Vale Margaret Fulton
Lyndey Milan pays tribute to the late, great Margaret Fulton, who instilled a love of cooking in generations of Australians.
Before three-hatted restaurant MG Garage closed, Executive Chef Janni Kryitsis asked me to bring Margaret Fulton for dinner with her daughter Suzanne Gibbs. A Greek electrician, he had learned English when his partner David gave him Margaret Fulton cookbooks. He went on to work with Stephanie Alexander and Gai Bilson before opening MG to wide acclaim. Reverently, he brought out his Margaret Fulton cookbooks and asked her to sign them. Just one example of the influence Margaret had on a generation and more of Australians.
The accolades have flown in since she passed peacefully away, a few weeks short of her 95th birthday. I had known Margaret since the 1980s, brought together by food, sharing experiences and travel. On one memorable occasion, Suzanne and I organised a Greek dinner after a trip to Greece. The Greek chefs, Janni, Peter Conistis and others, brought their contributions too. We were ignored as Margaret held the men enthralled.
path to success
The youngest of a family of six Scottish migrants, Margaret grew up in Glen Innes during the Depression, learning the importance of the family meal, how to shop, cook and think. Although she wanted to be a Blue Bell girl, rather than studying Nutrition at University, she went to Sydney at 18 as a wartime X-ray technologist. A secretarial position at the Australian Gas Light Company beckoned, before becoming a cooking demonstrator.
Amongst all this she was married, stayed in her beloved native Scotland, had her only child Suzanne and divorced twice. Margaret turned her hand to many things, eventually becoming a cookery writer for Woman magazine, concurrently gaining professional qualifications. She valued learning and respecting the classics.
Joining Woman’s Day brought overseas travel, her columns showing Australians how to cook in new, exciting ways. The 1968 Margaret Fulton Cookbook was a publishing sensation, firing a national love affair with food. It was the first comprehensive, reliable collection of global recipes. Margaret said “anyone that cooks finds that life gets better.”
She began working with Cordon-Bleu trained Suzanne on a successful part series before they moved to New Idea. Later she continued to publish books and give cooking demonstrations with Suzanne and then her granddaughters. All four collaborated on the revised edition of that first cookbook. Even without it, 10 years ago, with at least 25 cookbooks to her credit, her sales around the world were over 4 million and growing.
She had her ups and downs, economically and personally with interests far beyond the kitchen. An independent thinker, political activist, appreciator of indigenous culture, passionate environmentalist and fierce opponent of genetic engineering. Bohemian yet sophisticated, she did not suffer fools, deploring style over substance. Always generous, happy to support a good cause, encourage a young person and able to communicate with all walks of life.
A champion of good education, the first and greatest Australian celebrity cookery writer, feisty and forward-looking. “Wouldn’t you rather be cooking something new than something you’ve been cooking for 20 years?” she asked.
Look at these pages and thank her.