Rebecca Varidel is a freelance food and travel writer based in Sydney, who believes good food nourishes more than the body.
With a large global food and travel following on twitter, she is an avid advocate of online communities. Her food career has included cooking (in restaurants and catering), as well as publishing her latest food site, Inside Cuisine.
What inspires you and your food?
For me, it’s all about making people happy. The inspiration for my food, well, that’s about showcasing best local and seasonal produce, and about maximum flavour. I like to have a hero in the dish.
We’ve got quite a range of culinary influences in Australia: east and west. I enjoy them all, though I probably lean to French and Italian as my stronger influences.
What can you learn about a person from the way they prepare their food?
Anyone who cooks is alright in my book! By my observation, someone who loves to cook is probably also generous in spirit. In this hurried world, if they take the time to cook slowly and with care, they’re probably also someone who’ll care about and respect others.
What is the recipe you most like to cook?
Hmmm "¦ I’m not sure there is just one – perhaps a better answer is I like to base the dish I’m cooking on whatever produce is seasonal and at it’s peak. The styles of dishes best change with the season too.
What chef has been your inspiration?
I truly delight in the food, and food influences, of many chefs, within Australia, and internationally. Each has their own style. If I have to narrow it down to a couple, I’d say the greatest inspirations to me are:
Stefano Manfredi, who truly understands produce, perfect simplicity in flavour, has a great 'touch’ in cookery, and is currently growing much of the food he cooks, in the kitchen garden right behind Bells at Killcare.
Tony Bilson. He has the strongest classical French foundation – he pushes the envelope, challenges my thinking, and takes my palate to new places. Although he is the 'godfather" of Australian cuisine, training many of the names you probably already know like Tetsuya and Manu Fiedel, Tony is still at the leading edge of cooking in Australia, after more than four decades at the stoves.
Stephanie Alexander, from whose books I learnt to cook. I also really admire her commitment to produce, and the work she is doing with primary school children in the Kitchen Garden National Program.
Jared Ingersoll. His food is nurturing as well as tasty – I also admire Jared for being so passionate about organic food and small producers, and for his ongoing support as a founding signatory of the Chef’s Charter of - one of my passions - True Food Australia.
Can I add my brother too?
Tell us about your favourite food event in Australia
I think the first major food event I went to in Australia was the Harvest Picnic at Werribee Park. That’s still a favourite because of the highlight on produce. (and because I cooked the press breakfast there one year). My hometown festivals in Sydney, are all great fun, and a great place to learn. The World Chef’s Conference in Sydney was really interesting, and I participated in lots of events at the Sydney International Food Festival.
I’m really excited that this month I’m going to a few events - a masterclass and lunch by Nicolas Le Bec, dinner by Michel Roux Senior and the Gala Dinner with all 7 chefs - at the inaugural Cuisine NOW.
And, I’m really looking forward to March and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Can you tell us your favourite restaurant in your area?
My local haunt is Grand View Chinese Restaurant at Hunters Hill. They make my favourite Peking Duck. They make all their own sauces (including soy), and don’t use MSG. If I happen to be on my own, they’ll make me half portions with a big smile.
Anything else you want to tell your fellow foodies?
I remember hearing Margaret Fulton speak at the launch of the 2010 True Food Guide. She’s a tiny Scot. She spoke passionately and eloquently against genetically engineered food. 'If think you are too small to make a difference, just spend a night in a room with a mosquito". She’s right. We all make choices everday, and it’s the sum of all our choices that paves our future together. I try to make choices that contribute to Australian society: buying fresh seasonal and local, supporting local farmers and small producers (to retain and increase food diversity).
There’s an opportunity in Australia right now to increase the range of what we currently can make and eat. Food Standards Australia has called for submissions on raw milk cheese products. I’d like to be able to buy and eat locally in Australia, the kind of cheese that currently I have to travel to Europe to eat. Renowned cheeses like Roquefort, Fontina Val d’Aosta, Swiss Gruyère, Comté, Vermont Shepherd and last but not least Parmigiano-Reggiano are all raw milk cheeses. Will Studd has been lobbying Food Standards Australia for 10 years now. There were standing ovations when Carlo Petrini (founder of Slow Food) spoke with fervere in support of raw milk products during the Sydney International Food Festival.
Can you lend your voice in support?