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Lani's interview

Interview by Laurence Interview by Laurence

We interviewed Lani!

Visit the blog: Fig and Walnut.

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"I would never refuse food - and to limit your tastebuds robs you of a potential love affair in the future."

Hello Lani, so tell us...

When did you begin your blog, and what inspired you to start it?

I come from a media background, working as a producer, casting director, production coordinator, researcher and writer on many different award-winning productions. I liked my work, but none of it felt quite right. I went back to uni, studying for my Masters in Teaching. I got a job as a cooking teacher for the local council and started to think about a career in food.

However, it wasn't until I worked on a local television station documentary on the many contributions of immigrants to our country that I really considered a career with food - specifically, food media. I researched and wrote stories on a number of prominent people in the Melbourne food industry - meaning I got to spend a lot of time 'on location'.

I got to meet and work with the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Vittorio and Giuseppina De Bortoli: the prominent Italian family that have owned and operated De Bortoli Wines since 1928. We attended the family's annual Brick, Stick and Straw salami-making day in 2010. It was a beautiful, crisp heartwarming autumn day in the Yarra Valley vineyards; we filmed an interview with Leanne De Bortoli and her two daughters, backdropped against acres of vines. I thought to myself: I could get used to this.

So I started fig & walnut. I enrolled and graduated from pastry school. I started a Masters of Food Studies, majoring in Food Writing. I am still working at the council, teaching cooking classes to adults with disabilities. It is marvellously rewarding work, and instead of a 9 - 5 desk job I now fill my time with little morsels; I teach, I write, I photograph, I research, I cook, and most importantly, I eat.

What is your earliest food memory?

In my family, as in most, my grandmother was the baker. Me and one of my 10 cousins would always stay over at her house on the weekends, and when we woke up we knew Nan would be in the kitchen, fresh blueberries, eggs, flour, brown sugar, and fragrant cinnamon sitting on the counter waiting for us to arrive. Into adulthood we all still talk about 'Nan's blueberry muffins', and to this day they are the softest, sweetest and most delicious muffins I have ever eaten.

We would mix up the batter together - not measuring anything but somehow always turning out the same - in her light green plastic Tupperware mixing bowl from the 1970's. The bowl had a divet in one side where some long past cooking blunder saw a hot metal spatula (or perhaps spoon?) thrown into the bowl. We scooped as much batter as we could into colourful muffin liners, anxiety increasing in our tiny chests as more and more batter was scraped from the side of the bowl. But alas - there was always more left than it seemed - ample for our tongues and fingers to scrape off the sides and hurriedly consume with delight. We would always end up with sweet, cinnamon spiced gobs on our nose, on our cheeks, in our hair - which Nan would wipe off with a giggle and a smile.

We would sit patiently, watching the oven, waiting for our little cakes to rise out of their pans, blueberries popping to the top like apples in a barrel. Bursting their thin skins, violet juice would bubble over, leaving glistening trails over the unblemished domes. Hot out of the oven, we would grab them out of the pan and slowly pinch off the wrappers, shaking our scalded fingers but in too much of a rush to wait. We would slice them open, spread with real butter which would melt and seep through before we got the muffins into our mouths. When I visit my Nan she sometimes makes me a batch, and has also been known to send me a few in the mail. I am always transported back to those early mornings, where life was glorious and nothing could defeat us.

Are you involved in the blogging community - how do you attract new readers?

Luckily here in Melbourne, Australia it is easy to be involved in the blogging community. There are a number of amazing bloggers that contribute to the culinary offerings of our city - from contributing to our world famous Food and Wine Festival, to running events for other bloggers and the public such as the recent 'Carnivore's Ball', now spreading overseas to the USA. I try and log into twitter every day to see what everyone else is up to - it is a great way to make new friends, meet other bloggers with the same interests, and to find out what is going on in your city.

You have a great selection of different cuisines, do you have a favorite world cuisine?

My favourite cuisine. That is a hard one. There are so many cultures with rich culinary heritages, it is hard to pick just one. I'd say it would be a tie between Mexican and Cajun/Creole cuisine from Louisiana. Mexican cuisine is on UNESCO's list representing the 'Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity', and it deserves this accolade as it is such an elaborate and unique cuisine, far beyond tacos and burritos.

Cajun/Creole on the other hand is equally fascinating as it is a 'developed' cuisine, with its roots firmly in French cuisine, but adapting to the local environment and blending Italian, German, Native American, Caribbean, African, Portuguese cuisines as a start. Jambalaya, gumbo, po'boys, beignets, shrimp creole - it is a cuisine focussed around hearty, homecooked meals. As Mark Twain said, 'New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.'

What is/are your go to recipe(s) if you’re preparing a last minute dinner or party?

When I have last minute guests my favourite recipe to whip up in 15 minutes is my Ginger and Orange Salmon on Green Tea Soba Noodles. It tastes and looks classy and fussy, but it uses only 8 ingredients. Grab some fresh salmon, avocado and asparagus on your way home and have it on the table by 6PM!

Is there any dish, ingredient or type of food you refuse to cook or eat?

As a food writer I am often handed meals that make me squeamish. But again, as a food writer, I feel a duty to eat it regardless of my feeling towards the dish. As a vegetarian, then a pollo-vegetarian, then pesco/pollo throughout my childhood and teenage years, I still maintain elements of my previously restricted diet - for example I prefer soy over dairy, any day, and I sometimes still have trouble eating certain types of meat. Offal, mainly - I just can't bring myself to enjoy it, even though I know it is silly.

But when I am handed a bowl of slimy liver soup in China by a friend who has taken me to the restaurant his family has been visiting for generations, or a plate of mollejas glaceada, an Argentinian dish comprising of glazed calf thymus glands, I pull myself together and eat it. I would never refuse food - and to limit your tastebuds robs you of a potential love affair in the future. When I first tried wine I hated it - I didn't drink it for many years, but when I decided to give it another go I realised what I had been missing!

What are your goals for this blog? Where would you like to see it in the next year? Five years?

Fig & Walnut is constantly growing and expanding - what started as an outlet to share recipes I collect on my travels around the world and I develop as a chef, has grown to restaurant reviewing and culinary travel guides. Coming up on our two year anniversary it is great to see what the blog has given me over the past two years, and what I have been able to give out to my readers.

Over the next year there are a lot of exciting things coming up on the blog. I don't want to give away too much but in 4 months I will be leaving Australia for the foreseeable future. 2014 will see me spending the year travelling the world and getting involved in as many food projects, events and experiences as possible, which you can be sure will all feature on the blog. Keep an eye out for posts from San Francisco, New Orleans' Mardi Gras Carnival Season, New York, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Austria, Croatia, the UK and more. As part of my Masters degree in Food Studies through University of Adelaide I will be researching and discovering as many culinary heritages as I can.

Thank you Lani for answering our questions and see you soon!
Published by Laurence - 08/14/2013

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