Eating Habits with Jill Dupleix

Jill Dupleix has the kind of job most of us wouldn’t mind doing. “Eat, drink, cook, write, repeat,” is the way Jill herself describes it, but we’d say (a little less laconically) that she’s one of the leading lights of food writers worldwide. This month, to explore the theme of ‘Feast’, we’re asking people to tell us about their eating habits and first up we chat to Jill – who manages to cover everything from lamb chops to peeled grapes stuffed with pink peppercorns!

Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I’m a food writer, restaurant critic, editor and author of 16 cookbooks (don’t hate me, but I eat for a living). I was born on a sheep farm in Victoria, trained as an advertising copywriter in Melbourne, did a switcheroo to writing about food, and by 2000, was the Cookery Editor of The Times in London. I’m now based in sunny Sydney, writing about recipes, chefs and food trends; reviewing restaurants; consulting on new cookbooks with Murdoch Books; and heading up, with husband Terry Durack, The Australian Financial Review’s Australia’s Top Restaurants.

What’s your earliest food memory?
We had heaps of fruit trees growing on the hill at the back of the house. One morning when I was very young I picked a snow apple straight off the tree and bit into it. I have never had an apple like it; so sweet and juicy, so bright red and pure white. It was like a Disneyland moment for me, I almost hear music in the air when I think of it.

What was on your dinner plate growing up?
Grilled lamb chops, mashed potato and peas, all home-grown.

Why is food important to you?
It’s my way of expressing myself. Cooking grounds me. There’s no bullshit. You just work with what you have, you learn how best to cook – or not cook – it, and it always rewards you.

I always need things to look forward to, and with food, there is always something to look forward to… The next meal, a special restaurant booking, a bunch of sultana grapes eaten at the desk, the morning coffee.

Have you ever used food to impress someone? Tell us about that!
Ohhh yeah…  I used to be quite the competitive dinner party cook. That time I cooked a recipe of French three-star chef Michel Guerard, which called for boning out twelve quail, filling them with a chicken and wild mushroom mousse, and braising them with grapes. You also had to peel each grape, then extract its pip (not easy) and replace it with a pink peppercorn, all of which I faithfully did. Lawdy. Did it impress? Hell yeah.

Name three plant-based ingredients you love, and one you always leave on your plate.
I love beetroot, in all its forms – beets, roots, and leaves.  Love tomatoes, I eat them in the hand like apples. Love any bitter leafy green – rocket, kale, sorrel, frisee, nettles, radicchio, celery leaves, mustard greens, cress, that mad Italian puntarelle… I’m not a huge fan of cooked pineapple or raw onion.

What dish do you most connect with your mum/dad/grandparents (pick one)?
My Scottish grandmother, Dolly Campbell, made the most beautiful porridge, topped with raw brown sugar and fresh cow’s milk. I think of her whenever I use a particularly old wooden spoon I have that has been worn down to almost half what it was by constant use.

Do you have any food or eating-related rituals? Please tell us about them.
Haha. I have SO MANY. I like to ritualise everything, it keeps me calm to have that inbuilt structure around me.

There’s the one where I have to have a cup of hot water in bed before I start my day. The one where I stop work for the day at 6.30pm and arrange a tray with a very strong Campari and soda with plenty of ice, and a bowl of salted pistachios. There’s the dinner for two at home, where even if it’s late and we’re eating something simple, I have to set the table, light the candles, find some good music, pour a glass of wine.

The one where I’m in the kitchen in wet bathers making a salad for lunch and I just have to crack a cold beer.  It’s like if I don’t do these things, civilisation will break down and life as we know it will cease to exist.

Picture this: It’s 7pm, and you’re starving. The phone rings. It’s the Dalai Lama, inviting you to meet him for tea in half an hour. You NEED to eat beforehand, otherwise you’ll start chewing your sleeve and swearing in front of the venerable one. What do you cook? (ie. What’s your go-to, slap together, wholesome 15 minute meal?) Can you share the recipe with us?

Seriously? I’d probably chuck down a couple of my lovely Leksands Finnish crispbread with some fresh tomato and cheese, or even Vegemite. Or I’d make quick-quick spaghetti, known to the Italians as pasta sciue sciue. Cook up some Martelli spaghettini, and while it cooks, gently heat some beautiful olive oil, chuck in heaps of finely sliced garlic and red chilli and heat until the garlic flutters in the oil. Add a pile of chopped ripe tomatoes, skins and seeds and all and handful of torn basil leaves, some good sea salt and pepper, and toss well over high heat until it all fuses together. By that time the spag is cooked – drain it, add it to the pan, toss well and serve with a little butter and good parmesan.

If you were asked to cook and host a vegetarian Sunday night dinner for 5 people, what would you cook?
I’d cook mujudara, a brilliant Lebanese dish of rice and lentils tossed with crisp, slow-cooked onions and loads of spices and fresh dill, and serve it with everyone’s favourite roasted cauliflower salad with tahini and walnuts, and a bowl of broad beans dressed with lemony yoghurt, capers and mint. I’d serve great wine, and finish with rosewater sherbets and mint tea.

Jill Dupleix’s website and Instagram.