Seven months after Maggie Beer sold her culinary empire so she could free herself from a 70-hour working week, the iconic restaurateur hasn't slowed down. "I am probably busier than I’ve ever been," she says. "But life is good."
Between her Barossa Valley eatery and her goal to improve aged care food across the country, Beer, 74, has plenty on her plate.
She was awarded the Vittoria Coffee Legend Award at the Good Food Guide awards on Monday night for her outstanding long-term contribution to Australia's restaurant industry.
Beer's 40-year career has spanned television gigs and a multimillion-dollar product development business, but she says her focus is now the Maggie Beer Foundation. For the past four years, she's held masterclasses that bring together cooks, chefs and CEOs, to demonstrate what is possible in aged care catering.
"Cooks and chefs make all the difference - they can make more difference than anyone else in all of an organisation," she says. "But I can’t get to enough people doing two to three masterclasses a year."
Her next venture is an online training course: the first 11 of 45 video segments will be filmed in February to teach specific skills within aged care that aren't available elsewhere. "They're very particular and very important parts of the puzzle to make a difference," she says.
Vittoria Coffee Legend award winner Maggie Beer
The Good Food Guide 2020 honours Maggie Beer.
Les Schirato, CEO of Vittoria Coffee, selected Beer from a shortlist created by the Good Food team and said she was "a real icon to the industry".
"She’s got a passion for food, she’s one of Australia’s bestselling authors. She’s also had the back of her head licked quite a few times - she’s appeared on the Australian Legends of Cooking postage stamps," he said.
"She was one of the largest employers in food in the Barossa Valley, she’s produced so many products in her own name. She’s sold her business now and she’s coming to the last phase of her career, [so] it’s important to recognize her contribution to the food industry and what she’s done. She’s still the same person she’s always been, the same approachable person."
Beer became a household name after publishing 10 books, appearing on TV shows including The Cook and the Chef, The Great Australian Bake Off and MasterChef. She's been awarded an Order of Australia (AM) and Senior Australian of the Year.
She started cooking at the age of 34 when she settled in the Barossa Valley with her husband Colin with the intention of growing grapes and breeding game – namely pheasants. Their farm soon became a hugely popular on-site eatery, Pheasant Farm Restaurant, and she later created Maggie Beer Products.
"When I first started 40 years ago, it was a time where we weren’t sophisticated diners," she says.
"But what I was able to do, and I guess what my legacy has been, is utilising everything at hand in the Barossa and every bit of the plant or animal - the whole concept of paddock to plate.
"We understand how much more special it is when we can be connected to the land and people responsible for the growing. Nothing is going to slow that down."