World is chef’s oys­ter

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASTE - Graeme Phillips

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.

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