Maggie Beer knows good food. A half century long career spent cooking it, writing about it, serving it, judging it and producing it has meant the country’s most beloved cook recognises the difference that delicious cuisine can make to the wellbeing of all Australians.
Which goes some of the way to explaining why she has been so fervent in her efforts to improve the quality of the food older Australians eat.
The Great Australian Bake Off judge has been front and centre of a national congress on food in aged care, which brought together key stakeholders to explore the relationship between good food, nutrition and the dining experience.A joint initiative of the Maggie Beer Foundation and the Department of Health, the result was the foundation delivering a series of findings which will help inform future government policy relevant to food and nutrition in aged care. It is a position of great trust and one the Barossa Valley resident doesn’t take lightly. “Focusing on food and appetite and, in doing so, good nutrition, stimulates the senses, supports health and wellbeing, provides pleasure, conveys respect and care, and acts as a facilitator for social interaction,” she says. “It provides a sense of purpose and anticipation. It is at the heart of quality of life, and it is an urgent issue.”
Maggie married Colin in Sydney in 1970 and after a few years of ‘high pressure jobs’ they relocated to the Barossa Valley to follow her husband’s vision of farming pheasant and growing grapes. They purchased ‘The Pheasant Farm’ early in 1974 only months after their first daughter Saskia was born. Two years later daughter Elli arrived.
Maggie’s public life began when she started making pâté and roasting the pheasants her husband had raised for customers – stuffing them with currants, citrus and herbs or whatever she happened to have growing at the time. The products were an instant success and offered the impetus for the pair to open The Pheasant Farm Restaurant.
Professional expansionMaggie later expanded her sideline hustle, and as with most things she touched, her pâté business soon turned to gold. So much so that they were able to open a purpose-built, state-of-the art export manufacturing facility in Tanunda. By 2007 they had built an additional facility at the family farm, a venue now known as ‘The Eatery’.
Having sold the premium food product line in 2019, Maggie still retains an interest in the brand bearing her name, holding a seat on the board but offering input into what she describes as ‘flavour and philosophy’.
From its humble beginnings, the family business has grown from just a handful of employees to now being one of the Barossa’s largest employers.
Respecting othersMaggie was named Senior Australian of the Year in 2010 and then South Australian of the Year 2011. Appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her service to tourism and hospitality in 2012, in 2014 she was given the honour of appearing on a postage stamp in the Australia Post Australian Legends Awards.
Now 11 years past the official age of retirement but maintaining her same hectic work schedule, Maggie continues to defy anything related to the ageing process. “No-one treats me differently because of my age,” she says. “It’s a really good age. You know what’s important to you, you know what you can do, you know what drives you.”
Looking aheadMaggie could easily be forgiven for wanting to kick back and take things a little easier. Yet it seems this is unlikely to happen any time soon with her professional commitments continuing to challenge and invigorate her.
“Being open to grabbing opportunities that excite you is definitely one of the things that has given me huge drive and satisfaction,” she says. “How lucky am I that I am never bored in life, that I have things to do that stimulate me?”