Chef Analiese Gregory on how to prepare wild things to make your tastebuds zing
Chef Analiese Gregory talks to Ella Walker about diving, cooking and beekeeping in the wilds of Tasmania.
IT'S 7pm in Tasmania, where chef Analiese Gregory is. There's a huge bowl of in-season cherries beside her, a glass of wine in her hand, and a day behind her spent cooking, foraging and being awed by her new hive of bees.
"They like it when it's sunny, and they're not so into thunderstorms or rainy weather," she explains. "I've discovered this, just so you're aware, it makes them grumpy."
Having worked in top restaurants in London, France, Spain, Australia, Morocco and more, Gregory landed in Tasmania four years ago – and her new book, How Wild Things Are, captures how she lives and eats.
It's divided into two sections: recipes – the kind of food she'd throw together for a friend; and a sketch of her (deeply enviable) life on the Aussie island state, where she's learned new skills, like cooking possum and wallaby. The latter is a sustainable meat in Tasmania, and is lean, a bit like veal crossed with venison, says Gregory.
"It's surprisingly delicious – once you get over the mental block."
Born in New Zealand, Gregory was raised on lots of Chinese food (her mother is Chinese-Dutch) and "grew up in one of those houses where we didn't really go to McDonald's or buy cakes at the supermarket".
"If you made something, then you could eat as much of it as you wanted," she remembers fondly, like the banana cake she made and scoffed aged five. When it came to leaving school, "people said, 'Do something you love, because then you'll never work a day in your life', which is really not true at all, because then you take the thing you love and turn it into your means of earning an income. That changes everything."
It was, however, "still a good idea", she admits – and that good idea has led to Gregory tending two acres in the Huon Valley in southern 'Tassie', "on a dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere".
She has chickens for eggs, pigs destined for salami and charcuterie, those sometimes grumpy bees ("They're a bit scary but they're also beautiful"), and is building a vegetable garden. Her miniature goats – that are absolutely not for eating – weed and keep unruly blackberries under control. "They're part of the family."
When she's not tending her menagerie, Gregory can often be found hanging up rubbery strands of seaweed to dry, or chucking her diving kit on. Prior to moving to Tasmania she'd only been diving a couple of times, but the lure of ridiculously fresh, hand-plucked seafood, hauled in and cooked direct on the beach, coaxed her into the cold water.
"I just got really taken by it," she says, holding her hands up with a grin.
Now she stashes her dive gear in the car, so she can "jump in the ocean and see what's here" at a moment's notice.
The water alone sounds otherworldly. "I've never seen a single piece of rubbish in the ocean in Tassie," says Gregory. "I've come to realise that that's almost abnormal in the world these days".
The experience of being submerged in it is something she's found akin to meditation. "It's very calming," she says of the soundlessness of being beneath the waves. "When I was working heaps of hours and was really stressed from the restaurants, it was the antithesis of that for me."
Besides collecting abalone (scallops, she says, make for a reasonable ingredients swap), her dives are also spent on the lookout for seahorses – "There's some really crazy ones in Tasmania" – and watching manta rays and gummy sharks scoot past while she attempts to catch crayfish, "which I'm still struggling to get because they're a little bit fast for me".
Even if we weren't in lockdown and starved of travel, Gregory's life would likely make you want to pack a bag, buy a beekeeping veil and rescue a couple of goats.
"A friend was making fun of me," she says wryly. "He was like, 'Oh, you have to go forage wild fruit and make shrubs. Your life is so hard!' I've made this my job!
"There are very good moments, where I go and dive and then cook abalone on the beach – life is great. Life is amazing," she continues.
"But then I also live in a 1910 unrenovated house with no heating. And my goats escape and terrorise the neighbours. And one of my pigs keeps biting me and now I have to get a tetanus shot."
