Richard Roxburgh on one pots, reclaiming the stove and stealing from the breakfast buffet

Myffy Rigby
Richard Roxburgh: 'For a long time I was in complete shock at my wife's culinary skills.'
Richard Roxburgh: 'For a long time I was in complete shock at my wife's culinary skills.' Photo: Louie Douvis

 Sniffling tomatoes in Italy or being asked to eat vast amounts for a role brings this favourite Australian actor a plateful of happiness.

Australian actor Richard Roxburgh considers his tarte tatin to be quite the show stopper. But then, there's always room to improve. Rox, as his pals call him, uses Careme puff pastry. He's worried about the ratios of butter to sugar to juice from the apples. Because what he really wants is the crunch and crack of the toffee once it's flipped from the pan. He gets where I'm coming from when I tell him I add fennel and coriander seeds and occasionally a star anise to my caramel mixture. But he says, "that's what the French classicists would call an abomination".

Roxburgh likes to cook, but not as much as he loves to eat. Having just spent several months in Russia and Lithuania, filming the HBO series Catherine the Great starring Helen Mirren, he can tell you with some authority that Lithuanian on-set catering is unlike anything he's ever experienced. It was so bad, he took to stealing from the hotel's breakfast buffet to make his own sandwiches.

He certainly didn't enjoy his years having to shrink to fit into Cleaver Greene's tiny, tight-fitting suits for Rake ("I thought he should always look like he's slightly underfed. A stray dog vibe"). But playing dirty cop Roger Rogerson in ABC's Blue Murder was heaven. "Because it was dear old Auntie, it's not like they had money for prosthetics. So the deal was I just had to put on a shit-load of weight. And I did. And I just loved it so much. I was so happy."

Rox met his wife, Italian-born opera singer, actor and television cook Silvia Colloca, on the set of the schlock horror film Van Helsing. He was playing Count Dracula and she was playing one of his (three!) vampire brides. Having no idea that she was a gun cook, he decided to woo her with a Thai feast.

"There was just shit everywhere. It was a disaster. And it was taking hours. I go into a sort of a vortex of time when I'm cooking. Eventually she came into the kitchen. And she said, "Can I give you a hand at all?" Honestly, within minutes, I turned around and she had just gone through, sorted everything. The place was clean. And it was like, 'Oh my God.'"

I go into a sort of a vortex of time when I'm cooking.

Richard Roxburgh

Fifteen years and three children later, he's been made a little redundant in the kitchen. But he's slowly making a comeback and reclaiming the stove. "I think that for a long time I was in complete shock at my wife's culinary skills, and I just stepped back. But I think what I've realised recently is there's things that I really quite like doing. Just from hanging with Silvia, and watching her for all these years, I've garnered what I would say is a deep and abiding understanding of ways of cooking and treating food."

He now favours simplicity when it comes to cooking ("one pot is my favourite pot. I'm a real one pot guy"), and he's a little off meat, too. "I do an Italian stew of cannellini beans, garlic, thyme and roasted tomatoes. Some fillets of fish, roast that in the oven quickly. A bit of lemon zest on top, olive oil, breadcrumbs."

Whenever the family are home in Colloca's native Italy, Roxburgh not only enjoys anonymity (like most serious actors, he shrinks away from celebrity) but a lot of soft cheese. "That experience of picking up a gigantic lump of sweet gorgonzola for two euros at the supermarket. And there's a tomato section that just will take your breath away. You hold up a tomato and just smell it and there's a kind of perfection in it."

The Hunting is currently streaming on SBS.