COVER STORY

Step aside, celebrity chefs. Grandma cooks are be­com­ing the new stars of the food world.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents -

If there’s one thing pop cul­ture has taught us it’s that what goes around

comes around.And with an ev­er­grow­ing call for more real and less man­u­fac­tured food, it’s no sur­prise the soul-fill­ing tra­di­tions of nonnas and yiayias are at the top of the pops.

Th­ese cus­to­di­ans of their cul­tures are be­ing cel­e­brated like never be­fore. A Mel­bourne Greek woman who passes home-cooked dishes over the fence to two neigh­bour­ing broth­ers has stolen hearts as In­sta­gram star the ‘yi­ayia next door’. Gradi at Crown, mean­while, is launch­ing a Pi­atti dei Nonni menu from this Wed­nes­day, in­spired by chef-owner Johnny Di Francesco’s re­la­tion­ship with his own nonna.And Mel­bourne caterer Peter Row­land is mark­ing its launch of home-de­liv­ery meals in Sydney and Mel­bourne with a se­ries of videos fea­tur­ing leg­endary lo­cal grand­mother cooks by film­maker Nick Tsin­dos, re­leased to­day.

One of th­ese leg­ends is El­iz­a­beth Chong, whose won­der­fully ac­ces­si­ble Chi­nese cook­ing prob­a­bly en­tered your home and heart in the ’80s and ’90s by way of shows like Good Morn­ing Aus­tralia.The daugh­ter of Wil­liam Chen Wing Young, who pop­u­larised dim sim in Mel­bourne in the 1940s, Chong started as a cook­ing teacher in the early ’60s be­fore go­ing on to ap­pear on Aus­tralian TV.

“A few years ago, a stu­dent I taught back in 1962 wrote to me to tell me that they still cook my recipes to this day,” she says. “That’s what I’ve al­ways strived to do – to share recipes that are real and within reach of any­body.To hear things like this are my re­ward.”

The yi­ayia in the se­ries is Mary Calom­baris, mother of Ge­orge. She sees food as a way of con­nect­ing fam­ily through time and dis­tance. “You can never have your chil­dren for the whole of your life,” she says. “You only bor­row them. But the mem­o­ries stay for­ever.”

And she’s all for the re­newed in­ter­est in what her gen­er­a­tion has to of­fer. “It’s great to re­mind peo­ple us grand­moth­ers

“IT’S GREAT TO RE­MIND PEO­PLE US GRAND­MOTH­ERS CAN SHOW OUR CUI­SINE TO THE YOUNG ONES.”

are around and still go­ing and can show our tra­di­tional cui­sine to the young ones and tell the sto­ries of how we lived.”

As the keen­est cook of four daugh­ters, she con­tin­ues to rel­ish the re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing the col­lec­tor and cus­to­dian of her fam­ily’s recipes. “Mum used to say ‘Did you write it down?’ and my sis­ters would say ‘Don’t worry, Mary knows it.’ To this day, I feel like Mum is still with us ev­ery time we cook her recipes.”

She says her grain salad is so pop­u­lar, she some­times makes it in 50-kilo batches for a lo­cal fundraiser.

Chef Ke­mal Barut of Mel­bourne’s Tu­lum cred­its his mother’s in­flu­ence in shap­ing his pro­fes­sional life. His mum Fatma’s Turk­ish roots form the ground­ing from which his food has flour­ished. “In my time as a child and young adult our houses were al­ways filled with fam­ily and grand­par­ents,” she says. “We learned ev­ery­thing we know from our an­ces­tors.

“Tra­di­tional cul­ture was al­ways cel­e­brated with the whole fam­ily so

the next gen­er­a­tion could fol­low the tra­di­tions,” she adds, not­ing the risk we have of los­ing parts of our cul­ture through grow­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ism.

In Sar­dinia, mean­while, just a hand­ful of women still know how to make the world’s rarest pasta, one of whom learnt the art half a cen­tury ago, and din­ers at Sydney’s cel­e­brated Pilu at Fresh­wa­ter are lucky enough to be able to try it. “There are about five women left, led by an in­cred­i­ble woman, Paola Abraini, who can make su fil­in­deu, a su­perfine pasta, which trans­lates as ‘threads of God’,” says chef

Gio­vanni Pilu. “It’s made – as many things are – to cel­e­brate a saint and peo­ple walk a 33-kilo­me­tre pil­grim­age in the night to a church at the cen­tre of the is­land.” There the pasta is served to the weary in lamb broth, topped with stretchy fresh pecorino.

At his restau­rant Pilu serves a pre­cious amount of this su fil­in­deu made by Paola – he gets it flown in and it costs around 45 eu­ros a kilo – as a way of shar­ing her story and to en­cour­age peo­ple to value the old ways. “If we were to lose this way of mak­ing pasta, it would be dev­as­tat­ing. We would lose a piece of Sar­dinia that is so unique and rare.We can’t let it dis­ap­pear,” he says.

Of course, it would be re­miss not to ask the Mel­bourne trea­sures for some pearls of kitchen wis­dom.

“Learn to be an instinct cook,” says Mary Calom­baris. “Look at what you have and learn how to make a meal out of it.And we should try to get peo­ple to cook at home and not go out to eat all the time. It’s health­ier.”

“Use the serv­ing of food as a means to gather fam­ily and friends, to cre­ate won­der­ful mem­o­ries,” say Fatma Barut. “Take an open in­ter­est in eat­ing, no mat­ter where you come from.When you go to the su­per­mar­ket,you can see the di­ver­sity in who we are through the ar­ray of food we have to choose from. Good eat­ing and good food is such an enor­mous part of life and good health.”

Sage words from wise women.

IT’S ALL GREEK Mary Calom­baris is the cus­to­dian of her fam­ily’s recipe legacy.

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