You've had quite a long association with MasterChef Australia - how does it feel to be returning for season seven?
Well, I've done five seasons and I've loved it every time. I just love the contestants. I love it that they learn so much and they grow so much. I love being a part of that.
What one piece of advice can you give to this year’s contestants?
Just immerse yourself and keep your minds open. Never stop working on it. Make the most of it. Even if you don’t get through to the end you are learning so much along the way… just immerse yourself in it totally.
As the “Queen of the Australian kitchen”, what do you think of the Australian food scene?
[Laughs] I think the Australian food scene is just so exciting. The best of us are on par with the best in the world. There are so many people who are interested in where their food is coming from nowadays; it’s just a most exciting phase of our food culture. We have such amazing produce that it’s the envy of most of the world. Chefs have so much to play with.
This May you release the winter chapter of Maggie's Harvest, Maggie Beer's Winter Harvest Recipes. What makes this chapter unique?
It’s for people who don’t have Maggie's Harvest, which has been a large purchase for some. We’re putting each season into a paperback over the year, so if someone just loves winter food they can get the Winter Harvest paperback. It’s a way of being more accessible to more people. I’m excited about the idea. People might decide to collect all of them!
The Winter Harvest recipes emphasise local, seasonal produce – why is that so important to you?
It’s how I've cooked all my life. The 40-something years I've been here in the Barossa all I've done is relate to the season, live the rhythm of the season. I know no other way.
Many recipes celebrate cold weather-loving citrus fruit – what other winter produce can’t you live without?
Root vegetables. I just love them. Swedes, Jerusalem artichokes and those types of vegetables. They’re the unsung heroes of the food world.
Winter Harvest contains inspiring accounts of memorable meals with family and friends – can you describe your most memorable meal?
Oh my goodness no! Gosh no, honestly. Ok, one of my most memorable winter meals was when someone else cooked me a wild duck in winter. It was so amazing, and slow cooked. It’s the food, it’s the ambiance, it’s the people around you. Sorry I can’t be more definitive!
What’s your favourite winter comfort food recipe in Winter Harvest?
It would be something like the Chestnut Soup. We’re getting chestnuts off the tree just now, I know it’s not even winter yet. I’m also thinking of a beautiful piece of pork from a Berkshire pig with Saville marmalade on top. So quick and easy and fabulous. I like rich food in winter.
When you were a child, what was your favourite thing to eat?
Chicken soup, made by my mum with hearts and livers and everything. It’s beautiful, so long as you've got a good chicken to start with.