With a career spanning more than six decades, 18 published books and a nation-wide children’s education program to her name, Stephanie Alexander AO is one of Australia’s culinary legends.
‘I am very proud of what I have achieved,’ Stephanie says. ‘I regularly receive very lovely letters from the public, asking questions or complimenting me on ‘The Cook’s Companion’ or another title.’
But at 82 years old, she’s still building her legacy.
‘I was reacting against solutions proposed to address the concern regarding growing rates of obesity in children,’ Stephanie says. ‘I felt, and still feel, that the advice given is too punitive and narrow, and lacks any attention to pleasure, or flavour, or conviviality.’
Having fallen in love with food when she was a child thanks to her mother’s accomplished cooking, Stephanie knew the earlier kids were introduced to new flavours, the bigger their appetite would be for healthy meals, and all the rituals that come along with them.
Not only does the program teach kids about the importance, skills, and joys of cooking with fresh produce, they learn how to grow it too, with their own seasonal kitchen garden in the schoolyard. When I joined Stephanie for a visit at Collingwood College — the very first school where the program began — I was amazed by the incredible size of the students’ lush and abundant garden, featuring everything from rainbow chard to cumquats, and plenty of other vegetables you wouldn’t expect grade threes to know, let alone eat.
Every school does the program a little bit ‘differently’, and it’s adaptable to spaces big or small. The one constant is how enthusiastic all the kids are.
‘They are so proud,’ Stephanie says. ‘Proud of their broad beans, or their chickens or their worm farm. And then in the kitchen, pride in their ability to crank out fresh pasta, chop with real knives, and make real food,’ she adds.
The pages of ‘Fresh’ feature more of these wholesome stories and more than 120 recipes, including many that kids from the Kitchen Garden Program have learnt themselves. There’s ‘quick breads’, cuisines from cultures around the world, and plenty of vegetable-focused meals Stephanie hopes will inspire the next generation of cooks and parent’s alike.
I wake up at between 7:00am – 8:00am. The first thing I do every morning is check the weather, look forward to breakfast and have a thorough read of The Age.
Two days of the week, I work from my home office with my personal assistant. On other days, it varies as to where I am and what I do, but I normally start around 9:30am. The first tasks are responding to any urgent emails and plan any out of office commitments for that day, and the next day too. I also have an exercise and weights session two mornings a week. Luckily I love my trainer, because I really hate exercise.
My PA and I sit at my dining table for a working lunch. We have a salad or sometimes I make a sandwich with homemade bread and discuss what’s next.
The afternoons are a mix of work and whatever might come up that day: a photoshoot, a video, a recipe query. I am more of morning person, so in the afternoon I might have a short nap when my PA is not here.
My PA leaves at around 3.30pm and I tend to finish then too unless I am in the middle of something. I look forward to my glass of wine at about 5:30-6:00pm as I’m completing dinner prep. I usually have planned what I’m having for dinner by breakfast time, so I’ve already made any pre-preparation if it’s necessary.
As I get older, I go for simpler dishes with less adornment. I braise a lot of vegetables together and enjoy trying a new combination. Things like sliced fennel, with onions, and garlic, potatoes and leek, cooked slowly with olive oil, herbs and a splash of water or stock until tender and sticky. Then maybe add a grilled lamb cutlet or roasted chicken thigh or piece of hapuku.
I like unwinding with a second glass of wine as I watch the ABC news. Or I might go out for a meal with a friend in the city or Gertrude Street, or meet one of my daughters in St Kilda.
I always read in bed for an hour, before going to sleep about 10pm.
Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading… Currently reading Sophie Cunningham’s ‘This Devastating Fever’ about Leonard Woolf. And I just finished ‘The Wildflowers of Alice Hart’.
I’m having a bit of a break from streaming TV although did watch a couple of episodes of ‘The Bear’. Will watch a few more and then decide to continue or not.
A philosophy I live and work by is… Value true friends and nourish these friendships.
My productivity tool/tip is… Do what has to be done and do not procrastinate.
Buy a signed copy of ‘Fresh’ from the Kitchen Garden Foundation here to help support more students take part in the program!
September is #KitchenGardenMonth, so follow Stephanie’s Kitchen Garden Foundation on Instagram here for delicious and seasonal recipes from some of Australia’s most loved cooks and chefs!