Passion for food and its ability to connect people and communities can be powerful forces that drive many chefs on a journey they would never have thought possible. Whilst you may know the infectiously happy Miguel Maestre from his role on TEN’s The Living Room, his journey started with dogged determination and a love for people and Spanish traditions. Interview by Mollie MacDonald.
WHERE DID YOUR PASSION FOR FOOD AND COOKING COME FROM AS A CHILD? I learnt everything in the kitchen from my mum, who is a great cook. She was one of 20 children, and every Sunday we went to my grandfather’s farm for lunch with at least 70 relatives. There was lots of energy, beautiful food and laughter. It was my favourite time of the week.
WHERE DID YOU COMPLETE YOUR TRAINING? That’s a funny story. All I wanted to do was become a chef and I told my father that the best restaurants were overseas. So not speaking a word of English I moved to Edinburgh and went from restaurant to restaurant, saying “Hi, I’m Miguel and I want to work for free”. Indigo Yard gave me a job and all I did was peel potatoes, shell prawns, and all the crappy jobs, but I was just so happy to be in the kitchen that I never complained. After a month, the chefs were amazed I was still there so they started teaching me everything I needed to know.
WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO AUSTRALIA? I actually met my wife at Indigo Yard as she was a waitress there. While I didn’t speak much English, I knew I was going to marry her one day. After several years in Edinburgh, we decided to make Australia home.
HOW DID YOU BECOME HEAD CHEF AT NUMBER ONE AT THE AGE OF 27 AND THEN BECOME CO-HOST OF TEN’S THE LIVING ROOM SEVERAL YEARS LATER? I worked in some of the best fine dining restaurants in Sydney with several great chefs who became both mentors and friends. Tony Bilson gave me the chance to be head chef at Number One, while Manu Feildel and Ed Halmagyi, who I worked alongside, opened the doors to television, which has been an amazing experience.
YOU’VE BEEN HONOURED WITH THE HIGHEST AWARD BY THE KING OF SPAIN FOR YOUR SERVICE IN PROMOTING THE COUNTRY THROUGH FOOD. TELL US ABOUT YOUR OWN RANGE: MAESTRE FAMILY FOOD. I am so passionate about Spanish food and ingredients and I wanted to teach people how easy it is to cook at home. I’ve worked with my team in Spain to source the best ingredients for our paella base and cheese range. Just delicious!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE INGREDIENT TO WORK WITH? The produce in Australia is so amazing. I love Queensland tomatoes – they are up there with the world’s best. I also love Bangalow Pork, prawns from North Queensland, octopus from Fremantle and your wagyu beef – such high quality.
IF WE TOOK A PEEK INSIDE YOUR GROCERY BASKET, WHAT WOULD WE FIND? Definitely saffron – an amazing ingredient – plus salt, lemon, garlic and, of course, paprika.
YOU’RE A PASSIONATE SPANIARD – WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE SPANISH DISH? Paella, of course. I own 25 different paella pans and the ritual of cooking a paella is just great. That’s what I love about Australia as it’s so like Spain. While you love standing around the barbecue and entertaining outdoors, we do the same but with a paella pan. There’s a fine line between good and bad paella and I love teaching people how to cook a great paella.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FOND MEMORIES OF DINING AT SOUTH BANK? What I love about Regional Flavours is that after a long day there are so many places to grab a bite to eat. The Sangria Bar and Olé are so social and Harajuku Gyoza is so much fun. I love how they all call out when you enter and their happiness is so infectious. Last time they let me pour the sake for guests. I just love it!