Marion Grasby and Noi
An intergenerational kitchen connection
Working with family isn’t always recommended, but the strong connection Marion Grasby and her mother Noi share extends seamlessly from the family home to the commercial kitchen, where they work together with the common goal of demystifying Asian cooking.
It’s not just the smells that Marion Grasby remembers growing up around her mother’s kitchen, but the sounds.
“It was always very loud! When you’re cooking any kind of Thai food, it’s all about the mortar and pestle – whether you’re making a typical Thai curry paste or a pawpaw salad. So there was always a lot of banging,” she laughs.
A former MasterChef contestant, cook book author and owner of Marion’s Kitchen food media company, Marion cut her culinary teeth by her mother Noi’s side, along with various ‘Aunties’, in steamy kitchens from Papua New Guinea to Bangkok and Darwin - places her father was stationed with the Australian embassy.
“Mum was in the kitchen a lot when I was little because she and dad were always entertaining,” Marion says, “there was always a party, or friends to be cooking for and lots of food. And I’d be there, rolling the spring rolls.”
Despite her early immersion in the culinary world, Marion originally set out on a different career path – journalism.
“But I found myself more obsessed with what I was cooking for dinner than who I was supposed to be interviewing. So I left, because I knew that food was where I needed to be – it was what I actually loved to do.”
Left: Marion Grasby and her mother Noi; Right: A family connection in the kitchen
Noi’s love for cooking was sparked in a family kitchen too, in the village of Nakhon Chum, west of Bangkok.
“I spent a lot of time with my aunty when I was growing up. She was a very, very good cook and her husband was from China, a chef, so on his day off he liked to cook too. I enjoyed cooking and learning from them.”
Noi mastered all the classic Thai dishes at her aunt’s side before going on to do a Cordon Bleu course in Bangkok, and later, a professional chef course at TAFE in Darwin.
These days, mother and daughter again share the kitchen, with Noi heading up quality control in Marion’s growing culinary empire, charged with making sure new and established recipes are up to scratch.
So are there ever kitchen conflicts?
“I think we like to argue because typically that’s what we’d do, we argue about process when cooking. But we usually work it out,” Marion says.
Above: Marion and Noi's Thai Roasted Cauliflower recipe
And what about their cooking styles?
“I tend not to follow the rules, as much, whereas mum has a deep sense of what is authentic, historically traditional in Thailand,” Marion says. “Like I made crispy Thai chicken for a video the other day and I put flour in it and mum was rolling her eyes off-camera and telling me I wasn’t doing it right,” she laughs. “Which is fair enough because traditionally you wouldn’t use flour.”
The only other issue they disagree on is heat.
“She tells me often, “add more chilli, add more chilli,” Noi says of Marion. “She likes her food much hotter than me. I like it just nice, just right for me and if I think it’s too spicy, I’ll leave the chilli out.”
“It’s true, I do like a lot of chilli,” Marion concedes.“And you know, where mum’s from they actually don’t like a lot of heat, they eat their food more on the sweet side.”
a natural collaboration
With Noi’s skills and deep knowledge of Thai and Asian cuisine, it was natural for Marion to look to her, when in 2010, she decided to start Marion’s Kitchen.
“I wanted to make the products how we have it in my family, how mum would make it, which may not be the same as in someone else’s family. Her recipes were never written down, so, when we were developing the curry pastes or the pad Thai sauce, we’d start by making it together like we normally would, but I would be there furiously weighing and writing things down and trying to stop mum from just adding bits and pieces when no one was looking!”
In 2017, Marion started producing cooking videos on Youtube and these days, Marion’s Kitchen has more than six million subscribers on Youtube and Facebook with the videos shown on seven food and digital lifestyle channels to an audience of over 32 million people worldwide.
And while Marion’s easily recognisable from her time on MasterChef, she now happily shares the spotlight with ‘Mama Noi’, who has garnered her own legion of adoring fans.
Above: Marion and Noi's Traditional Prawn Pad Thai
“When I was pregnant with Charlie, (her now three-year-old daughter), I wanted to take some time off, but it’s hard when it’s your own business,” Marion says. “My husband suggested Mum do the videos, which I jumped at. And it turns out she’s a natural performer – she’s such a character. People love her and it’s crazy, but she’s stopped on the street every day for an autograph or photo.”
So what about Marion’s own children, will they be encouraged to follow in the footsteps of their mother and grandmother?
“I want them to work hard and be happy in whatever they choose to do in life. I don’t feel like my mother ever ‘pushed’ or even suggested that I should also love to cook just because she did. It’s just something that happened naturally. But I do think that what both my parents passed on to me was a sense that I could and should do something I’m passionate about. They gave me every opportunity and worked hard to make sure I had a choice to do what I wanted to in life. I hope I can give my own children the same work ethic and opportunity to choose their path.”