Hol­i­day spirit

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Delicious On Sunday -

She’s one of our best-loved cooks who has found suc­cess as a farmer, restau­rant owner, cook­book au­thor, TV host and head of her own foun­da­tion. But as AN­GELA SAURINE dis­cov­ers, there are few things that Mag­gie Beer trea­sures more than Christ­mas get-to­geth­ers

Mag­gie Beer is very lucky. At no time does she feel that more acutely than at Christ­mas, sit­ting at a ta­ble in the gar­den of her Barossa Val­ley farm with her fam­ily, sur­rounded by eu­ca­lypts, fruit trees and rose bushes.

Nat­u­rally, the day al­ways in­volves a huge spread. This year, there will be goose and tur­key that she and hus­band Colin have raised, and sal­ads with mango, paw paw and av­o­cado. Dessert will in­clude a jelly with fresh rasp­ber­ries from the farm­ers’ mar­kets in An­gas­ton.

“If we’re lucky and the yab­bies are run­ning we’ll have yab­bies as well,” she says. “Ev­ery­one peels their own. Yab­bies are one of the things I have grown to love liv­ing in South Aus­tralia.”

Some years the menu in­cludes oys­ters, but only if they’re not spawn­ing, as Beer be­lieves they are not at their best when they are. There will be 14 peo­ple at the ta­ble this year, in­clud­ing Beer’s daugh­ters, Saskia and Elli, and six grand­kids, aged from two to 20.

“We have a beau­ti­ful table­cloth and servi­ettes, and we have a pine Christ­mas tree that ev­ery­one de­mands,” Beer says. “The scent of the tree is so lovely. We dec­o­rate it with hang­ing baubles. It’s re­ally spe­cial. I have al­ways loved hav­ing all the fam­ily around and it’s just a joy­ful time. It’s al­ways been a feast of beau­ti­ful food and ev­ery­one’s in­volved. It’s a very happy time of shar­ing.”

While this can be a hec­tic pe­riod for most of us, Beer is used to that. As well as hav­ing a farm shop sell­ing her range of gourmet prod­ucts, a func­tion cen­tre and ac­com­mo­da­tion in the Barossa, the much-loved Aus­tralian cook and food writer is a reg­u­lar on our TV screens, in­clud­ing ap­pear­ances on Masterchef Aus­tralia and co-host­ing The Great Aus­tralian Bake Off with Matt Mo­ran.

Two years ago, she also es­tab­lished the Mag­gie Beer Foun­da­tion to help im­prove the flavour and nutri­tional value of food in aged care homes. The foun­da­tion’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram gives chefs and cooks from that in­dus­try the chance to par­tic­i­pate in work­shops with Beer and aged care experts. It has also given sev­eral grants to build ed­i­ble gar­dens in care homes.

“Food has been im­por­tant to me all my life and I feel very strongly that ev­ery­one de­serves to have a good food life, and no more so than those un­able to make their own choices,” she says.

At age 71, Beer shows no sign of slow­ing down – just the way she likes it.

“I have a lot of en­ergy and there’s so much I love to do,” she says. “I’m a very for­tu­nate per­son. I live in a beau­ti­ful place with a very close fam­ily in the com­mu­nity and I’m part of it all.”

Beer and her hus­band moved to the Barossa Val­ley in 1973 with the aim of breed­ing game birds. This led to the open­ing of their Pheas­ant Farm Restau­rant, which would go on to at­tract crit­i­cal plau­dits and a de­voted fol­low­ing. The restau­rant closed in 1993, free­ing up Beer to fo­cus on other things, in­clud­ing star­ring in the ABC pro­gram The Cook And The Chef with Si­mon Bryant.

Recog­ni­tion has come thick and fast. In 2010, Beer was awarded Se­nior Aus­tralian of the Year. The fol­low­ing year she was named South Aus­tralian of the Year, and she was ap­pointed a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Aus­tralia for her ser­vice to tourism and hospi­tal­ity in 2012. She was even immortalised on a postage stamp in 2014 as part of Aus­tralia Post’s Aus­tralian Leg­ends Awards.

“I don’t see any need to slow down as I have so much to do both with my busi­ness and the foun­da­tion, and I love what I do,” Beer says. “I do need to give my­self the dis­ci­pline of not work­ing week­ends though.”

When she does get down­time, Beer loves to read, spend time in her gar­den and sings in a choir. “We go to the sea, which re­vi­talises me,” she says. “We also have a place by the wa­ter.”

Be­fore be­com­ing a food author­ity, Beer had some eclec­tic jobs. At 19 on a work­ing hol­i­day to Auck­land, she was a lift driver in a de­part­ment store. She also worked for Bri­tish Petroleum in Libya as an as­sis­tant to a se­nior geo­physi­cist.

Be­ing such a recog­nis­able face is part of the busi­ness, and not some­thing she strug­gles with too much. “I don’t live a city life,” she says. “I’m tucked away in the coun­try for most of the time, so when I am out and about, even though I can be over­whelmed by it at times, I’ve only ever found peo­ple truly lovely.”

She finds sup­port in her friend­ship with fel­low fa­mous foodie, Stephanie Alexan­der, whom she first met in 1984. “I never stop learn­ing from Stephanie’s amazing body of knowl­edge,” she says. “She is a very loyal friend and her work with the Kitchen Gar­den Foun­da­tion is noth­ing short of vi­sion­ary.”

It takes one to know one.


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