Food columnist at The Listener for some 23 years until her retirement, restaurateur, cookbook author and life member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers, Lois Daish has contributed much to New Zealand cuisine. Her cooking idol is Julia Child, for the “tremendous gusto” with which she made and presented food. And she would most like to sit down to dinner with her mother and father again, “to just once again be at the table in the family of my childhood.”
We asked Lois a few more questions . . .
What’s your earliest food memory?
I do remember as a baby lying in my pram under the scarlet runner beans looking up at the flowers and watching my mother picking the beans. Scarlet runner beans have always been one of my most favourite things to eat.
Where do you draw your culinary inspiration from?
I’ve recently been getting together a collection of milk pudding recipes and I’m realising now how much influence my mother has had. My sister and I cook quite similarly and I think we are really a latter day product of how our mother used to cook.
She was determined to use fresh, good quality ingredients and made good simple food.
Also, living in New York as a small child, I think American food was such a surprise to our little family from New Zealand – Swedish meatballs, tuna casserole.
(Lois went on to own Mt Cook Café where she served American food).
Who is your cooking idol?
Julia Child. I learnt a huge amount from her. I lived in California in the ‘60s and I’d always watch her programme. I loved her energy for the craft of cooking and wanting to eat it and doing it all with such tremendous gusto.
What is your greatest cooking achievement to date?
Cooking three meals a day, seven days a week. That ongoing coup d’état of finding recipes for the family. That’s the most important thing for a cook, to be able to day after day make food which is nice to eat using simple processes.
And 20 years in restaurants.
How would you describe your style of cooking?
I really love the raw materials and do as little as I can to them to make them good to eat.
How did you start cooking?
At home as a child. We had come back from New York with some great cookbooks and mum always encouraged my sister and I to cook. It was a pleasurable atmosphere and mum never fussed over us, she was very relaxed about mess.
What’s your favourite meal?
Very tender lamb leg, slow roasted tomatoes and Ilam Hardy potatoes. They boil beautifully but aren’t waxy.
What’s your biggest kitchen disaster?
There have been more a series of minor disappointments. Things not being made quite as well as I’d hoped or when I’ve cooked for people I’ve really wanted to please and it just hasn’t turned out so well.
If you could eat anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Here at home. I really like having cooked the food, eating it in my home and being able to hop down from the table and go and lie on the sofa afterwards.
What are your kitchen must have staples?
Potatoes, milk, cream, eggs, flour, lemons, parsley in the garden. I feel anxious if I’ve run out of those basic things.
Why do you love cooking?
I love the craft of it. I’m fairly hopeless at most other things. Even just taking an onion, cutting the ends off, peeling the skin off and finely dicing it, or watching butter and sugar in a mixer, it’s those magical transformations. If I’m away somewhere where I’m not able to cook for a couple of days, I start to feel agitated. I guess also if it didn’t result in something I wanted to eat I wouldn’t be so interested.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
I’d love to sit down with my mother and father again, to just once again be at the table in the family of my childhood.