Food is many things to many people: comfort, escapism, nourishment or social lubricant, to name a few. My Kitchen Rules contestant Anna Lisle is only too aware of this, and has drawn inspiration from the highs and lows of her own life to write her debut cookbook, Bowl & Fork.
A country girl raised on her family’s Walcha property, Anna spent much of her time outside, but the kitchen was the one place inside she loved to be. “Every week, Mum and I would have our Saturday morning baking sessions, which I relished,” recounts Anna, “I think this is where my love of cooking began.”
Growing up with limited take away options, a vegetable garden and a family tendency to buy in bulk to limit trips to town, it’s no surprise that Anna’s childhood is reflected in Bowl & Fork. There’s a real seasonal focus and produce-driven feel to the recipes.
“My childhood instilled a sense of resourcefulness – when zucchinis were in season, we had zucchini slice for lunch, pickled zucchinis for snacks and zucchini stir fry for dinner,” explains Anna.
“I’m a down-to-earth cook, which I think comes from growing up on the farm. I like approachable, healthy recipes that are packed with flavour. Bowl & Fork is comfort food with a twist; dishes that will satisfy and nourish you at the same time.”
Anna’s childhood may sound idyllic, but she’s also ridden the waves of hardship that life can bring. She’s seen the struggle of life on the land and openly discusses her family’s history of mental illness, including her father’s drought-induced battle with depression and alcoholism, and how as a young adult she was rocked by the sudden death of her brother, Hugh.
At the time of her brother’s death, Anna was living in Sydney building her journalism career. In the months that followed she truly realised how important cooking and food were to her.
“Cooking was one of the few activities that gave me any joy or pleasure. To be in the kitchen, just chopping onions or stirring a pot of soup, was the only place that I felt at peace,” reveals Anna in the introduction to Bowl & Fork.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Anna took on the role of editor at the online restaurant review website Best Restaurants, allowing her to combine her passion for food with her professional expertise as a writer. Three years later she took part in Seven Network’s My Kitchen Rules with her mother, Cathy, and is now one of the fortunate among us who love what they do.
“For people who love cooking, MKR is a godsend. I used to think food and cooking was an indulgence; I didn’t ever consider I could actually make a living out of it,” she says.
Bowl & Fork brings together all Anna has experienced in her 28 years: the seasonality of her childhood; multicultural influences discovered while travelling; and above all, a love of feeding, nourishing and delighting her family and friends. Some recipes are complex, perfect for relaxing afternoons in the kitchen, while others will suit those who need to quickly get something on the table at the end of the day. All of the recipes reflect Anna’s desire to eat healthily without compromising on flavour.
Beautifully presented, with images shot on the Lisle family property and styled by Tamworth’s Jane Graystone, Bowl & Fork will be equally at home on a coffee table, or well-loved and spattered with food on the kitchen bench.
With one book done, Anna is full steam ahead. She lists cookbook number two as her next project and, with her mother, she runs The Walcha Kitchen, a cooking school based on the family property. The two have also launched their own gourmet food range, currently offering small batch muesli, granola and cereal.