In the world’s southernmost wine region, chef Palisa Anderson welcomed us to a pairing dinner inside Larry Cherubino Wine‘s private barrel room. Not only a highlight of our larger visit to Margaret River, the dinner was also one of a series of evenings—Anderson’s at Cherubino, chef Nelly Robinson‘s at Fraser Gallop Estate, and chef Brendan Pratt‘s at Vasse Felix—presented by Lexus for VIP customers and press in celebration of the Western Australia Gourmet Escape. This food and wine festival takes place in the Margaret River valley but embraces global food movements and their local impact.
Chef Anderson has several restaurants, eateries and a market around Sydney and Byron Bay. Frustrated at sourcing ingredients that met her standards or where unavailable elsewhere, she started Boon Luck Farm to grow them. Her work in Hong Kong, London and NYC provides background and insight into her cooking, but her focus is on Australian-grown and -sourced food.
Celebrating food and chefs and creating amazing experiences is one of Lexus’ brand pillars, and from our experience it’s one their customers really enjoy beyond the driving experience. With such a stunning backdrop, we sat with chef Anderson to learn more about her process, mission and vision.
I chase the beauty
I’m curious to know why you do what you do?
Well, I think that’s part of the ongoing question about “who are we?” You know, and “what part do we play in the Cosmos, of the universe?” I spend a lot of my time thinking about why. I do what I do because nothing else makes sense. And sometimes everything doesn’t make sense in this [profession] at the time. If you let your life be guided by finances, then you’ll never do anything worthy. I hate the word ‘worthy” because it implies righteousness. What I often think about, though, is stewardship.
We have to be optimistic. And we’ve got to keep loving the beauty. I think that’s what I chase. I chase the beauty.
The beauty of how something looks or how something tastes?
No, the beauty of the earth. Nature is so fleeting and I think that’s what food is. I keep hearing the same verbalization now and it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking: Don’t let the “excellent” or the “perfect” get in the way of the good. That really resonates with me. If you keep chasing perfection, what is that aspiration? For me, it is all about becoming one with my environment, with nature, with the earth and the moon, everything around me—I can go anywhere and feel at home.
And I think maybe that’s into the deeper question as to why, you know, I love building communities and whether that’s a community of species, of people, of culture of art. I’m just chasing the beauty. And beauty is like the kindness of people. Food is a really good connector because we all eat.
You also have a farm, but it wasn’t your dream to have one, right?
Dreams change. As maturity happens, you start to see and understand the world differently and what your place in it is. For me, simply, I wanted to have a farm because I ran out of growing space in my quarter acre block in the city. Everybody kept saying to me, you know, I think you should go and look at a farm. I never thought of it because, at first, I thought I can supply myself with what I need from my quarter acre. But, I started to get greedy because I wanted to put trees in and I wanted to expand my collection. You recognize you’re limited. Something has to come out, you know, for something else to go in.
I’m sick of things looking good. I’m just sick of things looking perfect over being perfect. I want substance
However, I had the perfect excuse: we had the restaurants, right? Yeah. And just to be able to feed myself and my family, that’s a really big thing and for my customers to know that I really care about them. I don’t want to serve the kind of greens that look good. I’m sick of things looking good. I’m just sick of things looking perfect over being perfect. I want substance. You know, getting my hands dirty, I really feel that gave me, my heart, substance.
Every blemish is the present.
I buy things now, I look for all the lemons with the marks or anything that has a skin, I look for the ones with the marks. The insects know, they know better than us. You know? It’s so true. But, the consumer has to be double the solution. I really believe that because if we shop with our eyes, rather than our instincts and our taste buds, it’s getting that first click to happen. Like, it doesn’t look beautiful, what’s going to draw you in to sell it? And that’s why, I think that’s part of why, you know, the marketing is really important. And I’m sick of that. But it’s so like, if you want to play into human nature, you got to use it.
You prepared a Thai meal for us and, with that, we were expecting rice. Can you explain why there wasn’t any?
Though rice is a significant part of the diet for most Asians, I stopped eating rice that I didn’t know where it came from and wasn’t genetically modified. Sadly nearly all rice is GMO. There are a few farmers in Australia who grow natural rice, but it’s very expensive. The other thing is that it’s just not healthy to have a lot of grain in your gut when you go to sleep. I want you to eat more vegetables!
Can you talk about where your joy comes from?
I get so much more pleasure and joy seeing almost extinct bird species on my land, and seeing my children connect with nature and them using that information to pass it on. that’s my best gift that they could ever give me, that they’re doing it for themselves and they know how to look after. That’s such a lesson within us, and you can’t teach people that.
Image courtesy of Lexus