Hi, I’m Matthew, welcome to Fanks Kitchen!
With so many COVID lockdowns, what else is there left to do other than to start a food blog?
For way longer than I would care for, I have compensated for not being able to enjoy dining out by making more of an effort with my home cooking. Through sharing my passion for food online, I have maintained meaningful connections with friends and family during this challenging time. Cooking has provided me with some respite from the chaos and allowed me to be present and enjoy some simple pleasure. In following my food journey, some have discovered an appreciation for fine dining and a desire to learn. Others have honed their skills and have been more adventurous in what they make. People ask what I have been up to in the kitchen, teach, or offer recipes and tips. And now, I would like to share my passion with new friends. Welcome to Fanks Kitchen!
Many have asked why I never pursued a career as a chef, and my answer is always the same; I love food too much, and I fear I would end up hating it! But nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing my passion with friends and family, and in this, I am content. My love affair with food is nothing new; it has been an interest of mine from an early age.
I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs. We ate a very English style of cooking consisting of a staple diet of meat and three vegs! The meat was cooked well-done, the vegetables generally boiled to death, often with the secret ingredient of a pinch of bi-carb. Think dinner time for Darryl Kerrigan and the family in “The Castle,” and you get the idea (Yes, complete with my uncle and grandfather discussing the Trading Post). Take-away was a treat for us, and we would only ever go to a restaurant on special occasions. The only foreign cuisine we were familiar with was Chinese and fine dining was smorgasbord’s at “The Swagman” in Ferntree Gully, or “Cuckoo Restaurant” up in the Dandenong’s.
One might wonder how my childhood experience could provide a foundation to build a love of food; call it traumatic growth if you like! That’s not to say mum is a lousy cook; actually, she’s pretty good when she puts her mind to it. It was a reflection of the time, and I expect many my age might share similar experiences. There are no romantic stories here of cooking recipes from the old world, passed down from generation to generation with a Nona! But yet the stories are not so different in that they establish an emotional connection with food.
I have a large extended family, so for me, my emotional connection was the coming together of family and friends at the table to break bread. My Gran was an excellent cook. She was famous for her Trifle (I swear there must have been a whole bottle of sherry in that!) And her renowned “Raspberry Cake”; a Raspberry and Meringue torte that she would often quietly make an extra one of just for me on my birthday…because for the record…I was the favourite grandchild! Even now, my mother will give me one of my favourite pies for my birthday. We can connect with others through food and achieve a sense of belonging; we can show our affection by sharing with those we love. Food is sustenance for the soul as well as the body.
We did not have the fanciest meals growing up, and for the most part, we made do. But that inadvertently provided me with lessons in food sustainability. Dad grew up on the land. It was in his blood, born into a family who had been orchardists in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs for over a century. We’d grow our fruit and vegetables; have chickens in the coop; prepared preserves; used cheaper cuts of meat; very little of anything ever was wasted. I continue to adopt this approach in my cooking today, which produces a much better quality dish.
Home cooking has evolved a lot since back then. Thanks to Melbourne’s wonderful multi-cultural community, we’ve embraced greater diversity with the different cuisines we enjoy. A greater variety of produce is available. We no longer only get two types of potato (washed and unwashed), and carrots are no longer just orange. But maybe, in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction? For some, good food has started to feel unapproachable and pretentious. We are prone to comparing our cooking ability to intimidating “home cooks” on reality television who could give most professional chefs a run for their money. Or we compare our dishes to the foodporn that swamps social media. Food must not only taste good; it requires layers of textures, stimulates all the senses, is prepared in a science lab, and presents as a work of art. Is it any wonder that it just seems all a bit too hard? I want to challenge that belief and show people that they can create good food in their home kitchens.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our lives. Lockdowns and reduced seating capacity have decimated the hospitality industry. Sadly, it has been the final nail in the coffin for many restaurants and cafes, with many closing their doors permanently. Now, we race to secure reservations as restrictions end. We are limited to an hour or two to scoff down our meal, with waiters breathing down our neck, hurrying us along to make room for the next booking.
All in all, it’s a not so enjoyable dining experience, and one might wonder why bother? As businesses attempt to recoup their losses and offset additional expenses, I fear we might expect to see hikes in menu prices. It promotes a “charge them more and give them less” attitude, making these establishments less affordable to many experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. The outlook is grim for the hospitality industry and those who enjoy dining out!
But with adversity comes opportunity! We have more time to cook, learn and hone our skills. And sharing a meal at the dinner table is a chance to bond with loved ones. It offers a way to save some money and relieve some financial stress. Cooking provides a means to achieve mindfulness and connect with others to promote our mental well-being. Now is a time to redefine the role of food in our lives. Fanks Kitchen is here to help you transition into this new world. I hope you will join me, stay awhile, and find your food passion!