Always Fabulous: An interview with Lauraine Jacobs

In New Zealand, the name Lauraine Jacobs is as synonymous with food as Peter Jackson to film-making, or Lorde to singing. She’s well known for her work with magazines: formerly at Cuisine magazine, Lauraine now has a long-running food column in The New Zealand Listener. She is passionate about New Zealand’s food scene, and is a tireless campaigner for making our neck of the woods an internationally-recognised food tourism destination.

Lauraine is also the author/editor of nine food books, and her latest, Always Delicious, is a collection of over 100 of her favourite recipes from the Listener; recipes that reflect Lauraine’s belief that good cooking doesn’t need to be complicated or ‘cheffy’ – it just needs to be made with good ingredients and love. I caught up with Lauraine just as Always Delicious hits bookshelves, to find out her take on where we’re headed with New Zealand cuisine.

You are arguably one of the most qualified food experts in New Zealand. In your opinion, what is the biggest change you’ve seen in New Zealand food since you first started writing for The Listener?

I have been writing the Food column for the Listener for seven years. In that time I have watched our nation start to understand that we grow better tasting food than any other country on the planet. Some dispute this, but it’s hard to argue that a young country with fertile soils, frequent rain and air that changes daily as the winds sweep across the country from the Tasman Sea to the Pacific Ocean is at a real advantage. However the tyranny of distance both helps and constrains us as it is hard to get our food to other markets in the same condition it is when we buy it here.

We’re eating more healthily, we are cooking at home more frequently and I wish I could say we all eat together in our homes around the table once a day but that’s not true.

Given your previous answer, do you think we now have a Kiwi food identity? What defines us as a food nation?

We sure are developing a Kiwi food identity, faster than many believe. As we move away from top end fine dining we get to try more food – ethnic food, fast food from Food Trucks, selections of tasting plates in restaurants, meals in cafés, and most importantly, food that is connected to our indigenous heritage. Our kai is fresh, local, seasonal and delicious.

Your book includes wine suggestions with each dish. What’s your favourite food and wine combination?

I included those suggestions as there’s still much misunderstanding in the wine-and-food-together world. I love zingy, mature sauvignon blanc, with oysters (no lemon!) or with any seafood unless there’s butter involved.

What’s your favourite recipe in the book, and why? 

My Cheesy Cauliflower and Leek Bread Pudding would have to be an all-time favourite. When I first cooked that, I had an instantly positive reaction from tons of readers, and even other well-known food writers were posting photos of their attempts to recreate it. It is everything you want a simple dish to be – cheese, leek, eggs and crusty leftover bread. But I also love the baked fennel recipe which only has three ingredients – fennel, butter and gouda. So easy and so deliciously sweet and satisfying.

Do you have a pantry staple ingredient now that you didn’t know about, or wasn’t available 10 years ago? What is it, and how do you like to use it? 

Miso paste. In the past six years I have been to Japan six times (my daughter was working there) and have fallen in love with the savouriness of Japanese food. And the Japanese have so much style! Miso is a great thing to keep in the fridge to add to dishes to add an umami flavour bomb. Spread it on kumara or eggplant and bake until tender. You will not be disappointed.

You’ve been writing the food column in The Listener for a long time. What’s the question you get asked most (and what’s your answer!)?

I am constantly being contacted and asked for recipes that people tore out of the mag, or meant to keep. There’s no food website for the Food column so I do not mind hauling any recipe from my computer and sending it to anyone who has taken the trouble to request something. However, I wrote Always Delicious so the one hundred best recipes from 700 recipes over seven years can be permanently on good cooks’ shelves.\

There’s a lot of talk about ‘fake meat’ at the moment. Do you believe it will become a staple food for us over the next 5 years or so, and is that a good thing?

Manufactured meat substitutes will become yet another ingredient in the supermarket within five years. They will not take over in my life time from real, honestly farmed meat, produced by good farmers who really care for their animals and operate under best practice. We carnivores are all too clever for that.

Two things I really hope are the first, these manufacturers of protein substitutes stop trading on real meat by naming it silly things like ‘chicken free chicken’ – they’re trading on trickery! Secondly, I hope these products can be made from pure natural ingredients and not the sweepings of the chemical factory floor. Our natural meat has a very limited shelf/refrigerated life as it should, if it’s going to be fresh – put additives and stabilisers into the mix and you have something I will turn my nose up at. We are nowhere near perfect technology in this arena yet.

What’s your favourite food movie or book of all time?

I have a huge collection of food literature that sits alongside my cookbook collection. I think my favourite read is Dan Barber’s The Third Plate, although I love reading Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher and Jane Grigson. My favourite cookbook has to be The Cooks Companion by Stephanie Aleaxander. It truly is the food bible.

Always Delicious by Lauraine Jacobs is available in all good bookshops, RRP $49.99.