Life Eat & Drink Nosh nostalgia: chefs share their food memories
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Nosh nostalgia: chefs share their food memories

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There are no senses more closely linked to memory than smell and taste. One whiff of a favourite childhood meal can ignite nostalgia unlike anything else.

While your memories may be filled with ice cream trucks and sausage sizzles, what do professional foodies hold most dear?

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Here, some of the world’s most well-known chefs reminisce about childhood snacks, memorable meals and changing tastes.

Stephanie Alexander

Australian cook, author of The Cook’s Companion and founder of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation

stephanie alexander

My favourite food memory is…

Dinner at Restaurant Alain Chapel in about 1980, a Michelin three star establishment that combined stunning food with a welcoming country-style atmosphere in a beautiful room.

My favourite childhood treat was… 

So many favourites cooked by my mother. Her steak and kidney and potato pie was wonderful, as was the humble meat loaf always served with potatoes crackling in their skins and lots of gravy. I think I was always very hungry and dinner time was always hugely anticipated.

I hated then, but I love now… 

Fennel. Mum loved it in a salads and I didn’t . She was right.

I wish you could still buy …

A small parcel of hot chips for about a shilling (10 cents) just the right amount to gobble down as I walked home from the beach shivering after a swim.

Maggie Beer

Australian cook, author, restaurateur and food manufacturer

maggie beer 2My favourite food memory is…

It was at an oyster bar in Paris – [my husband] Colin and I shared a dozen oysters, large and ‘meaty’ and in perfect condition. They were served with brown bread, butter, lemon and a dish of red wine vinegar and eschalottes chopped very finely. Colin had a glass of Sancerre and I chose a Chablis. These were both really good wines yet the marriage of the Chablis and oysters could not have been better.

My favourite childhood treat was… 

I’m not sure if I was three or four years old but the memory is so vivid. We lived at the time in Rose Bay, Sydney, just up the road from the flying boat squadron. There had been a huge storm buffeting the shore, then a black out. Mum had candles burning within minutes as we huddled around the small kitchen table and she served us golden syrup dumplings. Was it the smell, the taste, the feeling of safety? I’m not sure, but not only is it my first food memory, it was also the only time Mum ever cooked them and yet even just talking about them my whole body smiles.

I hated then, but I love now… 

Fresh oysters!

I wish you could still buy …

Fruit like I had as a kid – full of flavour and picked only when it had fully ripened. You can only have fruit like this now if you grow your own, that’s why our orchard is so dear to me.

Read more: Advice to a younger me by Maggie Beer

Darren Robertson

British chef at Sydney’s The Three Blue Ducks, television personality and host of Lifestyle Food’s Charcoal Kitchen

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My favourite food memory is…

Sitting around the table with the family for a Sunday roast lunch, beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.

My favourite childhood treat was…

Pancakes, lemon and sugar.

I hated then, but I love now…

Brussel sprouts.

I wish you could still buy…

More raw milk products.

Annabel Langbein

New Zealand celebrity cook, food writer and television host

BOOK ANNABEL LANGBEIN

My favourite food memory is…

Sitting up on the kitchen bench with my mother watching her trusty Kenwood transform gloppy egg whites into magical cloud-like pillows of meringues.  There was (and remains) something so magical about the transformation of egg whites and sugar into this ethereal melt-in-the-mouth dessert.

My favourite childhood treat was… 

Getting to go with my mother on her famous picnics. She was often called on to host the wives of people my father had visiting from offshore for his work. She would pack these amazing feasts – savoury pies, little pâtés, roasted chickens, crisp homemade cookies – it all just kept on coming out of her hamper like a Mary Poppins bag. If I thought I might miss out I would throw a sickie – a touch of tonsillitis – just enough to keep me home from school but not enough to miss the picnic. Of course she knew it was all a ploy, but wonderful woman she was, never failed to indulge me!

I hated then, but I love now… 

Brussel sprouts. What was it about them that was so desperately onerous? Perhaps their pungency and mustardy tang, or the fact they were related to the major big dread – cabbage. But now over the winter I just can’t get enough of brussels, the way they go so well with Asian flavours – a revelation I discovered at David Chang’s restaurant in New York a few years back – and the way, like all brassicas, they caramelise, which brings out an even deeper sweetness. Just so glorious. 

I wish you could still buy …

Musto. It was this powdered spice mix in a can that my nan used to use to make all her piccalilli and relish – it must have contained cornflour or some other thickener, along with all the spices you needed to transform a glut of vegetables into a range of fabulous pickles and relishes. I used to love going over to Nan’s house, she was always cooking and bottling jams and jellies and preserving seasonal veg and fruit. Nothing was ever wasted.

Adrian Richardson

Melbourne chef, cookbook author and star of Lifestyle’s Good Chef Bad Chef

adrian richardsonMy favourite food memory is…

Christmas with my family as a kid. I would always eat three bowls of my nonna’s ravioli, she would make it for Christmas lunch. She was a wonderful cook and I was her favourite grandson.

My favourite childhood treat was… 

My grandfather would make what we called mixed eggy. Three egg yolks and four tablespoons of sugar, which he would stir to cream in a coffee cup (as a child this always seemed to take forever). He’d add a drop of coffee and some drinking chocolate. That was my breakfast.

I hated then, but I love now… 

I hated olives. I’d fight with my father every time olives where served. He would always make me have one, which was very clever of him in hindsight, now I use olives of all shapes and sizes everyday.

I wish you could still buy …

Milk delivered by a horse and cart. The guy who delivered our milk would let us go around the block with him. Ahhh! The good old days… Now milk comes in plastic bottles and my kids don’t believe it was ever delivered by horse and cart.

What are your fondest food memories? Tell us in the comments section below.

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