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Chewing the fat with Annabel Langbein

New Zealand’s first proper international celebrity chef is just a down-to-earth girl who loves cooking.

With multiple cook books, TV shows in nearly 80 countries and a groovy gold blouse over skinny jeans, Annabel Langbein opened the Taste of Auckland festival at Auckland’s Victoria Park and reckons New Zealand is the premiere food basket of the world.

A quick break from book signing

But Annabel insists she’s not a chef she’s a cook. What’s the difference, I asked? A cook is “more about home craft, nourishing people around you. Not about high performance culinary gymnastics. More love, resourcefulness, expedience and nurture.”

Got it.

She’s a little bit Nigella Lawson and a little bit Rachel Hunter and has more time for people than her PA can handle. Her book signing session was like lining up to meet Santa and unless I physically man-handled her out of the tent, I wasn’t going to get my interview.

I man-handled and got my eight minutes during which time she jumped up to say hi to friends, but still managed to keep her train of thought on my very intelligent questions.

Actually we just chatted really about her “overnight” success which has taken 20 years, but after three minutes of chit chat I thought I’d better ask her one of the questions I had prepared earlier or I’ll have nothing to blog about.

“Where is your favourite place for cooking?”

Outside of New Zealand (of course) her favourite destination is southern Italy for its peasant traditions. “For me it’s authenticity and integrity in food. No industrial food chain.” (There, that gets the travel side of this blog in.)

Her latest book (this post was first written in 2011) comes hot on the heels of the TV series (that made Kiwis sit up and take notice) and the incredibly successful Free Range Cook book based from her bach (crib/holiday home) in Wanaka.

Free Range in the City

This new one is Free Range in the City. I keep thinking Sex in the City – and I’m sure Annabel and Nigella would make an excellent TV series together. But I digress. This book (which I bought and had her sign like one of the groupies lined up earlier) has a whopping 220 recipes for city living – for those of us who don’t have acres of fresh produce in our gardens and maybe even have fussy kids to navigate around and lunchboxes to fill.

“How long did it take you to develop the 220 recipes,” I asked intelligently.

“I could have got up this morning and made three new ones,” she replied. Hmmm, writing that down. She’s prolific.

The lady clearly has talent. Recipes roll out of her head like a poet with a pen or a singer in the shower. Her kids have no family favourites to draw on because each meal has a new twist, she told me. And yes, she likes family cooking. When her kids were young and nutritious nightmares (my words, not hers!) “fridge fillings” saved her. That way, she says, you can add sauces and extra garnishes to dishes for the adults without having to cook five different dinners.

A big fan of farmers markets and artisan food stores, she loves poking about for new products – like blueberry sorbet from Omaha, she said waving in the general direction of their tent, down here at Taste.


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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!