MARION GRASBY COOK AND ENTREPRENEUR
THE FORMER MASTERCHEF CONTESTANT TELLS CATHERINE MCCORMACK HOW HER DARWIN CHILDHOOD PAVED THE WAY FOR HER SUCCESSFUL FOOD COMPANY.
FOR MARION GRASBY, Thai curry paste is the food equivalent of pure magic. “You get all these huge, loud ingredients — things like garlic, kaffir lime, lemongrass, fish sauce and really spicy chilli — you put them together and the result is something really beautiful and harmonious,” says the cook and entrepreneur, who first grabbed Australia’s attention as a contestant on reality television cooking show, Masterchef in 2010. “To put in all those flavours and come up with that kind of alchemy is really amazing.” When the 34-year-old Thai-australian launched her South-east Asian-inspired meal kit company, Marion’s Kitchen, soon after being voted off the show, Thai green curry, red curry and pad Thai were some of her first products. Today, the company — which Marion runs with her husband, Tim Althaus — boasts a range of some 25 products, including cooking, wok and wrap kits. Marion’s colourful packaged goods are stocked in more than 3000 stores across Australia, with annual sales of up to $10 million according to a 2015 report in the Australian Financial Review. Overseas, the brand is sold in around 6000 stores in the United States, with plans to branch into the United Kingdom this year. In 2013, Marion and Tim moved operations to Bangkok to be closer to their producers, most of whom are located just outside the capital. “Bangkok is such a vibrant city,” she says. “In the afternoons you can be in the street having food from a food cart then at night you’re having cocktails in some fancy rooftop bar. There are areas that are quiet and others where it’s all hustle and bustle — it reminds me of an Asian New York.” The couple travel often within Asia, taking their time to explore new cuisines and develop recipe ideas. “I like to develop our products in a very natural, organic way,” says Marion. “For me it’s about getting inspired and then turning the food we’ve loved into something for our customers. It’s like having a restaurant but being able to share your dish with 100,000 people a month — that’s a lot of covers!” Marion credits her mother Noi, a professionally trained chef, with teaching her how to cook. Her deep love for food reaches back to early childhood experiences in Darwin, where Marion was born and where, as a young girl, she would help Noi prepare food to sell at the popular Parap Village Markets. Today, the mother and daughter continue to work together, with Noi the resident ‘quality assurance chef’ for Marion’s Kitchen. “Nothing gets past her tastebuds!” says Marion with a laugh. More recently, Noi and Marion’s father, Charlie, moved from Darwin to Phuket then Bangkok. “They’re living about 500 metres down the road now, much to my husband’s delight!” Marion says. “I grew up in Darwin and Papua New Guinea but when I turned 11, I went to boarding school in Brisbane, so I kind of feel like I’m getting that time with my parents back — it’s great.” For more information, visit marionskitchen.com.au
FROM LEFT In her mother, Noi’s, arms in front of the family’s “trusty station wagon” in Darwin, circa 1983; a rare photo of Marion wearing a dress — she hated frilly clothing.