Maggie Beer is synonymous with high quality, gourmet foods and delicious quince paste. No longer is the name attached to one singular person, instead it is recognised as a heavyweight culinary brand in itself. It is therefore hard to imagine that not even 50 years ago, this Australian cooking empire was merely the dream of a 20-something-year-old Sydney girl with no formal chef’s training.
“As a profession I was never taught, it only happened through necessity and luck,” Maggie modestly reflects.
“I still have to pinch myself when I look back at my career. It is truly incredible to have achieved what I have, all simply from a passion for food and home cooking.”
A passion for food is almost an understatement for Maggie. Food was something that had defined her childhood, long before her career success. Cooking, as she says, became a part of her DNA.
“Despite going through various times of financial hardship, our family always ate well. I was very lucky to be brought up in a family where food was so important and integral to everything we did. I’m 71 now, so I’m tal ing a long time ago when food was not nearly as sophisticated and much more focused on the basics.
“Growing up cooking was about picking out the produce and learning about the ripeness of food. It was about choosing the perfect time for the fish or the oysters and using every part of the animal.”
After relocating from Sydney to the Barossa Valley, Maggie forged a triumphant career that has so far spanned almost five decades. From running her own restaurants to producing adelectable range of gourmet foods in her own namesake, Maggie is well versed in the hard work needed to make it big in Australia’s tough food industry.
“I never set out for fame. It took 20 years to be an overnight success! Tenaciousness and consistency is what I attribute the longevity of my career to.”
More recently, Maggie’s enthusiasm in the kitchen and zest for baking can be seen on TV. Following on from a successful debut season, Foxtel’s The Great Australian Bake Off returns to our screens this month with an eagerly awaited second instalment. Beloved judge Maggie will once again offer up her mentorship to the 12 hopeful home bakers in their efforts to be crowned Australia’s best amateur baker, a role she thoroughly relishes.
“Filming is an absolute delight, the atmosphere is simply amazing. With Matt (Moran) having this wicked sense of humour and with Claire (Hooper) and Mel (Buttle), who just absolutely crack us up, there is this fab lous, enjoyable mood on set.”
Despite some fierce competition, The Great Australian Bake Off has managed to find success amongst the sea of reality cooking shows that currently battle for Australian television ratings. Maggie attributes the show’s ability to set itself apart from competitors to a unique homely feeling of warmth and friendship.
“It is a very warm show and embracing of something that genuinely makeseveryone feel very good – baking. From the smell of home baking to the passion and comradeship of the contestants, there really is this great warmth about the show that hopefully transcends through to the audience.”
Outside of her television roles and growing culinary empire, the food enthusiast found time in 2014 to establish her own charitable organisation – the Maggie Beer Foundation. Putting Maggie’s cooking expertise to good use, the foundation has set out to increase culinary standards for those in aged care, a cause Maggie grew passionate about after becoming Senior Australian of the Year in 2010.
“Our aim is to try and change the landscape of food in aged care. Our mission is to share the knowledge tha beautiful, nutritious food can provide both health and pleasure and that both are equally important.”
“The foundation is all about the pulling together of research that is in the world domain, but difficult to find in one place, as to how to make life better for those who are in conditions we would not accept ourselves.”
Now the matriarch of her own family, with two daughters and five grandchildren, Maggie has instinctively passed down her enviable cooking knowledge and food appreciation.
“I inherited an instinct for food from my father and our eldest daughter Saskia has inherited that same instinct, where we just naturally know how to cook. Our youngest daughter Elli has also developed an incredible tasting palette. Today food is the basis of both their businesses and they undoubtedly have that same passion I do.”
With her long reign over Australia’s cooking industry it is easy to assume Maggie has mastered the art of cooking, to this she strongly disagrees.
“I am still always learning. If a day goes by where I haven’t learnt anything then I am surprised and disappointed!” Maggie quips.