Well known for her appearance on the first season of Channel Ten’s MasterChef and now as host of her own television program, Everyday Gourmet, Justine Schofield will be making a special appearance at this year’s Holiday Coast Credit Union Tastings of the Hastings on October 23 …
Hi Justine. How did your interest in food first develop? I hear there’s definitely a family connection there somewhere …
You’re absolutely right! My mother is French and she’s a really good cook. So as a kid, instead of always being in the backyard playing, I’d be completely obsessed with food and sit on the kitchen bench watching mum prepare food. She’s such a great classical French cook, and I think that’s rubbed off on me with regard to the way I cook. I always have a bit of a French technique. She was definitely a big influence – and so, of course, was my grandma on my mum’s side, who was a great cook.
I used to read cookbooks in high school instead of novels for English – this was something I loved to do!
What family recipes have your mum and grandma passed down that you’re particularly fond of?
The thing is, my mum has recipes here and there jotted down on scrap paper and some that my grandma passed down … but it’s literally all in her head!
I think that’s how I cook sometimes too! For me, it’s all about the touch, the feel, the taste when I’m cooking. With Mum, anything from her beautiful roasts or slow-cooked braises – it was just a process perfected slowly – and there are no recipes for them. Whenever I ask her for a recipe – like for her beautiful boeuf bourguignon – she’ll write it out and I’ll follow it exactly, but it’s never the same! She always adds extra wine or parsley – just to make it hers!
So – are you still a cookbook connoisseur? How many would you have in your collection?
I have a ridiculous amount of cookbooks. The two things I’m obsessed with are food magazines – I can’t get enough of them! I’ve got heaps coming from France, Italy and all over the world – and cookbooks. Any cookbook that comes out, I’m straight onto it! I love them! I had to build an extra bookshelf, because they wouldn’t all fit!
I take inspiration from cookbooks and use bits and pieces of the recipes and make them my own. That’s what cooking is all about!
I probably have around 500 cookbooks.
Obviously a lot of people know you from ‘MasterChef’, and you’ve said that the program changed your life. In what ways did the program change things for the better?
It changed my career! I was selling security cameras, sitting at a desk, and within 6 months of doing MasterChef, I completely changed that. I started my own catering business and I’ve been doing food demos ever since. I’ve been travelling the world and literally just immersed myself in the food industry. I just love it! Sitting at a desk in an office is just not for me, so it was just such a relief to be doing something I love. MasterChef opened my eyes and made me realise what I really wanted to do was cooking.
And now, of course, you have your own television program – ‘Everyday Gourmet’. How are you finding this whole experience?
I still have to pinch myself – my own TV show! I was so nervous when I started. I’m the host of the show, and I wanted to do a good job. I’ve loved every minute of it. For me, it’s also been learning how to present to a camera – and I still have a lot to learn! On MasterChef you have to be yourself, but you don’t really talk into the camera. As a host of a program, I have to look right into the camera and talk to the people sitting on their couches watching me.
When I have visiting chefs and producers of fish, meat and vegetables come on the show, it’s so interesting to learn from these people … new recipes, new concepts and the way they like to cook. I think that’s what a lot of people love about the show too – the fact they can learn along with me!
Basically, is that how you see ‘Everyday Gourmet’? As a means of teaching and helping cooks – particularly home cooks?
Absolutely. It’s all about the home cook. Even when guest chefs come on and do their signature dishes, we simplify them to make them accessible to whoever might be at home watching.
We want people to be able to go straight out and buy the ingredients and have that positive, ‘can do’ attitude that they can cook what Matt Moran, for example, or Colin Fassnidge cooked. It can be done at home! The idea is people can watch the show at 4 o’clock and be out the door at 4.30pm to buy the ingredients and cook it for dinner that night.
The feedback has been amazing. We’ve received so many comments from people saying they love the show.
What are some of your favourite products to work with?
I can’t live without butter, really good quality extra virgin olive oil, rocket and mustard. The list goes on – how many am I allowed to say? (Laughs). I also can’t live without fish, or a good piece of grass-fed beef.
Where are some of the exotic places your desire to learn about food has taken you?
Actually, I’ve just come back from Malaysia – and I learned about frog porridge! It wasn’t a nice texture at all! But I had some beautiful fresh seafood over there and found they’re using a lot of fresh fruit in their savoury dishes, like fresh apple and pineapple with deep fried lobster. There were some really unusual ways of balancing sweet, sour and salty – and they were done in such great ways.
I’ve also been to South Africa and had quite a lot of gamey meat, like venison. It was a great way of getting back to nature, going game hunting and seeing how passionate the people were about their food and how to cook it.
You’re doing some cooking demonstrations at the Tastings of the Hastings this month. Any chance of a preview … what are you planning to show us?
I’m not going to tell you exactly what I’m planning to do, as I’m still working on this and coming up with ideas. I’m really keen to use some of the seafood – I’d love to use some fresh, local prawns. I may decide to use them in a pasta dish. And, as I said, I can’t live without a beautiful piece of grass fed beef. I’d like to source some off a local producer and show everyone how to do a really simple red wine sauce, using local wine. So they’re a couple of the ideas I’m throwing around at the moment … but you’ll just have to wait and see what I do on the actual day!
Interview by Jo Atkins.