A trib­ute to Valli Lit­tle.

delicious - - CONTENTS -

to write about Valli’s time at de­li­cious., I im­me­di­ately be­gan com­pil­ing a list of the peo­ple she’d worked with over the years who I knew would want to con­trib­ute to this piece. Ed­i­tors, book pub­lish­ers, chefs, home cooks, writ­ers, food pro­duc­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, stylists, recipe testers – all of whom had seen her tal­ent, pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ded­i­ca­tion up close. Be­ing the food di­rec­tor of a mag­a­zine, as Valli was for well over a decade at de­li­cious., brings you into a close-knit cir­cle of food pro­fes­sion­als for long hours of re­search­ing, writ­ing, shop­ping, test­ing, cook­ing, plat­ing, styling and shoot­ing. But as the list of names grew ever longer, I re­alised it was an im­pos­si­ble task to in­clude ev­ery­one whose life she had touched, and de­cided sim­ply to tell you how she made de­li­cious. the suc­cess story it be­came.

Valli and I met a few months be­fore the mag­a­zine was launched by Neale Whi­taker at the end of 2001. It was im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent that she had a rare tal­ent for cre­at­ing recipes that were low on ef­fort but high on im­pact. At that time, food magazines were pub­lish­ing recipes that ran over sev­eral col­umns (some­times pages) and re­quired ex­otic in­gre­di­ents from sev­eral dif­fer­ent spe­cialty shops be­fore you could even be­gin to cook. The beauty of de­li­cious. was its keep-it-sim­ple ap­proach com­bined with Valli’s in­cred­i­ble abil­ity to turn su­per­mar­ket in­gre­di­ents into restau­rant-wor­thy dishes.

The first time I truly un­der­stood the depth of her ex­per­tise was when we were shoot­ing our very first cook­book, Wicked. This was full of dessert recipes from well-known chefs. I watched day af­ter day as she took a chef’s long, com­pli­cated (and to be frank, of­ten un­in­tel­li­gi­ble) in­struc­tions, which were usu­ally based on them hav­ing a team of sous chefs and kitchen hands as well as ac­cess to all man­ner of pro­duce and com­mer­cial equip­ment, and turned them into some­thing a home cook could achieve, with sen­sa­tional re­sults. Read­ers loved her. Sud­denly they were de­light­ing friends and fam­ily with ir­re­sistible recipes that didn’t take a week­end to pre­pare. The mag­a­zine be­came syn­ony­mous with Valli’s inim­itable style of food.

When we trav­elled around the coun­try for cook­ing classes and events, au­di­ences were spell­bound by Valli’s tips, tricks and short­cuts, and her in­fi­nite food knowl­edge. Of­ten on stage or cook­ing din­ners with fa­mous chefs such as Rick Stein and Cur­tis Stone, Valli more than held her own, cre­at­ing a rap­port with read­ers through her self-dep­re­cat­ing sense of hu­mour and ac­ces­si­ble, down-to-earth ap­proach – partly the re­sult of work­ing full-time while bring­ing up her two boys, Toby and Henry, with her hus­band, Phil.

Her pas­sion for food was un­ri­valled; it started at a young age in a fam­ily of restau­ra­teurs and con­tin­ued as she stud­ied at Le Cor­don Bleu in Lon­don, worked as a caterer and went on to open her deli, Gas­tronomes, in Roseville, Syd­ney. She was al­ways fas­ci­nated to learn new things and never stopped col­lect­ing cook­books – she had more than 800. In fact, Phil said a new one ar­rived in the mail the week af­ter she passed away. She used to read them like oth­ers read nov­els, in bed with a cup of prop­erly made English tea.

We had so many fun times over the years: laugh­ing about get­ting lost in the dark on the way to Mag­gie Beer’s house in the Barossa; at­tempt­ing crazily am­bi­tious shoots on beaches, farms and is­lands around the coun­try and over­seas; and host­ing events with some of the world’s top chefs (some of whom were bet­ter be­haved than oth­ers – there were Gor­don Ram­say’s in­fa­mous reader din­ners and the time Valli had to take over a demon­stra­tion from a cer­tain star who was suf­fer­ing the af­ter-ef­fects of a big night out).

What I re­mem­ber more than any­thing, though, is her gen­eros­ity: giv­ing ad­vice to fledg­ling food pro­duc­ers or busi­ness own­ers; sup­port­ing young writ­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers; and al­ways happy to an­swer week­end phone calls from col­leagues (okay, mostly me) about recipes or cook­ing meth­ods when they were half­way through pre­par­ing for a din­ner party.

But, of course, Valli’s last­ing legacy will be the thou­sands of recipes she has given us; the magazines and cook­books on our shelves that we all turn to when we want to be as­sured of stress-free culi­nary suc­cess; and the warmth and con­vivi­al­ity of lin­ger­ing meals with friends and fam­ily en­joy­ing her sim­ply de­li­cious food. The Aus­tralian food in­dus­try has lost one of its best.

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