Chewing the fat with Annabel Langbein

New Zealand’s first proper international celebrity chef is  just a down-to-earth girl who loves cooking.

With multiple cook books, TV shows in nearly 80 countries and a groovy gold blouse over skinny jeans, she opened the Taste of New Zealand festival at Auckland’s Victoria Park and reckons New Zealand is the premiere food basket of the world.

A quick break from book signing

But Annabel Langbein insists she’s not a chef she’s a cook. What’s the diff, I asked? A cook is “more about home craft, nourishing people around you. Not about high performance culinary gymnastics. More love, resourcefulness, expedience and nurture.” Got it.

She’s a bit Nigella Lawson and a bit Rachel Hunter and has more time for people than her PA can handle. Her book signing session was like lining up to meet Santa and unless I physically man-handled her out of the tent, I wasn’t going to get my interview. I man-handled and got 8 minutes during which time she jumped up to say hi to friends, but still managed to keep her train of thought on my very intelligent questions.

Actually we just chatted really about her “overnight” success which has taken 20 years, but after 3 minutes I thought I’d better ask her one of the questions I had prepared earlier or I’ll have nothing to blog about.

Outside of New Zealand, her favourite destination for cooking is southern Italy for its peasant traditions. “For me it’s authenticity and integrity in food. No industrial food chain.” (There, that gets the travel side of this blog in.)

Her latest book comes hot on the heels of the TV series (that made kiwis sit up and take notice) and the incredibly successful Free Range Cook book based from her bach (crib?) in Wanaka.

Free Range in the City

This new one is Free Range in the City. I keep thinking Sex in the City – and I’m sure Annabel and Nigella would make an excellent TV series together. But I digress. This book (which I bought and had her sign like one of the groupies lined up earlier) has a whopping 220 recipes for city living – for those of us who don’t have acres of fresh produce in our gardens and maybe even have fussy kids to navigate around and lunchboxes to fill.

How long did it take you to develop the 220 recipes, I asked intelligently. “I could have got up this morning and made three new ones,” she replied. Hmmm, writing that down.

The lady clearly has talent. Recipes roll out of her head like a poet with a pen or a singer in a shower. Her kids have no family favourites to draw on because each meal has a new twist. And yes, she likes family cooking. When her kids were young and nutritious nightmares (my words, not hers!) fridge fillings saved her. That way, she says, you can add sauces and extra garnishes to dishes for the adults without having to cook 5 different dinners.

A big fan of farmers markets and artisan food stores like Nosh and Farrow, she loves poking about for new products – like blueberry sorbet from Omaha, she said waving in the general direction of their tent, down here at Taste.

So you have until 9.30pm Sunday October 22 to get along, sample, sip and savour and get amongst some of the best cuisine on offer at restaurants around Auckland all in one venue. Take about $30-$50 to buy $1 crowns. Then choose which mini plates you want to try. Prices range from 8 – 12 crowns per plate.

See for more insight and a few online recipes.