Fourteen books, 450 episodes of TV hit Consuming Passions, thousands of recipes and multiple awards later, Ian Parmenter shows no sign of slowing down. Now loving his life on the land in Margaret River, Ian shares with us his passion for slow, but simple, food and the need to pass on the importance of our agricultural heritage.
I was born in London and moved with my family to Brussels when I was nine. I just fell in love with the food and enjoyed my Montessori schooling until our return to the UK when I was nearly 12. I attended the second oldest English public school, King’s School, Rochester. And hated it. I would cook in the chemistry laboratory using a Bunsen burner. I couldn’t wait to get out.
My first job was making false teeth for my next-door neighbour. Vocational guidance indicated that I would fare better in publishing, advertising or journalism, so I started work in magazines. In 1971 I emigrated with my then partner, to Australia. We wanted a small city and so chose Perth. It came as a shock. There were no outdoor eateries and you couldn’t buy good food in any of the shops. I worked in public relations, before moving to the ABC where I completed a producer’s course and subsequently became a TV producer/director, which I was from 1973 to 1994.
In 1991 the ABC was looking for a show to replace Peter-Russell Clarke’s Come and get it. I didn’t want to front the camera, but found myself making bread in a pilot for Consuming Passions. Although I was still producing and directing, this was the start of seven years of filming in our own kitchen, with my partner Ann assisting with recipe development, research, proofreading, set design and keeping me reasonably sane. I started writing books – which now total 14 in all – and established a company, Consuming Passions Pty Ltd.
In 1996, after I won an international award for the show, I suggested to ABC bosses that we should make a half-hour food series, Tasting Australia, along the lines of ‘Gardening Australia’ .They laughed, asking “who would want to watch that much cooking,” So I created the international Tasting Australia Festival held in South Australia – and loved being involved from 1997 until earlier this year.
I had made a program with Ray Charles at Leeuwin Estate in Margaret River and Ann and I thought it would be great to have a country property. So we bought a run-down 13-acre property with a cottage. Since then we have planted more than1,000 trees and shrubs. In 1994 we were talked into planting grapes and enjoyed our first harvest in 1997. It became harder and harder to be back home in Fremantle, so we built a house and moved here permanently in 1999. The first six months were a bit unsettling for me, but now I love it.
A classic day means checking emails first thing, then a trip to town to do the banking, get newspapers, visit one of the fabulous coffee shops and catch up with friends. Then it’s back home to start writing or develop some new recipes. In the evening I cook for both of us. No, I don’t really exercise unless you count walking to the car and chewing! I’m not really that bad. I do go for walks.
I’ve also started working on my next book which will be a tell-all with lots of dirt, fun, and silly stories. Well, maybe it’s a ‘Tell almost all’ – the one I promised myself I wouldn’t write while my parents were alive.
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I recently got a Seniors Card and was forced, for the first time, to think, God I’m a senior now! But I don’t regard myself as being an older person. Retirement is simply not in my vocabulary – I will keep doing stuff until I drop. I have some chums who seem to just play golf and cruise, but that’s not for me. As you get older you are allowed to be grumpier than when you were younger – you can get away with it more because you are not taken too seriously. But around age 50 to 60 I find one generally is considered to be less relevant.
My hobbies are playing music and most of the things I do anyway for work – travel, food, winemaking and creative photography. I love technology. I’m not a total geek but a little bit of a nerd and I just swear by my Apple Macs.
But the thing that brings me most joy is making Ann happy! And I am happiest at home in Margaret River, cooking and entertaining with Ann. We met in Fremantle 30 years ago. We’re pretty well self sufficient with our produce and the secret to our relationship is the delineation of responsibility with me in the kitchen and Ann in the garden. I’m not even allowed to pick things! We also both love travelling together after many years when we mostly travelled separately owing to my work.
I crave company. I’ve never had a truly fabulous dining experience when eating alone. A friend once told me it’s not the food on the plates, but what’s on the chairs that matters most – and I agree. I really enjoy our local community, working with the neighbours up the road on a Farm Day Out and other local volunteers in the fire brigade. We meet on a Friday night, chat, get jobs organised while the kids play. Perhaps a glass of wine. It’s magic.
At Tasting Australia I played blues harmonica with three different bands. I don’t dance as I don’t want to make a fool of myself. But I love making good music with a good band. I’m just a resurrected old blues player.
I don’t really need a bucket list. I enjoy what I do so much. I think I’m in a very fortunate situation of living well where I live and doing what I want to do. But looking back on life, there are some things I have taken too seriously. The cult of the celebrity chef has been taken too far. It’s a sham. Leek dirt, olive dust, it’s just cobblers. We’re going to ‘Crave’, the food festival in Sydney, to catch up with chums, but not to learn how to cook sardines with strawberries or a toffee apple full of foie gras as I was recently offered in Barcelona. I’m over all that.
I have plenty of challenges left in my life. I am vehemently against genetically modified foods. I’ve done the research, spoken to the scientists, and will fight it like crazy. I’m also concerned about the future of agriculture, land use and water supply. But it’s difficult to get this on the public agenda when the media generally is so puerile and lazy.
If I could legislate one change in Australia tomorrow I’d ensure that, during their school years, every Australian child would be obliged to spend serious time living and working on the land – to gain an appreciation of the importance of food, water, and agriculture, and to acquire a real work ethic.
But the most important thing in my life is retaining the faculties to enjoy yourself – keeping the taste buds tuned, the ability to see the budburst on the vines and smell bread baking and stock simmering. After I had my hip replaced, the very first thing I did was head straight back to the kitchen and start cooking with my zimmer frame. And I’m now consulting with a Perth hospital to re-vamp their food. I’m helping to reinvent the meal!
Ian’s most recent book is All Consuming Passions,
HarperCollins Publishers, RRP $27.99
Visit Ian’s own website www.consumingpassions.com.au