Five minutes with: Alla Wolf-Tasker
Five minutes with: Alla Wolf-Tasker
Alla Wolf-Tasker talks to MiNDFOOD about what it means to eat responsibly.
Tell us about your food philosophy.
Firstly we need to look at where food sits in the hierarchy of what we nowadays feel is important in our lives. Alas for many, food isn’t really “up there” at all I think with the plasmas and the cars.
It seems to me that about 30 years ago we abrogated our own personal responsibility for the sourcing and even the preparation of food to others (in whom incidentally we were prepared to place implicit trust). We had all grown too busy with far more important things, than having to deal with food, and we sent out the message that we wanted food to be convenient, available all year round and cheap.
Knowing the source of our food is important. Making educated decisions about food quality and also decisions about the sort of food production practises that are sustainable are then possible.
There is an argument to be had for not having food too cheap – for not encouraging bad practises and for supporting growers and producers who do the right thing. Food that is cheap is devalued and often results in a wasteful attitude. The statistics on food that is thrown out are truly awful. Solutions for feeding the starving peoples of troubled and developing countries and for the genuinely poor will not be found in cruel industrial farming and in impoverishing our soils through indiscriminate use of chemicals.
What does eating responsibly look like?
Food should be one of our most valued commodities. It should be way above the value we place on many of the other things we spend our money on.
The Office for National Statistics in the UK tells us that spending on food there accounted for 33 per cent of a household’s expenditure in 1957. In 2007 it only accounted for 15 per cent.
What are your favourite ingredients this autumn?
Autumn in our region [Daylesford in Victoria] is one of the most bountiful of seasons. There’s always all that fabulous late summer early autumn harvest. The best tomatoes usually – because the farmers have stopped irrigating them and they are so full of concentrated flavour. The last of the stone fruit and berries. The early varieties of grapes and apples. At the restaurant we usually do an apple dessert and change the variety of apple being utilised as they are being picked.
Pumpkins are harvested and left in the cool darkness of our cellar. Gorgeous quinces start arriving and to celebrate, we put bowls of them around everywhere to perfume the air. They are sublime slow roasted and put with a local sheep’s milk yoghurt. The last of the figs are usually fabulous. We are roasting them with gorgonzola and serving with a peppery caramel garnish.
Then if we get enough rain we’ll be out foraging for wild mushrooms in the forests.We pick slippery jacks and saffron milkcaps. And then the early chestnuts come through the door. It’s such a heady time for gardeners and cooks
What meals are you cooking at home?
The days can still be sunny and warm so I’ll do something simple like fresh local trout on the grill for lunch with a bit of salad from the garden.
The nights are crisp and already warrant a slow rich braise. It’s the season for game – so if we’re having friends over I might cook hare with chestnuts and cabbage or pair a roast guinea fowl with barley. One of our local vignerons, Graham Ellender, often bags me a hare or two from his vineyard.
What are some of your favourite cookbooks?
When I was a very young woman dreaming of my own restaurant I devoured volumes one and two of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and really anything by Elizabeth David, Richard Olney and the Michelin starred French chefs.
Nowadays with the internet, day or night, I can see what just about anyone has on their menus anywhere in the world – and I’m always keenly on the lookout to see how ingredients are being handled by some of the world’s great innovators.
But nowadays I’m rather a rapacious reader of books about food and the industry in general, rather than just cook books. For Christmas I was given Secret Ingredients, a collection of some of the best New Yorker articles on food and drink and couldn’t put it down.