I first met award-winning chef Sean Connolly as a TV star.
It was the best and worst of times, spending time beside my brother as he battled disease through chemotherapy. Holed up in his tiny flat we made the most of slivers of time when, in reprieve from pain, we would chat, sharing memories punctuated by TV shows – laughing at Marriage at First ‘Bite’, marvelling at David Attenborough’s wonderful world, or salivating over Sean’s Kitchen on TV.
Stretched out across the lounge, we watched, fascinated, as Sean supervised the building of his latest kitchen in Dubai. A marvel it was, a world away from our reality.
A few weeks later, when we met at his restaurant, The Balcony in Byron Bay, I related this story to Sean.
“Bless!” he said, after listening intently; a blessing for my brother’s good health and perhaps also a realisation of the joy he had brought us.
A month later, his cookbook arrived in the post: ‘My Family Feast, a world of family recipes and traditions’, a chronicle of Sean’s journey into the homes of thirteen Australian families.
In this visual and culinary journey, each chapter takes us into the kitchen of an Australian migrant family. Having left their homelands of Burma, Cuba, China, Italy, Afghanistan, Argentina, each family retains their cultural heritage and traditions through food, showing Sean how to cook a family feast with recipes and techniques that have been lovingly passed from generation to generation.
Sharing a meal with another family is one of the most intimate and challenging experiences, requiring us to put aside food preferences and open the mind to understanding.
Sean, the patient listener and observer, is himself a migrant, having grown up in Yorkshire, training in a French kitchen before migrating to Australia at the age of twenty-one. In 2008, he was named the Sydney Morning Herald ‘Chef of the Year’ and opened Sean’s Kitchen (now with restaurants in Adelaide Casino, The Morrison Bar & Oyster Room in Sydney, Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera, and The Balcony Bar & Oyster Room, Byron Bay).
With my cookbook personally autographed, “…Big love, Sean C.”, it’s the same sentiment borne out in the cookbook (and in the 13-part TV series): Big love: the love of the cook providing for family, the respect for ingredients, the honour of traditional cooking methods and real food, the heart behind the cuisine.
As Sean gives us an entree into each family, their lives are as eye-opening to him as they are to us, whether they are carrying on the African tradition of men bringing the food (in this case, killing a goat in the backyard) or, as mother, taking the time to make a complicated soup for the family just because they want to eat it. There’s a mix of familiar and unfamiliar recipes from gozleme to loukoumades (Greek honey balls) or barbequed ox tongue and jellyfish and chicken salad, as we witness their family feasts of food prepared with love.
Food. It’s a celebration of food, family, and life itself. Big love.
My Family Feast: a world of family recipes and traditions by Sean Connolly
Hardie Grant Books 2010
ISBN 1740668965 RRP $59.95