Sandra Beeston is a French expat who’s been living in Sydney for six
years, trying to recreate tastes from home whilst exploring all the different
cuisines that Sydney has to offer. Beeston works for a French food importer,
which she finds very helpful when getting hold of specialty ingredients. She blogs at the French Wench in both English and French.
Why do you keep a food blog?
The main reason was that I kept talking about food all the time and wanted to share my passion with like-minded people. It took me a year before I decided to take the plunge, as there are already so many food blogs out there, but I have no regrets now and it has been very rewarding so far. It has already helped me improve my cooking and photography skills, as well as maintain my French!
You blog in both English and French, do you feel you are writing for different audiences? Who are they?
I write in French to reach French people visiting Australia or living here, as well as for my friends and family back home. They speak English, too, but I thought it would be more personalised and I adapt the content accordingly (i.e. I don’t translate word for word). I think the readers of my English blog are other food bloggers mainly, as well as my friends and Australian relatives.
How has your French heritage influenced you and your cooking?
It had a huge influence on my cooking. When I arrived in Australia, I really did notice the difference in the way of eating, the composition of meals and the food itself. I noticed that people didn’t eat much salad, and had snacks all the time. They were constantly on diets, trying to be healthy, exercising and depriving themselves, only to later binge eat on junk food.
As I came to adopt some of these habits, I put on 5kg in the first few months! I was really sad there weren't many cheese varieties to choose from (it has changed a bit since, thank God!). Same thing for yoghurts, and I realise now I am most definitely French in my relationship with food: I don’t do diets, I eat what I want but always try to balance it with salads, soups or veggies, and never feel deprived.
I love all things French: butter, mushrooms, saucisson, baguette, cheese … I still think France has some of the best food in the world, and that’s what I intend to explore with my blog.
What have you learned about food from your family?
My mum taught me to eat everything, not to waste food and to have balanced meals. She also taught me that the best food comes from your own garden. I will never forget the taste of freshly picked strawberries and raspberries from our garden, or how she would send me to pick some tarragon, parsley or chives for the salad she was just making. Junk food and fizzy drinks were forbidden. My first Maccas was when I was 12, and it was on a holiday in Australia!
What family recipe do you most like to cook?
It’s gonna have to be quiches and tarts! They offer so many different combinations, are easy to make and delicious with a nice salad. My favourites at the moment: tomato tart and leek & goat’s cheese tart.
Have you been following the Tour de France?
I have to say I’m not a big fan of sports in general, so ... no!
Are you a fan of Gabriel Gate’s Taste Le Tour?
I have seen a few of his videos on SBS website, but I try not to watch them too often, it makes me too nostalgic! I did meet his son, when I was studying in Lyon. He was telling us how his father was a famous chef in Australia, and we all did our Gallic thing and shrugged. A few weeks later, I asked my Auntie in Melbourne by email if she’d heard about him and she replied with a big, “Oh my God, you don’t know Gabriel Gaté? He’s HUGE in Australia!” And that’s how I first knew the extent of his fame before coming here.
What do you think is unique about Australia’s food culture?
It’s just awesome to find so much variety of food in the one place. I was amazed when I first came to Australia of all the different kind of cuisines you can find: I gorged myself on sushi, as I never had it in France. I hadn't tasted Thai, Malaysian or Nepalese either. Not only that, but you can find restaurants specialised in regional cuisines, too: Northern Chinese, South Indian. It was all a first for me, and I can’t get enough of exploring all the cuisines from different parts of the world, it is a great way to travel.
What’s your secret food shame?
I still don’t mind the odd cheeseburger from Maccas ... yep, most definitely feeling the shame now!
What ingredient you can you not live without?
Cheese, in all its forms: parmesan, feta, goat's cheese, gruyere. I just put some in all my dishes! And butter, of course.
Can you pick a favourite recipe:
A soufflé, if successful, is always quite impressive. Like tarts, you can put whatever you want in them, but my favourite remains a good old cheese soufflé.
To comfort food?
Crêpes are a delicious and fun way to warm up in winter.
For an easy weeknight dinner?
Tomato tart: a bit like a pizza, with olives, fried onions, feta cheese, fresh tomatoes, but in a tart dish with Dijon mustard spread on the pastry and much more tomato brew than a pizza ... delicious.
Tell us about your favourite food event in Australia.
My favourite food event is Friday or Saturday nights, when I go out for dinner with my partner at one of our locals! Otherwise Sydney Fine Food Show 2009 was very interesting. Eveleigh Markets are always quite exciting and I really enjoyed Pyrmont Markets last year at SIFF time, spotting all the celebrity chefs cooking pork.
What is your favourite cook book, food show and cooking utensil?
It has to be The Complete Robuchon my boyfriend gave me for Christmas, it’s just like a big encyclopedia of French cooking, not a single picture, just lots and lots of recipes, from basic sauces, dressings to the most complicated dishes.
My favourite food show is Food Safari, I’m a big fan of Maeve O’Meara! I also loved Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam, everything was gorgeous, the food, the landscapes, the people ... can’t wait to go there in January! And of course: Masterchef.
At the risk of repeating myself, my favourite utensil would be my quiche dish. I also couldn’t live without my salad spinner. And I’m very fond of my big Sabatier knife, as well as my new “kitchen robot”.
Tell us about your favourite restaurant in your area.
It’s a difficult question, as I live near Surry Hills, and I have lots of favourites! But one of my regular spots is Maya Vegetarian restaurant: very authentic (from what I’ve been told, it's like diners you would find in India), delicious thalis, curries, dosas, and a huge variety of sweets.
Japanese restaurant Komachi is also one of my local spots, the lady managing it is very nice and efficient!
What message would you like to share with your fellow foodies?
I’m so glad I made the plunge into the food blog world, I don’t know why it took me so long. So far I have only met really nice people through it and they are all as food-obsessed as me, which is great. Vive les blogs culinaires!
Please tell us what you think of SBS's tarte tatin recipe.
For some reason I have always been pretty scared of Tarte Tatin, it is such a yummy dessert I thought it had to be really hard to make. Caramel seemed pretty scary too: it can turn so fast from a beautiful liquid gold to a burnt catastrophic mess if you look away for a second! But for Bastille Day I decided I couldn’t hide forever from this French classic and took the bull by the horn. Tarte Tatin, à nous deux!