In this edition:
- Festive Glamour: When the festive season throws you an occasion, you need to glam it up.
- Andrew McUtchen looks for fun in cricket with former Australian cricketer Damien Fleming.
- Take a look at our Christmas Gift Guide.
Its what I would do if, in the past two years, I had been made a Member in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AM); if Id worn the mantle of Senior Australian of the Year 2010; and if, throughout, Id grown my business by a whopping 20 per cent in a time of retail doom and gloom. Wow, hold the tea, Ive been busy. Make mine a jug of Barossa wine.
But Maggie Beer, 67, will have none of the above, thank you very much. In the two years since our first phone discussion I have had the unsettling notion that my own life is standing still by comparison; that the woman twice my age is going at least twice as hard and, sadly for me, twice as far.
Given that she is indeed as warm, as engaged and as genuine a woman as she appears to be on television, we have stayed in touch since then. Sure, I want a friend like Maggie. Who doesnt?
Through a series of emails, the odd cuppa in the Barossa and more interviews that have escalated into long raves about music, Ive had a box seat from which to observe the energy and ingenuity of a truly remarkable woman, referred to in this story as Maggie rather than the formal Beer, because Australia only really knows her this way: our Maggie.
No matter what youve achieved in your last couple of years, prepare to feel thoroughly lazy.
First there was Maggies role as Senior Australian of the Year, which she says was pretty fantastic, her ever-growing food empire, her appearances on television, her cookbooks and her being made an AM.
If not how to slow down, what has she learnt in the past two years?
Oh my gosh, what have I learnt? Just what there is still to learn, she says, with that laugh that bubbles up like Champagne. Lets go back to the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra concert where I cooked with Simon (Bryant), my old sparring partner from The Cook and the Chef.
I remember those two nights we did; the sheer joy of music intensified even more for me. Ive always loved music, you know that, but being right next to the musicians, having them surround me, was perhaps one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
It dramatised my cooking, the power of it was so extraordinary, it just turbocharged me! Id presupposed a lot of the food, but I found myself cooking to the rhythm of the music entirely. In the stirring of the risotto or my plucking of the pheasant it was all about getting carried away by the music, it was wonderful.
Maggies passion runs as deep as ever, and that works both ways. Despite attaining levels of success and exposure that set a benchmark for food producers in the country, she discusses the business today with a restless tone in her voice.
She has recently purchased an eight-hectare stonefruit orchard adjacent to her Barossa farm and must come up with new fruit-based products, which she first describes as an exciting new journey. But the topic leads to some sombre reflections. Does it present a new learning curve? Ive learnt even more strongly in the last year that Im a micro-manager but I havent learnt how to resolve that.
Steering away from any self-congratulatory speeches about the Maggie Beer Products range, which now runs to more than 30 refrigerated and dry-goods products, Maggie instead opens up about recent challenges, and mentions her husband and lifetime partner, Colin, who plays a vital role in managing her energies.
There are parts of the business Im more than happy to leave to others, but when it comes to quality Im the monkey on everybodys back, she says, echoing her humourless statement in our 2010 interview that shes a tough boss.
The fact that she took five years to get her new line of chocolate and salted-caramel ice-cream to a level she was happy with is a chilling example, pardon the pun.
I dont see myself limiting the business growth because of that. I see myself becoming better at organising my time. We have procedures in place where all of our food gets tasted before it goes out. I can pick up when theres a change in the season in the pepper or the spices. I can then alter the ingredients accordingly. Our customers may not notice, but I do.
Its a continuous striving for excellence in every detail. Colins always at me about not burning out and hes very protective of me. He helps me balance my needs and the needs of the business. Its a very vexed issue to have your name on a product because when am I ever going to be able to relax about it, or sell it to anyone else?
Thats right, theres no one else in the limelight, I say. Or in the poo, Maggie adds.
No, that wont do. As Lindsay Fox would say, you have to work bloody hard to be this lucky. So its really a question of, if not icon, what other word applies?
Her name is on the label of products that make our lives better, and our trousers perhaps a little tighter; her face is on the telly, usually in a beaming smile, and her country is proud to name her as a model citizen. Wake up, Maggie, I think Australias got something to say to you.
Who could ever conceive that all of those things would happen? Maggie says, shaking her head. I remember doing about 30 interviews before even our daughters could know about the Order of Australia thing. One comment I said that I really meant was that it was half huge pride and half embarrassment, that someone could have a journey like mine. Its hard for me to accept.
As a final, hopeful, question, why not flatly ask for the trade secret that all Maggie fans want to get their hands on? Not the precise boiling point of verjuice, or the measurements of salt in her new ice-cream, but the wellspring of her energy. What is the secret source to being the turbocharged Maggie Beer, living and loving life with such joy and passion?
Ive always been lucky to have inherited that energy from my mum, she says. I think a positive nature gives you energy too. There is another side to having your name on the label. Theres a sense of accountability and ownership that comes from doing something you believe in. I would say that is my secret.