She makes a good case for the downsides, but can't mute the sense of adventure that emanates from her stories and the book itself. You can definitely see why Australian TV channel SBS Food has been following her for a new series, A Girl's Guide To Hunting, Fishing And Wild Cooking. Gregory calls it a more intrepid "Tasmania River Cottage" that sees her going floundering after dark and hunting for food.
"I would never just hunt for fun," she says. "That's not what it's about for me. We're not talking fox hunting. We're talking: you hunt animals and then they get used."
Waste is not an option, so much so that "a friend of mine just started tanning the pelts of the animals that we hunt," she says with a certain amount of pride.
"There was a deer we broke down and made salami and stuff with, and the next time I went over to his house, he had made a rug out of the skin. I was like, 'Whoa, this is the next level'. I was sitting on the rug of the animal eating the salami made from it."
She is adamant she needs to feel good about the meat she eats and where it comes from. "I do think you can be a meat eater and be an ethical meat eater," Gregory notes. She even eats the male roosters produced by her chickens.
"I had this crazy year, where the chickens had 40 babies and there were roosters everywhere," she remembers.
"Now amongst my group of friends, there's heaps of demand for it."
Eating rooster may not be on the horizon for most of us, nor hand-dived abalone, but consider the book an opportunity for "armchair travel" says Gregory, a chance to see "how ridiculously beautiful and varied Tasmania is".
That we will happily take right now.
:: How Wild Things Are: Cooking, Fishing And Hunting At The Bottom Of The World by Analiese Gregory, photography by Adam Gibson, is published by Hardie Grant on March 4, priced £22
:: CONFIT LAMB RIBS RECIPE WITH DATE SYRUP AND TOASTED SPICES
1.5kg lamb ribs
Olive oil, as needed for cooking the ribs, plus 2tbsp for the breadcrumbs
15g fennel seeds
15g cumin seeds
120g panko breadcrumbs
100ml date syrup
1. Sprinkle the lamb ribs all over with the salt. Arrange them on a tray and refrigerate for eight hours or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 120C (250F).
3. Wash the ribs, pat dry and put in an ovenproof pot, drenching them in olive oil. Bring the heat up slowly on the stove until the olive oil starts to bubble. Transfer to the oven and cook, covered, for approximately two hours, or until the ribs are tender and the meat comes easily away from the bone. Take the ribs out of the oil and chill down in the fridge until firm.
4. Combine the spices in a frying pan over a low heat and toast until fragrant, then pour into a bowl to cool down. Put the panko crumbs and two tablespoons oil in the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until crispy and golden. Add the crumbs to the spices, mix together and season with sea salt.
5. Preheat a deep fryer or stovetop pot of oil to 180C (350F). You'll need enough oil to cover the ribs. Take the ribs and cut down between the bones to make individual ribs. Deep fry until brown and crispy on the outside, approximately five minutes. Drain and toss them in a bowl with the date syrup. To serve, arrange on a plate and cover with the spiced crumbs.
:: MANUKA HONEY MADELEINES
(Makes 24 madeleines)
170g butter, plus some for brushing the metal mould
185g manuka or leatherwood honey, or other honey as preferred
160g plain flour
¼tsp baking powder
Soured cream, to serve
For the apricot jam:
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Melt the butter and let cool to room temperature.
2. In a stand mixer, whisk the eggs and honey until light and fluffy, approximately 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients, then add them to the egg mix and fold by hand. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, gently fold in the cooled melted butter. Chill in the fridge for approximately 30 minutes.
3. To make the jam, take the seeds out of the apricots, then roughly dice them. Combine with the water and honey in a saucepan and cook on a medium heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until a jammy consistency is reached.
4. Butter a madeleine mould with a pastry brush. I use a 12-cake non-stick metal one; the old copper madeleine moulds are amazing, but I would grease and flour them first. Fill each indentation half full and bake for 10 minutes. They should be set and golden, with minimal colour on top and light brown underneath.
5. Serve immediately with soured cream and jam.