Eating in with Anna Gare

Oct 01, 2013

TV chef Anna Gare harboured ambitions for a career in food from a young age – she even ran the canteen and cooked family dinners while still in primary school. The host of The Great Australian Bake Off and Junior MasterChef judge, who will be giving cooking demonstrations in Adelaide this week, reveals how she got her culinary career break and shares one of the recipes from her new cookbook.

What was the first meal you ever cooked?

That’s a hard question, because like all kids, I had a sweet tooth and started cooking only sweet things. It was my Dad who insisted that I move onto something more savoury, so I started making pizzas, zucchini slice and meat loaf – I’m not sure which one came first.

You started out in an all-girl rock band called The Jam Tarts, which seems to indicate an early affinity with the kitchen. How did you get your break in cooking and catering?

I started cooking before I could sing.  In primary school I ran the canteen, cooked dinner at home on a regular basis and treasured my CWA and Charmaine Solomon Asian cookery book.  I wanted to have my own restaurant one day. I started playing in the band at 13 and by the time I was 15 we were playing a few regular gigs each week.

When I was in Year 10, each student had the opportunity to take two weeks off to do work experience in a chosen profession. I chose a restaurant called Kim’s because cooking was still my number-one passion. At the end of my two weeks’ work experience, they offered me a full-time job. I left school and took the job – much to my mother’s horror.

From there I continued to play music and work in restaurants and kitchens for 10 years. I started having babies at 24, stopped playing in bands and took on the occasional catering job, and from there things snowballed.

What is one of the favourite foodie experiences you can recall?

I would have to say the food at our wedding was totally amazing. Eight beautiful courses served over a long delectable lunch,  shared with all my dearest friends and family, and cooked by my favourite Perth chefs David Coomer and Matt Stone.

Amateur cooks are being bombarded with so many exotic dishes and croquembouche-like creations as a result of the myriad TV cooking shows that it can all become a bit bamboozling. If there’s one unusual or “exotic” ingredient you recommend trying this spring/summer, what would it be and how would you suggest using it?

Kefalograviera – it’s a Greek cheese Masterchef’s George Calombaris introduced me to. I am a complete curd nerd – I just love my cheeses. It’s made out of goat and sheep’s milk, so it’s quite flavoursome. It would be best described as the lovechild from a piece of haloumi and a tasty mozzarella; it is sensational. You flour it, fry it on both sides and serve it with a gorgeous salad and something tangy like an onion jam or balsamic figs. It really is texturally delightful and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t like eating crispy, gooey and tasty fried cheese.

Anna Gare will be giving cooking demonstrations at Westfield Marion this Thursday and Westfield Westlakes on Friday from noon. The recipe below is from her new book Eat In (published by Murdoch Books, $39.99), which she says includes only the dishes that have been a hit with her toughest critics – her  four teenagers and “a 7-foot-2 hungry husband”.

Nacho Bake

Serves 6–8

I just know this will be the recipe my kids take with them when they leave home. It’s a great informal Friday-night feed. You can double up on the amount of beans and leave out the meat to make this a vegetarian dish. If your kids don’t like spices, you can also leave out the chilli, paprika and cayenne pepper.

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2 tablespoons olive oil
2 brown onions, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1kg (2lb 4oz) minced (ground) beef
2 teaspoons smoked hot paprika
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 x 400g (14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes
3 x 400g (14oz) tins of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g (1lb 2oz) natural corn chips
125g (4½oz/1¼ cups) grated cheddar cheese

To serve

Sour cream
3 avocados, de-stoned, smashed and seasoned with a squeeze of lime juice
A handful of fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, to garnish


Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4).

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5–6 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.

Recipe and images from Anna Gare's Eat In, Murdoch Books, $39.99

Recipe and images from Anna Gare’s Eat In, Murdoch Books, $39.99

Add the beef and spices and cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon, for 10 minutes, or until the meat is lightly browned.

Stir in the tomatoes and beans and season with salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the mixture reaches a thick sauce consistency.Pour the sauce into a shallow 3.5-litre (122 fl oz/14 cup) capacity baking dish, cover with the corn chips and scatter over the cheese.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden.

Serve with sour cream, smashed avocado dip and some coriander leaves scattered on top.


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