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A little more of what I care about…

I feel privileged to have been born in a country with such an abundance of natural produce, which we all seem to hold so much respect for, so it is part of my duty as a chef, a member of my community, and as a human, to do whatever I can to protect and encourage environmentally mindful food consumption.Sustainability and health are my first priorities, and I aim to provide as much information on both not only through my cooking but also through my partnerships as well.

The environment is of the utmost importance to me, and as such, it is essential that my cooking follow the seasons. But never fear, this is what makes cooking exciting as it forces creativity, and provides a great atmosphere for learning. I am also passionate about people and education, and some of the most valuable wisdom you can acquire about food comes from those that farm, cultivate, and source the local ingredients we use every day. So get out there, and start chatting with your local growers and farmers!

Having coped with a number of my own intolerances, sensitivities, and health issues for a large portion of my life (learn more about this by reading my blog I Have a Complicated Relationship with my Body), I strive to create dishes that take into consideration the many concerns that each of us feel in our individual relationships with food. You will find stacks of recipes here that are budget, environmentally and family friendly. You will also find dishes that are all about convenience and making healthy food into ‘fast food’. All of my recipes will include a multitude of options should your intolerances require you to substitute individual ingredients. They will all naturally be things I can personally enjoy and test so that you can expect a whole range of gluten-, refined sugar, and grain-free options.

Last but by all means not least, I am deeply passionate about flavour. You will never live healthy and environmentally conscious lives if what you’re cooking isn’t tasty! One of my favourite things about MasterChef was the judges frequently referring to my dishes as flavour bombs, so you can expect that every dish I recommend is full-on, spoon-tappingly, moreishly scrum-diddly-umptious!

Other than being a mouthful, what is environmentally mindful food consumption? I think it is very much open to interpretation but fundamentally, when we choose what foods to grow, buy, prepare and eat there are many ways we can be a little more considerate of ourselves, each other and our home – Earth. Here are just a few items to consider:

A passion for plants– aim for at least half of every plate you consume to be plant-based, this quite happily aids our bodily functions and enriches the environment. It generally means there’s less processing involved too, so less water and electricity used in their creation, and more natural foods headed straight towards our mind and body for the best fuel possible.

Minimal meat– consider lots of different sources of protein intake including eggs, nuts, and seeds.  If and when you choose to consume meats including but not limited to beef, pork and lamb, be mindful of their treatment, growth, and their potential environmental impact. Consider the diet of the animal and how that may affect your diet; for example, I try only to consume grass-fed, organic beef (if it’s grain free, so am I) and, whenever possible, be in contact with either the butcher or farmer responsible for it reaching me.

Sustainable seafood– all seafood is a super precious gift. However, some species of fish are at extreme risk of being overfished and potentially extinct if we continue to consume them at the rate we are. Apps like Seafood Watch, created by the incredible Monterey Bay Aquarium, make choosing our dinner easy with giving us a rating of ‘best’ choices to those, which should be ‘avoided’. Wonderful news from the staff at the aquarium who have been seeing some species of fish become more abundant and off the danger list, within the app’s short life – so they’re doing a great job. I’ve got lots of thoughts on seafood so I’ll return to this topic in greater depth soon.

Keep it close – and when I say that I mean shop as locally and naturally as possible.  If your food is grown within 10-50kms, it’s likely to be fresher, had to travel less thus having less of a footprint and if you buy it from a farmer’s market, it’s most likely organic too.  The best thing about markets is that you get to speak to the farmers – the absolute experts in their field, the people who are most passionate about what they do.  They often have tricks and tips for understanding optimum ripeness, and they may even have a few recipes up their sleeves for you to try. You’ll also feel more compelled to utilise every last skerrick of every vegetable more wisely, when you know the huge effort which the farmers have gone to, to nurture your veggies (keep your eyes peeled for my tips on pickling wilting veggies). Another great option is to join a food co-op, there’s plenty around Sydney if you do a quick search and hopefully some in your area too.  Third and finally, you can’t get much more local than your backyard, so grow whatever you can within your capability and space. Herbs are especially easy to grow and can make such a huge difference to flavour.

Sweet and seasonal – Fruit and vegetables are at their best, most nutrient dense and abundant when in season.  Get a little experimental when you have 1kg of asparagus, just because you can. Eat some carrots now, and pickle some for later.  When in season and abundant, fruit and vegetables are often more budget-friendly – you get more for less. This is not rocket science people! Fortunately for us Australian residing people, we have a lot in season all year round!

Respectful and reflect – it’s easy to get caught up in a quick meal, trying to swallow things whole in an attempt to regain a few minutes in each busy day. But it really can’t hurt, in fact, I encourage you to take a few moments to enjoy and consider what you’re eating. Be grateful for the energy you’re being provided and respectful of the nourishment the earth has given us. Taking some time to stop and truly be in the moment can slow us down, offer us perspective and, we may even require a little less food because our bodies can catch up and alert us of when we’re full.

Be on waste watch – this may mean reusing bags, containers, wraps etc., upcycling eggshells, avocado skins and coffee grounds. It may mean you invest in a tumbling compost barrel; you may get some laying chickens that, along with a worm farm, pretty much enjoy most scraps.  Aim to send less and less to the landfill!

Regarding the effects on our individual, community and ‘whole earth health’, all of the above benefits us all.  We thrive when consuming minimally disrupted, natural foods; they nourish us, they can act as anti-inflammatories, and they have medicinal benefits.  While I’m not a doctor (more about that in my blog), I can give you some hints about what foods can assist in alleviating a whole stack of unwanted symptoms. Most of which has been known for centuries; so I send a very grateful thank you to our many and wondrous ancestors.

Keep an eye out for my glorious and exciting partnerships.  

Two brains are better than one, and I love to collaborate, providing I’m working with philosophically like-minded individuals, groups, organisations and companies. And you know, we all love a give-away, and I can’t wait to pass on some awesome treats!

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Elena Duggan

Winner of MasterChef 2016, Elena Duggan takes us back to her golden moment ahead of her return to the show as a guest chef in Season 9.