She’s one of the most iconic names in Australian culinary history and we’re honoured to speak to the incredible Maggie Beer who’s latest mission is to spice up aged care cooking.
What inspired you to start the Maggie Beer Foundation in 2014 to raise awareness about food in the aged care space?
It was a shock to me to hear of Australian studies showing how many residents in aged care homes are malnourished. Of course, there are many negative outcomes from this but my first thought was: where is their pleasure in life coming from? That’s really where this journey began. It’s about those in aged care not fortunate enough to have leadership that understands the importance and difference that good food and the way it is delivered can make. We believe that by working closely with those who wish to embrace the principles of the joy that food can bring, we can bring about this change by creating a movement of sorts that I hope will encourage everyone to follow.
Why do you think most of the population are so ill-informed in relation to the quality of food being served in aged care homes?
It simply doesn’t have the appeal that modern young chefs can garner in their work. The food in aged care is not universally appealing, unless you are directly involved or have a loved one in a home, so there just isn’t the interest.
What has been your greatest lesson in business so far?
Recognising what I don’t know and having the right people to fill the gaps in my own ability. I have incredible support – both from my own family and from my team at Maggie Beer Products. I have always been the first to admit I can’t do everything needed for the success of my business and professional life on my own. Knowing this is the key to how the puzzle comes together on a daily basis. It’s a juggle, that’s for sure! But one I wouldn’t change for anything.
If you could go back in time, what’s one thing you would change about your journey to date?
It may sound trite to say, but I really don’t think there’d be anything I’d change. Even the most difficult and challenging of times set the groundwork for further tenacity or lateral thinking, so while I may not have always received what it was I wanted at the time, I can truly say I ended up with what was needed.
In terms of women in leadership positions, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in your time?
The very notion that women can now have it ‘all’ – career, family, social time – is a double-edged sword I think. It is easier to reach goals on the one hand because the generational restrictions and expectations have dissolved to a degree, but on the other hand, trying to manage your time to cover all aspects of home life and career is a very difficult balance to strike.
At the ICMI Women in Leadership conference in 2016, you said you really didn’t discover what you wanted to do for quite some time. What advice do you have for others who may be feeling a little lost career/passion-wise?
I’ve never had a grand plan. All I ever was doing was pleasing myself, really. Pleasing my own palate, and thinking, “OK, if I like it, everyone else will too…” I was terribly naive. But it worked because I was always looking for the best way to do something. That has to be my best advice: once you have nutted out what you feel most engaged in life, find a way to do it to the very best of your ability, in a way that makes it your own, not following the status quo.
What are some of your proudest achievements to date?
This is a very hard question to answer! I’ll have to give my top 6, which are a mix of personal and business achievements.
- My partnership with my husband Colin and two strong daughters as well as our 6 beautiful grandchildren
- Creating the Pheasant Farm Restaurant against all odds
- Finding I had a voice in my writing and an ability to share my love of food
- Building our export kitchen in the Barossa where every product we make on a commercial scale, is made with the same care and flavour as if it was made in my own kitchen. Short cuts are an anathema to me
- The creation of the Maggie Beer Foundation
- Having a group of friends I sing with every week – just for joy!