A Cook’s Life

Stephanie Alexander

A Cook's Life
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A Cook’s Life

Stephanie Alexander

With The Cook’s Companion front and centre in half a million kitchens, Stephanie Alexander is the very definition of a household name. Each day thousands turn to her ‘food bible’ for the most reliable recipes and advice. But before Stephanie Alexander penned a word for the emerging food media, let alone for The Cook’s Companion, she had spent decades avidly documenting food experiences. Shaped by her mother’s dedication to good food and her father’s love of reading, she trained as a librarian and all the while observed, assessed and re-created the dishes she loved. Her monthly university allowance rarely lasted more than a week - all spent on pan-fried flounder and chestnut Mont Blanc. She was seduced over pain Poilane while working as an au pair in Paris, and later over ackee and saltfish in London. In 1966, with no formal culinary training and a newborn baby, but brimming with confidence and sheer determination, she opened Jamaica House with her first husband. The personal toll was great and it was many years until she emerged on the restaurant scene again. Stephanie’s Restaurant would become part of Melbourne food folklore, permanently raising the bar for restaurant dining in Australia. At the time of its opening, in 1976, a salad to most people meant iceberg lettuce, no-one had heard of goat’s cheese and ginger came in a tin. Over the next twenty-one years, in her quest for the sort of produce she had enjoyed while living and travelling in Europe, Stephanie championed small local suppliers or grew it herself. Her indefatigable determination and single-minded vision have influenced - and sometimes intimidated - a generation of chefs, cooks and diners. And now her Kitchen Garden Foundation is inspiring tens of thousands of primary school children across Australia to grow and cook their own food. A Cook’s Life is a very personal account of one woman’s uncompromising commitment to good food, and of how it shaped her life and changed the eating habits of a nation.

Review

This is the story of a determined woman. There are no flies on our Stephanie Alexander (I feel like I can say ‘our’). I mean, is there a household in Melbourne that does not have a Stephanie Alexander cookbook?

This extraordinarily hardworking woman has not stopped writing, entertaining, teaching, travelling and cooking since she was a wee child. It may be in the genes. Stephanie Alexander’s mother was a creative woman, teaching art and keeping track of her life through a series of notebooks. Following the trend of strong and fearless women, Stephanie Alexander has also recorded her life through notebooks, menus and cookbooks. A Cook’s Life is both her story and that of her family. Beautifully crafted writing links together minutes from her life. There are photos from the early days right up to records of her time spent in gardens surrounded by school children.

Through her cooking Stephanie Alexander has been able to change Australia’s thinking about food. Her determination has influenced a generation of chefs and now her Kitchen Garden Foundation is changing the way our children think about food. Three cheers for a formidable woman. Three cheers for wonderful glimpse into her life. Highly recommended, although note – there are no recipes in this book, only wonderful stories of friendships, families and travels.

chris Christine Gordon is the Events Coordinator for Readings and is a committee member of The Stella Prize.

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