Getting into the intimate nitty gritty of politicians’ kitchens gives Kitchen Cabinet viewers sometimes surprising insights into what makes our public figures tick, says the show’s host Annabel Crabb
You can tell a lot about someone by how they prepare a meal, Annabel Crabb reckons. It’s especially true of politicians. For example, when she arrived at Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s apartment to film an episode of the hit ABC series Kitchen Cabinet, she found perfectly chopped and diced ingredients neatly displayed in individual bowls upon a pristine counter.
“By contrast, (former Treasurer) Joe Hockey was unable to locate the knife drawer in his kitchen,” she says. And then there was unpredictable billionaireturned-politician Clive Palmer, who almost set her on fire with a spray can of oil.
“I didn’t see that coming. But that’s the beauty of this show – we always end up on an adventure.”
Now in its fifth season, Kitchen Cabinet – the hit part cooking, part interview show – sees a new crop of the most fascinating figures in Parliament allow Crabb into their homes for an intimate meal they’ve prepared.
And whether or not they can cook doesn’t matter too much, she has learnt.
“It’s more about the exchange and the conversation – that’s the interesting part. It’s using food, whatever it might be, as a vehicle for a really fascinating chat.”
When she first arrived in Canberra in 1999 as a political reporter for the Adelaide Advertiser, Crabb was struck by how normal elected officials were off the record.
Running into a minister and grabbing a coffee, or sitting down for a long lunch or quiet dinner with some party powerbroker or rising star, would in most cases give an impression of a relaxed, honest and even admirable person.
But the moment the cameras or recorders flicked back on, most of them returned to being “cardboard cut-outs of themselves”, Crabb says.
It’s hardly surprising, given the 24-hour media cycle and the enormous pressure that comes with it. Not even the most polished of performers is immune to the odd headline- grabbing gaffe. “It’s why all of them, from junior to senior politicians, tend to develop a shorthand, whether it’s a three-word slogan or the official party line.
“Then people at home switch on the TV and see five people form the same party parroting the same thing ... and so you can’t blame them for having a pretty simple view of politics.”
It’s why the experience she’s had of politicians – seeing them off duty – is a rare thing.
“In my experience, they’re far better motivated and nicer people than is widely believed.”
So when these almost robotic figures appear on television, chopping and dicing, talking candidly about their lives, beliefs and hopes, opening up about their weaknesses, and giving a sneak peek of the intimate spaces that are their private homes, it can be almost shocking.
Crabb says the most common feedback of her show is one of surprise that a pollie they might’ve despised was actually quite likeable. “And relatable,” she adds. “People are surprised they can relate to a politician. I find that sad because they’re all people with vulnerabilities and personal stories, just like us.”
Among the highlights of this upcoming season is the episode with new Treasurer Scott Morrison – perhaps one of the most polarising and dividing figures in politics.
“He has quite a sense of humour, which I don’t think many people realise,” she says.
“And his childhood is fascinating. He grew up in a really Christian household but also did lots of theatre. He was quite the talented child actor. In fact, he was in all these TV commercials as a kid.”
Crabb was equally surprised by her meal with accidental Senator Ricky Muir.
“He came to the Parliament with a very heavy prejudice against him … I reckon that he’s kind of turned out to not be a bad senator, really. He takes the job very seriously, he’s a very moral person and he works hard.
“I was really impressed by him. And we finished up doing some fun burnouts in a car, so that was interesting.”
Annabel Crabb unravels some interesting recipes with politicians in the ABC show