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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Tina Duncan talks about Plated

Born and bred on a Canterbury farm, Tina Duncan's love for food started literally standing under her mother’s apron strings helping to cook for a family of eight. Cooking full roast dinners by the age of ten and dinner parties shortly thereafter, Tina has always gravitated to the kitchen to fulfil not only her love of food, but also to share her love for others. Regarded as one of New Zealand's culinary gems, Tina talks to NZ Booklovers about Plated.

Tell us a little about Plated.

Plated is the result of me finally sitting down to sift through 60 years of recipes! I have loved to be in the kitchen since I could walk, cooking is my love language and that’s exactly what I’ve aimed to share with Plated. It’s a collection of my favourites from basics to family cooking, sophisticated dinner parties, shortcuts, tips, essentials and most importantly for me, entertaining without being a slave to the stove. I’m sharing everything I’ve learned from a career in catering – how far to prep in advance, how long things can hold, how to guarantee success with a runsheet and a thermometer.

What inspired you to create this book?

To be honest, a little nagging from others. I have been running cooking classes for more than 20 years and over those years clients have frequently hounded me for a cookbook, even my husband before his passing said to me, “Tina, would you do that bloody book.” But I have adored every minute of it. It’s been nostalgic, stimulating, life-affirming and incredibly fun the whole way.

What was your routine or process when creating the recipes and the photographs?

The first major task was choosing 130 recipes from thousands and thousands over my life in food. I’ve curated a collection that includes items from my childhood, my children’s childhoods, event catering and classes. The recipes span 60 years because there are so many great dishes that I still pull out on the right night – it’s not specific to a time, or what food trends are today.

Once I’d landed on a final list I was happy with, we began shooting the dishes. This was done at my home by my sister, Maria, on her iPhone. Yes, her iPhone. Some days it fell together perfectly, others not so much – it took three days of shooting to get the Christmas pudding with visible flame before I was finally happy.

And for months, friends and family gleefully benefited from it all! I would send out a message, “first in first served” and everything would be snapped up. Not a scrap of wastage.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

There actually is a soundtrack to the book! My darling cousin, Charlotte Ryan from Radio New Zealand’s Music 101, put together a Spotify playlist called ‘Tina Loves To Cook’ and it’s just wonderful. Two of my favourites would be gently humming along to the divine Marlon Williams and My Boy while cooking away, and Nina Simone Feeling Good is brilliant while putting the finishing touches to a dinner party!

Who is this cookbook for? What do you think home cooks will enjoy the most about Plated?

It’s my legacy for my four daughters and six grandchildren but it is really for everyone. What has been the most joyful experience is the sharing from home cooks of their Plated recipe cooking, the fact they’re thrilled the food looks just like the photo! It was designed to be authentic, no photoshopping, just what the food comes out like. And for my readers, that seems to have really hit a nerve. I received a stunning photo of the salmon fillet with prawn, fennel and orange from an 11-year-old and it looked just like the photo in the book – how about that?! I think home cooks are really enjoying the accessibility of it, that there is something for every day or every occasion and it’s achievable.

If you had to choose three favourite recipes, what would they be, and why are they your favourites?

This is like choosing a favourite child! I always say my favourite is usually what I’m eating at the time, but I’ll have a go…

Nellie’s Brawn is definitely one, this is my mother’s brawn recipe, and my siblings would walk over hot coals to get their hands on some. It’s just the taste of childhood on the farm.

I am known as a bit of a dessert fiend, so I’d have to pick a pudding, probably Marmalade Steamed Pudding which I simply adore anytime of the year. My mother always cooked dessert, and always had jars and jars of homemade marmalade on the shelf. I’ve used this recipe my whole life, including in catering, and it’s still such a winner.

And probably Mahogany salmon, known as THE White Tie Catering Salmon. I developed it many moons ago with the founder, Michael Lee-Richards, and we couldn’t take it off our menu ever. Someone at the book launch even told me buying the book was worth it just to get their hands on that recipe! I’ve served it to diplomats at APEC dinners, world-renowned chefs at Savour New Zealand, dinner parties, weddings, anything and everything, always to rave reviews.

What did you enjoy the most about creating Plated?

The nepotism! My sister shot the book, my daughter helped write the stories, my other daughters edited, ate, tested, chose photos. My dearest friends did dishes, made me cups of tea and put my feet up when I was exhausted. My daughter who is the now General Manager of White Tie Catering planned the launch. I was so incredibly supported and it made me realise what an incredible loving and giving family and food community I have around me in our beloved Ōtautahi.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Other than popping champagne with my family (obviously), I celebrated with a launch with 200 people in the stunning Great Hall in the Christchurch Art’s Centre, where I had catered hundreds of weddings over the years. The guests were my family, friends, supporters and clients who have done nothing but lift me up through my career and it was the greatest thrill to share this with them all.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I belong to a book club with friends, and we meet monthly taking turns at hosting a lunch – we talk books and food! I have two favourites this year, Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus and We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan. Lessons in Chemistry is mostly about the chemistry of food but written as a novel with wonderful sharp wit. We Are All Birds of Uganda is simply fascinating, crossing multiple generations and regime change in Uganda, and finding a sense of purpose and belonging. Highly recommend both.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I really don’t know yet! I’m enjoying the relief and sense of completion, and the book’s success which has taken me by surprise. So next on the agenda is taking a breath.

Camberdown Press

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