As the annual MasterChef circus rolls out of town, its associated book-publishing activity continues to bubble.

The book that Marion made

17:01:PM 28/07/2011
Corrie Perkin

Marion Grasby
Marion Grasby
As the annual MasterChef circus rolls out of town, its associated book-publishing activity continues to bubble.

It will be another six months before we see the 2011 winner’s cookbook appear on the shelves. In the meantime, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris are working on their next collaborative effort, Julie Goodwin – the first Australian MasterChef winner – has a new collection due in October, and Marion Grasby, a 2010 standout contestant, has just released her first cookbook under Pan Macmillan’s new lifestyle publishing venture, Plum.

Although her surprise elimination in the final weeks failed to deliver a fairytale ending, Grasby’s contribution to last year’s MasterChef was immense. She was a generous and optimistic contestant, a creative thinker and a talented technician who raised the bar and forced her opposition to jump higher.

Audiences loved her and amateur cooks around the country were inspired by her often-brave attempts to blend cuisines. This same kind of courage and creativity infuses her new cookbook, which I expect will become one of the publishing hits of this year.

Grasby proves you don’t have to be a winner to be a grinner – and there’s a lot of grinning in this book. Because this is a personal food story, Marion features plenty of photos of … Marion. But there are also some superb art-directed shots of ingredients, utensils, market stalls and vendors, the Grasby family photo album, finished dishes and, yes, more of the smiling Marion, to encourage you to try the recipes.

Grasby’s culinary background reflects the kind of melding of cultures that would have made her almost-namesake, former Whitlam government immigration minister Al Grassby, proud. Marion’s father, a building project manager, grew up in country Victoria; her mother – a qualified chef – is Thai. Born in Darwin, at the age of four she moved with her family to Papua New Guinea. She went to boarding school and university in Brisbane, then worked as a journalist for the ABC in South Australia. She now lives in the McLaren Vale wine region with her partner, Tim.

“The food of my childhood was dominated by the Thai flavours that came from my mother’s heritage,’’ Grasby writes. “We had wok-fried noodles when others had spaghetti bolognaise.’’ She adds: “The recipes in this book are not simply recipes I’ve plucked out of thin air. Each recipe tells a little story about me, where I’ve been and the people I love.’’

Many of her dishes are Asian-influenced. They are accessible and the ingredients are familiar to those who like Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Malay-style food. Her dishes, such as khao soi, pork spring rolls with sweet carrot dipping sauce, pad siew and sticky beef ribs with sweet coriander sauce, reflect years spent shopping and cooking with her mother.

But Grasby also acknowledges her life experiences, which include studying gastronomy at university, working at SA’s Bottega Rotolo gourmet food and wine company and MasterChef. Marion: Recipes and Stories From a Hungry Cook features European-style dishes with a Marionesque twist, including pea soup with crisp pancetta, an eight-hour lamb roast, confit duck with star anise and cherry sauce, roasted pork with apple sauce, and almond and cherry tart.

The book’s layout is clever and engaging, and full marks to Plum’s design team for creating a beautiful hardback. And congratulations to Pan Macmillan for having the courage to launch a new imprint at a time when doomsdayists are predicting the death of the real book at the hands of the virtual variety.

Plum’s brief – to produce beautiful books that people want to touch, flick through, mull over, showcase, and give to loved ones – has certainly been met in this debut publication.

MARION: RECIPES AND STORIES FROM A HUNGRY COOK

by Marion Grasby

» $49.99 (Plum)

Fiction

THERE SHOULD BE MORE DANCING

by Rosalie Ham

» $32.95 (Random House)

In her new novel, Rosalie Ham reflects the gritty realities of Melbourne’s changing inner-northern suburbs and finds inspiration in the streets, the people and the tone of her own neighborhood. Her central character, Margery Blandon, has just turned 80 and, despite a couple of falls and accidents, is determined to remain in her home of 50 years. One son has disappeared, another son has a crush on his mother’s home help, while Margery’s scheming daughter and son-in-law want her to sell up and move into an aged-care facility. A series of shock revelations drive Margery to a lonely hotel room, where she contemplates suicide as the only way out of a what she perceives to have been a sham of a life. Ham deftly balances grief and trauma with a gentle humour, and her characters spring off the pages and settle (at times uncomfortably) in your heart.

Shopping

THE BUTCHER, THE BAKER THE BEST COFFEE MAKER

by Gaye Weeden and Hayley Smorgon

» $39.95

(Viking)

At first glance, this may appear to be yet another foodies’ guide to Melbourne’s best food shops, providores, cafés and restaurants. But Weeden and Smorgon, co-authors of Cooking From Memory: A Journey Through Jewish Food, have infused this little jewel with personality, style and some very good tips. Best coffee? They’ll tell you where to buy it, where to sip it and how to make it. Suburban butchers with specialist produce, most interesting pizzas, where to go for freshly shucked oysters, best afternoon tea spots, yum cha tips, the hidden bars of the CBD and more – plus plenty of recipes, celebrity tips and important basic information such as addresses, websites, opening hours and the like. Highly recommended for those who celebrate Melbourne’s food culture.

History

ROME

by Robert Hughes

» $50 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson)

Part history, part social observation, part art guide and part love letter, art critic Robert Hughes’ fascinating new book celebrates one of the world’s great cities. Hughes recalls his first visit to Rome in 1959 when, as a 20-year-old Australian, the city became “my guide backward as well as forward. It provided insight into beauty as well as destruction, triumph as well as tragedy ... For me, that first time, Rome turned art and history into reality”.

Teens

500 GREAT BOOKS FOR TEENS

by Anita Silvey

» $36.95 (Frances Tenenbaum)

Anita Silvey is an American professor of children’s literature, and this book of recommended teenage reading certainly has a US skew. But there are enough of the world’s great classics and modern hits to make this appealing to parents and teachers of the 12-plus age group. Silvey has also consulted a wide range of literary specialists and teenage readers and, as such, her diverse list includes horror and gothic, graphic novels, poetry, sport and romance.


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