World is chef’s oyster
FORMER Hobart chef Kath Witbreuk was in town recently and I asked her what she was doing. ‘‘ Growing vegetables and chooks in China,’’ she replied.
‘‘ And,’’ she added after a pause and smilingly noting my surprise, ‘‘ running my own catering business in Beijing.’’
Which, of course, is a long way from growing up in Kingston and an apprenticeship with Anne Ripper and George Haddad at the old Ali Akbar, in North Hobart.
But, perhaps more than anyone else I know, Kath’s career is an example of the wonderful and exciting experiences open to any young chef who, like her, works hard, is passionate about their trade and lifts their sights to the opportunities the wide world of cooking offers.
If anyone had suggested that one day she would be the personal chef to the Netherland’s Crown Prince and Princess of Orange- Nassau, she says she would have laughed.
‘‘ But, if I could do it, anyone can do it,’’ she says modestly. ‘‘ And with proper training, Tasmania could build the same reputation for its chefs as we already have for our produce.’’
After leaving Tasmania and a few years working under the great Lew Kathreptis in Sydney, she landed in Washington DC and was recommended and got the job as personal chef to the Dutch Ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
From there it was to the Royal House of Orange, in Holland, before being appointed personal chef to that country’s ambassador in Beijing.
‘‘ That was five years ago. The Beijing Olympics came and went, and life’s been on fast- forward ever since.
‘‘ I initially thought I’d like to return to Washington, but Beijing is so exciting, there’s always something happening, always new challenges, new food, new flavours, 60,000 Beijing restaurants to eat in and totally different to New York, Washington or Sydney.
‘‘ It’s all given me an insight into a world I never dreamt I’d see.’’
She says today she acts as a personal chef and caterer mainly to the diplomatic and expat communities.
‘‘ You can get just about anything in Beijing today, but imported meat is always frozen and foreign foods are extravagantly expensive.
‘‘ So I’ve put together a network of sources, grow some of my own vegetables in a village about 45 minutes outside the city and have learnt to shop and use Chinese ingredients.
‘‘ But I cook them ‘ my way’. Chinese cooking is very traditional and ‘ my way’, things like zucchini kimchi with apples for example, comes as something of a surprise to many locals who are fixed in their garlic- ginger- spring onion ways.
‘‘ If I ask what an unusual green leaf vegetable in the market is, I’ll get the reply ‘ it’s for soup’. That I then prepare it differently is seen almost as an affront.
‘‘ But that’s what makes life exciting and challenges so satisfying to pull off.’’
WITH GUSTO: Tassie chef Kath Witbreuk puts a twist on traditional Chinese meals.