“I think food is very good at telling people’s stories, and the story of a country and a culture.”
For me, all my memories of Darwin — all the smells and flavours — have an Asian influence. I grew up with lots of other Thai and Asian kids, and our childhoods were literally all about food — we’d go to friends’ houses and play with the spring roll wrappers or I’d help my parents harvest mangoes and turn them into dried mango strips. Darwin has such an incredible mix of cultures. There were lots of Greek kids at my school and my parents were really good friends with one family who’d invite us round for a big lamb on the spit in their backyard. I used to love going there. In those early years we lived in a few different houses. I remember one had a really beautiful, tropical garden. It had a banana tree, a mango tree, loads of chillies and Asian herbs, and a mulberry tree. Our hands would always be stained purple from picking the berries. On weekends Dad loved to take us to the swimming holes at Berry Springs and Twin Falls at Kakadu National Park. We’d also go boating at Katherine Gorge and took caravan trips to Tennant Creek. I wasn’t all that adventurous as a kid — I’d only go into the water at Berry Springs if Dad would hold my hand. Darwin is also famous for its storms and I remember as a kid, those storms would roll in and scare the crap out of me! When I was seven, Dad’s work took us to Papua New Guinea. Living there for four years was an amazing experience and something that I’m very grateful for. There were a lot of Asian and Australian families, so for me as a kid, it almost felt like an extension of Darwin. I left for boarding school in Brisbane when I was 11, and Mum and Dad moved back to Darwin in my final year of high school. I went back in 2011, after my first cookbook was released. We did a bit of a tour and went to the Parap markets. There was a very famous laksa stall there when I was a kid and we went back and the laksa was just as I remembered. I reckon it’s the best laksa in the world, although I’m probably biased. Also, Darwin is the only place in Australia you can get Pauls Iced Coffee. It’s the one with the NT map on it and, if you’ve grown up drinking that iced coffee, you will never be able to drink another! After high school I studied journalism and law, which led to a job with the ABC, who sent me to South Australia. I met my husband Tim in Adelaide in 2006. He was working for a winery at the time and, through him, I started to meet all these amazing food and wine producers and I started to think more and more about what I was doing and whether it was something I really enjoyed. In 2009, I decided to quit my job and study gastronomy. Then I went on Masterchef. Being on the second season of the show was amazing — just being able to travel to Paris and London, and cook with all these amazing chefs like Heston Blumenthal, and put all my focus on food. I really loved it. Doing the Foxtel series Marion’s Thailand in 2013, where we travelled to the village where my mum grew up, was probably more personally rewarding. With my background in journalism, I really loved the storytelling aspect — I think food is very good at telling people’s stories, and the story of a country and a culture. Having lived and worked in Thailand for the past four-and-a-bit years now, my perceptions of Thai food have really changed. When we set up the company, I always wanted to come back and connect to Mum’s side and her culture. Running a business here has really been a a dream come true.
DARWIN Vibrant and tropical, the Northern Territory’s capital is also its main service centre for the mining, offshore oil and gas production, farming and tourism industries — although government is the major employer in the region, making up around 60 per cent of the workforce. Darwin’s traditional owners are the Larrakia, who today are a nation of about 2000 people known for their music and art. White history dates back to 1839, when the city was discovered by Lieutenant John Lort Stokes, who named it after Charles Darwin, his former shipmate. A historic port city, Darwin has long been a gateway between Australia and South-east Asia, and today boasts a relaxed lifestyle and diverse, multicultural population of about 145,000. Visit darwin.nt.gov.au or tourismtopend.com.au