The spice of life
The spice of life
Lyndey Milan has been a familiar food aficionado for nearly 20 years. Thanks to her, home cooks all over Australia have learnt that fast food can be fabulous and food and wine matching is an accessible art.
Published Selector Winter 2010
If you’ve ever been told that Chardonnay is a great match with chicken, Lyndey Milan thinks you’ve been conned. To make this simplistic suggestion, she says, ignores the myriad ways chicken can be cooked. “Is it roasted, is it poached, is it barbecued, is it curried, is it soy sauced? Because they all mean different wines, it’s the overall flavour you’ve got to look at.”
Teaching Australians the art of food and wine matching has been a theme of Lyndey’s work for the nearly 20 years she’s been a familiar face in our media. Providing accurate, accessible food and wine matching culminated in her 2005 book, Balance: matching food and wine, what works and why, which she co-authored with Colin Corney.
However, even before she wrote Balance, her four best selling cookbooks all included wine matching tips to go along with her recipes.
Lyndey’s eyes were first opened to the world of wine while travelling through Europe in the 1970s. There she discovered French and Spanish wines and how the right food matches could “elevate the experience.” Getting it right, she explains is, “the same as a dinner party. If you invite people who don’t know each other and they get on well, it’s fantastic, but if they don’t get on well it can be pretty ordinary. It’s exactly the same with food and wine and I just think we want it to be fabulous.”
Dinner parties are where Lyndey honed her love of food. In fact, she bought her first cookbook when she was 16 – “Margaret Fulton of course” – and she’s been entertaining ever since.
Turning her passion into a profession came through a realisation that there was a lot of bad catering out there that she could improve on. The first seed was planted in the late 70s while working for an advertising agency in London. She used to get renowned cooks to cater the boardroom lunches, but was unimpressed with their work.
The same was true when she returned to Sydney, so when she found herself at a loose end after the birth of her first child, Lyndey decided to give catering a go. She successfully pitched to her ex-employer, advertising agency McCann Erickson, and her business grew from there.
The hard work pays off
All up, Lyndey spent 12 years catering and although she describes it as “really hard work”, it set her up for a life in food. Rather than going through formal training, Lyndey feels she’s had “absolute feet on the ground experience. For example, when you’re running a function on Fort Denison and there’s nothing there you have to take on every roll of toilet paper, every garbage bag, you can’t forget something and nip to the shops. Catering is a hugely organisational thing. Quite apart from the fact that you’ve got to sell it to the client and produce delicious food as well.”
What’s more, she says, running a successful catering business has given her “real knowledge and credibility. I’ve been writing for The Good Food Guide since 1987 and the chefs all know that I can do it. They know that I can actually go in the kitchen and cook, and they know I’ve had my own business where my arse was on the line. When you’re talking about restaurants you have to understand that it’s someone’s business, someone’s livelihood. There’s a lot of responsibility in credible food writing.”
The credibility Lyndey earned saw her media work increase and her CV now boasts achievements such as nine years as the Food Director on Australian Women’s Weekly, a regular spot on Mornings with Kerri-Anne, over eight years as co-host of TV show Fresh and Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Councillor and Board Member.
Lyndey has also recently added another book to her collection, Just Add Spice, which she wrote with Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill of Herbie’s Spices. By combining Lyndey’s wine knowledge with Ian’s spice expertise, they wrote Just Add Spice to dispel the myth that you can’t match wine with spicy food.
As Lyndey explains, “I get really cranky when people say ‘you can only drink beer with spicy food and Herbie’s pet hate is that everyone thinks spicy food is hot. When people say they don’t like spicy food, I say, ‘oh don’t you like vanilla’. I really wanted to show that it’s quite simple to match wine with spicy food but if you do it badly, it’s horrible.”
Lyndey feels the reason so many food and wine matching mistakes are made in Australia is because of the relative youth of our food and wine industries. “If you think about the centuries-old countries of Europe and Asia, they didn’t stray more than a few miles from where home was, so they ate the food and wine of the same soil, which had a natural affinity. This meant that you didn’t have to worry about the food and wine matching rules because it just worked.”
As well as providing wine matches to each recipe, Just Add Spice features a chapter called, ‘The grog cupboard’, which includes a guide to the wine styles that go well with spicy food as well as tips on cooking with wine, storing and buying it. There’s also advice on cooking, serving and storing beer.
Having launched Just Add Spice, Lyndey is already thinking about future projects. She maintains such incredible energy for her work because, she says, it’s a labour of love, “if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it… I think if you’re blessed with health, a good education, some nous and get up and go then the best thing you can do is spread a bit of it around.”
Reproduced with the kind permission of Wine Selectors.