I’ve forgotten about for a while, rice pudding made in the slow cooker is really great, and a slow-cooked stroganoff.”
In between writing her new book and filming her show each week, the series is now in its tenth year, Justine has made several television series overseas. Each time she’s away, she seeks out home comfort cooking.
“I’m interested in what people cook and eat at home,” she says. “For me, cooking is happiness, and it’s love. If I love you, then I’ll show that love by cooking for you. So, I’m always in search of what other people cook to comfort, and to show love.”
Her next series Macao Gourmet with Justine Schofield (SBS Food Television) was no exception. “Macao is a tiny little place, but it’s full of adventure,” she says.
Over 12 days of filming, Justine says she learnt most about the cross-cultural influences in Macao when she visited a local family who made her a bowl of soup. “Learning about the Portuguese influence and the Chinese and Portuguese living side by side, sharing ingredients was fascinating – it seemed crazy to put a soy sauce with Pedro Ximénez until I tasted it,” she says, laughing.
“In Macao, I got a great sense that families tell their stories through food, it’s how they keep their heritage alive, elders and even young people hold onto their heritage through family recipes, not through photographs,” she says. “Much like my family.”