A good meal, it can be said, has the power to travel beyond a plate and connect you to people, places and memories across different spaces and times. From the streets of London to alfresco dining in Italy, and now back to her roots in Australia, Gemma has been eating, cooking and loving food for most of her life. With a passion for simple cooking, we caught up with Gemma to discuss the journeys of being a chef and parenting, all whilst living with MS.
How were you first introduced into the world of cooking?
Growing up, I used to spend school holidays at my grandparent’s house in Murrurundi in regional NSW. I used to love helping my nan prepare and cook food traditionally, without the benefit of modern appliances and equipment.
How would you describe your cooking and what can people expect from your food?
I am big on food styling and presentation. I believe that the eye eats the food before it reaches your palate!
Can you share with us some successful career highlights to-date?
I’ve been fortunate enough to cook for a number of celebrities including Kylie Minogue, David Beckham and Richard Branson, and have also catered for the film set of a Sarah Blasko music video.
What role does food play in your mental wellbeing and how did you first discover this connection?
After being overweight as a teenager, I experienced first-hand the mental health benefits which come with exercise and healthy eating. I successfully lost 25kg through hard work and dedication.
Could you share a little background on your journey with MS?
MS was first introduced to my family when I was 15 when my big sister was diagnosed. After watching her manage it for 20+ years, it came as quite a shock when I was diagnosed with RRMS in 2017. I realised very quickly that everyone’s MS journey is different. After my first treatment strategy didn’t work out, I was switched to Ocrevus, which seems to be working well for me at this point in time. I try to stay physically and mentally strong as best as I can, and I love participating in events to raise funds for research.
How has food influenced and helped you manage and live with MS?
After my diagnosis, I did a lot of research on how nutrition and diet may be able to help. As a result, I now aim to avoid red meat and dairy products as much as possible, and it’s been great to expand my culinary knowledge in the preparation of different dietary requirements.
What keeps you motivated?
The three boys in my life – aged 40, 8 and 6 who rely on me greatly, day-in and day-out! Their support to keep me up when I’m feeling down really helps me.
Being a parent, have you noticed any changes in your food values?
The ability of kids to happily eat something one day, then completely refuse it the next certainly keeps you on your toes! Kids can be the worst food critics ever! I have found that involving my boys in food preparation does increase the likelihood of them eating the finished product though.
What are you passionate about within the food and health industry?
I am passionate about the experience of food. Whether it is dining in a restaurant with great ambience, a picnic in the park where everyone brings a plate or enjoying a family celebration at home; food brings people together to share life and build memories.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve eaten?
There are many memorable experiences that would be a worthy answer to this question. However, if I have to choose one, it would be when I was taken by my Italian friend to a trattoria in Trastevere, Rome. There’s a reason Mediterranean food is so popular – it’s simple food made well. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good Affogato!
Where can people connect with you and see more of your work?
Last year I co-authored a 50-recipe eBook as part of a project for Queensland Meals on Wheels. I undertook the majority of the preparation and presentation for this project, which can be viewed here. I am also a Hospitality Trainer at the Institute of Culinary Excellence, so anyone interested in a career change to Commercial Cookery can always come and join a course!
You can see more of Gemma’s cooking on her Instagram.