Claudia Karvan: ”I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook”

One of Australia’s most recognised actors on learning Spanish, living in Bali and her last meal on earth.
Daniel Nadel/DLMAU

I think I must have had a sixth sense that the world was going to get locked down, because I crammed a crazy amount of travel in the four years before COVID hit. I love travel – it forces you to be in the present. Everything is exciting: reading a bus route, finding a train station, or finding a good cup of tea. Everything is an adventure.

There are quite a few places I want to go back to when I can. I did a film in Jordan and went across to Palestine and I really want to go back there. I love Mexico City, I reckon that’s my favourite city in the world. Galapagos Islands. Anywhere in South America. I’d like to go to Spain. I’ve been learning Spanish for the last three years and I’ve never been.

I am thrilled to be Noni Hazlehurst’s daughter in June Again. She’s one of the hardest-working actors in Australia, but we had never worked together. We’d never even really met. It’s quite bizarre! So that was exciting. Our relationship [in the film] is interesting because June is quite domineering … she won’t allow her children to grow up. It wasn’t a mother-daughter relationship where we had to build up a lot of affection and be tactile. There was tension, which was good. Noni is very direct. She’s really forthright. She’s a veteran, and she doesn’t suffer fools. It was a good dynamic. We shot in and around Sydney, in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, and a fantastic wallpaper factory in Annandale.

Everything is local [in Sydney’s Redfern]. You can jump on a bike to get anywhere. I used to ride with my kids, drop them off to school, and then ride down to Woolloomooloo to my office and back. I’d think: Oh, life can be so simple. You can take so much of the stress out of life just by keeping things local. As for cafés, I love St Jude and Little Evie. RK San is a great Japanese restaurant that’s within walking distance for me. I love Zensation – a beautiful tea shop with lots of yummy dumplings. There’s a pizza place called La Panchina, which is Italian for “park bench”. It’s my son’s friend’s dad’s restaurant. They just have pizza and tiramisù – and it’s really authentic, great pizza.

I do like cooking at home… I’m a by-the-seat-of-my-pants cook. My dad was a really good cook, and the way he taught me was fairly loosey-goosey. I started to be serious about making meals when I began fantasising about leaving home and I realised that I would need to feed myself. Anytime we’d have family meals, I’d follow him around and ask annoying questions. He just had an instinct for it. He loves reading cookbooks – I remember he would fall asleep on a Sunday afternoon on the couch, reading Elizabeth David, or Charmaine Solomon, or Tony Bilson. He owned a nightclub with a restaurant attached, and every now and again he’d lose a chef and he would have to do all the cooking. He knew what he was doing. He made a mean pecan pie too!

I love Bali. When I was eight or nine I lived there for a year with my family. I always associate it with that magical period of my childhood. Bali was a very different place then. I remember the first KFC opening up – because there was no fast food, no highways. Monkeys everywhere. It felt like a real adventure. We were always eating beautiful food at night markets. A lot of smoked fish in banana leaves and black sticky rice with coconut milk. Delicious.

My last meal on earth would be pasta. Chilli-infused figs and ricotta with freshly made saffron pasta. I have to mention my favourite meal I have ever had in my entire life, that I dream about almost every morning, is roti with fish curry from a food stand by the side of the road in Malaysia. Hands down the best breakfast you could ever have. I think some of my favourite meals have been from night markets in Indonesia or Thailand or Bali. That atmosphere, and how spontaneous the food is – it’s the best.

Claudia Karvan stars in June Again, which is in cinemas May 6.

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