This month’s FAQ interviewee is the affable Maureen Shaw, talented creator of popular food blog The Orgasmic Chef, bon vivant, and U.S.-born resident of Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Her blog’s vibrant food photos and extensive library of recipes attracted me from the day I first discovered it, and its warm, conversational tone has kept me returning to see what’s cooking ever since. It was a treat having this self-described “Yank down under” share her thoughts on subjects ranging from current Australian food trends to her recent trip to, and participation in, the 2013 Noosa Food and Wine Festival.
Flavorful World: In December 2012, a GoodFood.com article indicated that in 2013, things like share plates and South American and Asian cuisine would heavily influence Australia’s food trends. Based on your observations, has this come to pass? If so, what dishes/cuisine appear to be most popular right now? If not, what trends appear to have emerged instead?
Maureen Shaw: This is not what we’re seeing, at least in Queensland. We’re seeing a bigger emphasis on local producers and focusing more on real food and less foam. Asian has always heavily influenced us in Australia and especially here on the Sunshine Coast.
FW: When cooking, do you more often clean as you go along, or do you save the cleaning for the end. In either case, why?
MS: If I’m cooking leisurely, it’s always clean as I go because once the meal is on the table there’s little to do other than the dishes on the table. If I’m under the gun, I can fill every flat surface in order to meet a deadline. Getting the food done, styled, photographed and blogged is the key element for me. Luckily, I have a husband who’ll help out in those instances. Clean-up isn’t his favourite but we’re a team.
FW: M.F.K. Fisher is credited with the quote, “For me, a plain baked potato is the most delicious one….It is soothing and enough.” Tell us the food(s) that you most enjoy when they are served simply, plain and unadorned, and why.
MS: You asked for simple and unadorned. I love whizzing dates, apples, coconut and almonds and sprinkling it over plain yoghurt. Nothing added and it’s terrific as breakfast or snack. I also love simple popovers with butter and homemade jam. I’m not a fan of overdone fusion dishes where all sorts of flavors bang around in my mouth just because it’s a novelty or to make people say, “Does this really go well together?”
FW: Tell us about your most recent dining out experience: Where did you go, what is your favorite thing on that establishment’s menu, and what makes it so?
MS: Recently I went to Wild Rocket at Misty’s in Montville in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Chef Peter Brettell had an appetizer special of meltingly tender pork cheek medallions that were full of flavor and beautifully complemented with a chunky spiced applesauce and pumpkin puree. My main dish was a crispy duck breast with caramelized pears and a duck spring roll served with a vanilla and star anise sauce. Honestly, I can’t choose one over the other because they were both well cooked, perfectly seasoned and the flavors all worked well together. It probably helps that we were seated next to an open fire and enjoyed the dinner with several food loving friends.
FW: You attended the Noosa Wine and Food Festival last month and appear to have had a wonderful time. What aspect of having attended would you say made the most lasting impression on the way you view food and cooking, and why?
MS: I think the Noosa International Food and Wine Festival is the best food event in Australia. The festival attracts top culinary stars from around the world and I was lucky enough to get to speak with several of them. This year I was invited to be on a panel discussion about how food writers on blogs affect traditional food journalists. While I understand the journalists’ views, I see a huge difference between a recipe in a magazine and a recipe on a blog. When I see a recipe in a magazine or newspaper I rarely know who created it but people who visit my blog come because of the relationship we’ve developed over time.
FW: What is the most valuable critique your food blog has ever received, and how was it beneficial in shaping what The Orgasmic Chef has become?
MS: This one is simple to answer. Early on I didn’t use my real name, didn’t have my photograph and wrote like a Wikipedia article. I was afraid that if anyone knew I was older but not necessarily wiser, people wouldn’t stick around.
A marketing guru said, “Nice blog but you aren’t in there, at least the Maureen I know isn’t there. Put your photo up, find your voice and take ownership of that blog.” After much twitching, twisting and turning, I took her advice and haven’t looked back. Last year someone told me I should write a story in every post and as a reward for getting to the bottom, “give ’em a helluva good recipe.” I’ve tried to do just that.
FW: Tell us about the next untested recipe or unfamiliar aspect of food blogging that you intend to attempt, and what makes the endeavor attractive to you.
MS: Last year was macarons and this year it’s going to be sourdough. Not just making the bread but learning how to love and care for my starter. I keep telling myself I’m going to do it but it hasn’t happened yet. I have a friend who makes the most magnificent sourdough bread and she’s named her starter Kevin. It’s a challenge to get the hydration right, the sourness right and develop the perfect crumb but I’m committed to doing it this year.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
MS: She Cooked, She Ate and She Blogged
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
MS: We live along the water in a canal not far from the Pacific Ocean so we love to picnic, toss the ball for the dog on the beach, entertain friends, travel and read.
*Note to Readers: Want some great ideas for what your next meal should be? Swing by The Orgasmic Chef and prepare to be inspired. Want to enjoy more of Maureen’s orgasmic culinary offerings? Follow her kitchen on Twitter, pin them on Pinterest, and spread some ‘Like’ on them at Facebook.