WHEN you ask veteran chef Maggie Beer why she loves cooking, the passion oozes from her voice gooier than one of her signature chocolate puddings.
"The best thing about it is baking for the people that you love," she says.
The amiable culinary icon will this year join acclaimed chef Matt Moran to judge the new Foxtel series The Great Australian Bake Off - something she hopes will allow plenty of Queensland women and men to show off their culinary skills.
"We're wanting to cast the net even wider and encourage the men of Australia to join the show," Maggie says.
"We want a lovely mix of ages and genders… that is what will make it more interesting I think.
"If we can have a mix of young, middle-aged and old - because I'm old myself," she chuckles, "but we'd like to encourage the men thinking about it who are perhaps tentative, to join the fray and have some fun."
Maggie says she'd like to continue the trend of moving away from the "traditional way of thinking" when it comes to men donning the aprons and baking a cake.
"What I think is happening with food, is people of all ages and genders are understanding the creativity and the inspiration that's in them they haven't expressed before so they're starting to get interested (in baking)," she says.
"When they get the time they see what it's all about; it's something that I believe may be lurking in a lot of people but they've perhaps been busy and haven't tried it."
I bite the bullet and share with Maggie my own belief of having a (very) hidden talent, having always thought I'd be an excellent baker if only I were bothered to try. Call it lazy, or just having a false sense of my own God-given gift just waiting to pour out, Maggie was quick to support my pipedream:
"Perhaps it hasn't been the right time, but it will be. There'll come a time when it's right for you, but it has to become a focus and priority for a while to really expand on your interest," she says encouragingly.
"(Practice) when you can, engage in it and hope the passion blooms… I just think baking and cooking is such pleasure. If you love it, you love it for yourself and the people that you love."
Maggie urges those home cooks who may be thinking of sharing their baking talents with the world to jump on board the new series of The Great Australian Bake-Off.
"If you're thinking of auditioning, you already love to cook and to bake," she says.
"One is not exclusive of the other but food has got to excite you. Sharing your food with family and friends has got to excite you."
The Great Australian Bake Off will put 12 home baking enthusiasts through a series of gruelling elimination challenges, baking a mouth-watering selection of cakes, pies, tarts, pastries, bread, biscuits and desserts, all in the hope of being crowned Australia's Best Home Baker.
"It's got to be more than just baking a cake. It's thinking about food, creating it in your mind and wanting to learn," Maggie says.
"That's what happens when you get the time to really focus on it. You already have the passion to learn so it only builds from there."
Road to a life-long career
Maggie Beer is a self-taught cook, food author, restaurateur and food producer based in South Australia's Barossa Valley. After establishing the highly acclaimed, award-winning Pheasant Farm Restaurant in 1979, she went on to set up her state of the art export kitchen in 1993. These days, Maggie juggles her career in television presenting and food writing, with running her food business from the Barossa.
Maggie tells APN she was lucky to be brought up in a household where food was "vitally important".
"It isn't the most familiar story in a typical Australian household," she recalls.
"My father had an instinct for food, my grandmother was a beautiful baker and myself and my eldest daughter love to bake.
"Cooking in general came easy to me. I'm not saying baking came easily to me, because you have to follow such strict rules. But I love to learn and I am always exploring."
Maggie says cooking was "simply a necessity" when her family were farming pheasants in the 1970s and people didn't know how to cook them.
Travelling to all different parts of the country, Maggie says Queensland shines when it comes to locally-grown produce.
"I have seen the food in Queensland really develop over the years which has been a lovely thing," she says.
"Whenever I'm in Queensland I would always go to a really good restaurant, and I love your markets. The markets on the coast, at Noosa and up at Port Douglas it's all about showcasing the food.
"You have a very particular climate in Queensland which makes your food really interesting."
The Great Australian Bake Off will begin production shortly, and the Foxtel series is currently looking for contestants. Amateur baking enthusiasts can register at australianbakeoff.com.au.
Great Australian Bake Off's Casting call...
Are you a whiz with a whisk? Maggie Beer and Matt Moran want you. From lamingtons, to Anzac biscuits, to vanilla slice, we are a nation who have a passion for impressing our friends, family and colleagues with our latest baking creations. The Great Australian Bake Off will celebrate our country's love for baking. We are looking for passionate bakers to apply for the latest Australian TV series, and be put to a series of cooking tasks that will crown one winner Australia's best amateur baker.
Based on the highly successful BBC series The Great British Bake Off, The Great Australian Bake Off will be a showstopper as culinary icon Maggie Beer and acclaimed chef Matt Moran judge your best cupcakes, sponge cakes and shortbread. Or you might prefer to wow us with your ombre cakes, salted caramel tarts and your bombe alaska. Whatever your bake, if you think your baking is up to scratch, apply to be a contestant now.
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