• Rae Johnston loves having people over for a homecooked dinner. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Working in and around kitchens for 15 years helped Rae Johnston pursue her career.
Melissa Woodley

6 Jul 2022 - 1:19 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2022 - 1:19 PM

--- The Cook Up with Adam Liaw S2 airs weeknights on SBS Food at 7.00pm and 10.30pm, or stream it free on SBS On Demand. This week The Cook Up celebrates Refugee Week. Rae Johnston in the sweet memories, vice, flashback and 'bring a plate' episodes. ---


Food has always been a joyful experience for Rae Johnston, a proud Wiradjuri woman, mum and award-winning media personality. Born and raised on Dharug and Gundungurra country in regional NSW by a family of food lovers, Johnston sat down to a comforting, heartfelt meal every night. 

It wasn't until leaving home, 18 years old and pregnant, that her love of cooking amplified. "When I couldn't afford entertainment, cooking took over as something that I'd look forward to every night," Johnston says.

"To slowly walk the grocery aisles and have my big list of all these recipes that I planned to cook…It was a fun, creative process, and that's where my love of really cooking kicked in."

The recipes Johnston made were inspired by whatever ingredients she could afford after paying the weekly bills. 

"I wanted to look after my son by myself the best that I possibly could and being able to provide him with really good meals was a huge part of that," she explains. 

However, Johnston got the most joy from recreating nostalgic bakes she'd enjoyed as a child, such as her mum's hearty lasagne, shepherd's pie and beef stroganoff. 

"Knowing that I could turn to those recipes and always provide [my son] with a meal that had brought me comfort when I was a child meant a lot to me," she says.

Chicken and vegetable soup with parsley pesto

The day after a roast chicken dinner, this is the perfect soup to use up any leftovers - and those root veg calling out to me from the crisper before they pass their use-by date!

Johnston also likes cooking to make her loved ones feel happy.

"If someone around me is feeling a bit down or not having the best of times then I will absolutely try to cook for them," she explains. "Food makes me happy, so I just assume it's going to make everyone around me happy as well."

"Being able to sit down with the people closest to you and to watch their eyes light up with pride and happiness."

Johnston has an open-door policy at her home and loves inviting friends and family to share a meal. 

"It's the best feeling knowing that you can make someone so happy with something so simple, like cooking their favourite meal," she says. "Being able to sit down with the people closest to you and to watch their eyes light up with pride and happiness."

Nowadays, Johnston splits the cooking with her husband and son, and on her two designated nights, rotates between a new recipe and an old family favourite.

"I really learned the importance of knowing family recipes and passing them on because they do evoke such strong memories and such strong feelings of happiness," she says.

"To be able to replicate them for yourself, even when family members are no longer with us that may have written that recipe; it's part of helping to keep a piece of them around."

Native dukkah with Johnny cakes

Johnny Cakes can be cooked on a flat bed of coals in a fire, on a wire grill over an electric hotplate, in a regular frying pan, or on a cast-iron griddle plate (which is what I use).

As soon as her son could reach the kitchen bench, Johnston started teaching him these family recipes. She loves seeing him tweak them and really make them his own. She is thankful for these moments with her family and to be in the privileged position where cooking is now just a hobby.

"Working in and around kitchens was always a big part of my life…and [this has] definitely supported me to be able to get the career that I have now." 

Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries. 

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