By Leigh O'Connor.
Inspiring Tasmanian Festivale guests to cook dishes from
scratch at home is the focus for renowned Chef, author and television presenter
This year looms as an exciting challenge for Karen as she
prepares to finish another cookbook, open a new restaurant in Melbourne and
film the next series of My Kitchen Rules. But first, she is on centre stage at
Festivale in Launceston this weekend, undertaking Cooking in the Park demonstrations
and creating the menu for the famous Festivale Lunch at Stillwater (now sold out).
"I want to make dishes that people can cook and enjoy at
home, using delicious local produce. Tasmania has some truly unique produce
such as apple cider, wasabi, chicken, cheese and wine. I am excited to weave it
all together and layer the flavours,” she says.
"A lot of people have moved to Tasmania for a tree change
and taken their knowledge with them. Now we are seeing Chefs moving down there
as well, it is a real mecca for chilling out and being experimental.”
Moving into her ninth year on MKR, Karen loves seeing home
cooks embrace their opportunities and break boundaries. She says food shows
have inspired supermarkets to lift the range of food available on shelves to
make life easier for those creating dishes in a family environment.
Karen’s cooking career took off at an early age, with the
influence of her father’s Mediterranean background and later, partner Michael
Sapountsis’ Greek heritage. Together the couple founded the critically
acclaimed Melbourne Wine Room, before taking the concept of a hole-in-the-wall
pizza joint into a national phenomenon with Italian restaurant Mr. Wolf.
Now with two daughters of her own, she encourages
participation in the kitchen and the girls usually chime in at the end of
"They help make salad dressings and love making pesto from
the herbs we grow at home. I want them to have adventurous palates – they don’t
have to embrace everything, but I like them to try each dish. That is the key
to broadening your child’s palate.
"I am just as time poor as everyone else. I am always
kicking open the pantry and fridge door and thinking what can I make out of
this? I found three sausages in the bottom of fridge the other day and we had
polenta with sausage and tomato ragu on top – the kids loved it,” Karen
Juggling motherhood with a busy career is a challenge for
most women and Karen is no exception. The girls are mad keen basketballers and
between them play three games a week - this means plenty of hours spent
courtside, or driving to and from sports commitments.
"We focus on having dinner together at the weekends, to get
the most out of our time as a family. There is no television in the background
or phones on the table.”
Karen says becoming a mother has made her appreciate why
people go for pre-prepared food, rather than cooking from scratch.
"My philosophy around fresh food hasn’t changed much. You
need to be prepared, make sure your pantry is well stocked with all the basics,
then it is just about getting protein and vegetables.”
Her new book – which has been a two-year project - delves
into this concept and as a modern cookery tool, aims to help everyday families
from woe to go, whether they can cook or not.
"I constantly love the opportunity to inspire and
reinvigorate people in the kitchen.”
As for the future, Karen isn’t finished in the restaurant
game. As well as perhaps expanding Mr. Wolf to Sydney, there are plans for a
new Melbourne restaurant, with a modern Mediterranean influence.
"We want to open something along the lines of what we had
with the Melbourne Wine Room. The plan is for me to launch the restaurant and
then oversee the kitchen. My heart lies with a strong Italian drift, perhaps
with Tunisian influence in the spices.”
So where does this busy Chef see herself in five years’
"With my feet up on a beach relaxing. I want an equal
balance between down time and work time.”
In the meantime, to see what Karen has planned for
Festivale, click here.