Michelle’s heart-warming story of leaving a successful career in Sydney for the simple, fresh, country life in Tasmania exudes vibrancy through every page of her new cookbook and memoir, A Table in the Orchard.
Glamorous cocktail parties at the Opera House were left behind for muddy gumboots, a veggie garden or two and a cottage in the country, surrounded by crisp and bountiful Tasmanian wilderness - and Michelle hasn’t looked back. From renovating a house and importing a three hundred kilogram Rayburn oven from England while raising two beautiful children with her partner, to breeding chickens, picking wild blackberries, sticking nettles and haw berries to curating MONA markets and now consulting on Tasmania’s seasonal food festivals; Michelle certainly has strong perseverance, a profoundly deep passion and a wealth of wisdom from experiencing first-hand the trials and triumphs of country living.
Michelle’s lively commentary is perfect content for anyone wistfully daydreaming of making a ‘sea change’ to the country, and is a source of encouragement for those a little shy of stepping into the kitchen for culinary experiments. Linger over dozens of comforting, wholesome recipes throughout Michelle’s cookbook and when inspiration strikes, pick up the spade and start digging a new veggie patch, or perhaps dabble in a few tasty recipes yourself.
On top of the vast knowledge packed into the pages of her charming cookbook, we were lucky enough to have Michelle spare some precious time and give us an update on her Delicious Life. Here is what she had to say:
Your love for Tasmanian produce is evident in your book, but what do you miss about Sydney’s food scene?
I miss the easy access to food from so many different cultures and visiting the “villages” of Sydney where it feels like you’re in other country – Chinatown in Haymarket, Vietnamese in Cabramatta, Italian in Haberfield and Turkish in Auburn. I also miss those massive food halls in Chinatown where you can get an amazing bowl of noodles to slurp, the Asian grocers selling piles of fresh greens to stir-fry and Sunday morning yum cha with towers of bamboo steamers filled with har gow dumplings. Sigh.
What is the biggest culinary lesson learnt as a result of moving to Tasmania?
It’s such a cliché, but it really is all about the ingredients, their freshness and where and how they are grown, along with also eating foods that’s in season. Having great produce means you don't need to do much at all to the food. It really does affect the flavour of everything you cook.
You have a very funny tale of dispatching and preparing your own roosters because they bred quite fast. Where do you source other meats from, what do you look for and how is the chicken breeding situation now?
I’m lucky enough to have friends who raise lamb, beef or pork that we buy direct. They’re shipped off to the butcher and you order the meat how you like it. A big chest freezer is compulsory! If we do need to buy meat, our local butcher is fantastic and he can pretty much tell you which paddock the meat’s been raised on. We always look to eat meat from animals that have led happy outdoor lives.
We don’t have any roosters anymore, so the chicken breeding situation is stable. Our dog, Patch, killed the last rooster - his name was Alan. However, only yesterday I was wishing I had a rooster in the freezer to make a soup with the tomatillos we’re picking from the garden. So, while we’re enjoying our sleep-ins without the roosters crowing, I do miss the tasty dishes we used to prepare with them.
If you asked your family what to cook right now, what unanimous reply are you most likely to receive and why?
Probably roast pork made from pigs raised on our friends’ farm, with lots of crispy, roast potatoes and baked apples and piles of green vegetables. And why, you ask? Well, crackling.
Are there any foods your family won’t eat?
We’re always hungry and pretty much eat everything. Although the children might question where an ingredient comes from if it doesn’t taste right; “Whose carrots are these?” We probably wouldn't eat fast food - no-one really likes the taste of it.
If you had to choose a single recipe from A Table in the Orchard, which one would it be?
Probably the baked beans - they’re so easy; just dump all the ingredients into the pot and walk away. Then keep the cooked beans in the fridge and you have fast, delicious snacks for the week. I like to heat them up in a ramekin with an egg for breakfast, or fill a jaffle with beans and cheese or have them on toast with avocado and spinach.
Your storytelling of creative cooking and gardening is insightful and also very entertaining. Have you experienced any huge cooking disasters? What happened?
Oh gosh. All. The. Time. Mostly my disasters stem from being distracted and burning things, toast, jam, soup…I’ll put a pot on, then walk outside and start working in the garden and come back to a smoky kitchen. I’ve had to toss out a lot of pots that have been burnt beyond repair. I’ve been known to chip burnt jam off with a screwdriver from my Le Creuset pots, but don’t try that at home, it’s not a happy outcome.
Living the simple life seems immensely complex – can you offer some advice for anyone wanting to make a country move?
Just do it! You can make it as complicated or as simple as you like. While I don't know anyone who lives entirely off their own garden (although some people come close) even a few chickens and fruit trees can provide so much pleasure with minimal effort.
What adventures are in the pipeline for you and your family and what aspect of country life are you hoping to conquer next?
We’d like to try for an overseas holiday to Ireland, maybe rent a cottage overlooking Galway Bay. And really, I’m still dreaming of a sweet jersey house cow so we can have lots of milk and make our own cheese.
By Annabel Rainsford.