Food News

Annabel Crabb: how I eat

The political journalist and commentator on grilling politicians and the art of kitchen diplomacy.

Annabel Crabb

Andrew Finlayson, prop styling by Rosie Meehan

You would’ve eaten some interesting meals over six seasons of Kitchen Cabinet. What’s been your most memorable?

I think dining with [Minister for Indigenous Affairs] Nigel Scullion in Darwin still holds an edge. He’s an outdoors guy who has been known to go rabbit trapping in Canberra. He took me out on a boat to get mud crabs and we nearly got marooned in a croc-infested tidal creek. While we were imprisoned on our flimsy craft, he regaled me with the tale of how he once shot a muddie off his thumb with a gun. Nigel cooked sticky chilli crab in the open air and had also prepared some incredible yabby curry puffs.

There must have been some kitchen mishaps, too.

I’m not gonna lie: having Clive Palmer nearly set me alight was unexpected. He was grilling our lunch on a giant gas range (salmon for me, what appeared to be a brontosaurus T-bone for him) and he enthusiastically squirted some cooking spray towards the inferno. It ignited, and I was lucky to escape with my eyebrows.

Who taught you how to cook?

My mum, Christobel, when I was a kid. She’s one of those curious cooks who’s always doing something interesting with quandongs and so on. I remember one period where she was cooking a different cuisine each night to broaden our horizons.

What does a midweek meal look like for your family?

Sometimes there are up to 10 kids around the table because we live in that kind of street. My high-rotation kids’ dishes are minestrone (always add a parmesan rind to make it unforgettable), honey soy salmon with broccoli and rice, and egg noodles with tofu.

The one thing you’d like your children to understand about food?

Chips are potatoes.

Who have you interviewed who completely surprised you?

Filming our new series, The House, I sat down with the [recently retired] Clerk of the Senate, Dr Rosemary Laing. She’s a rather commanding (read: terrifying) figure who worked in Parliament House for a quarter of a century. I didn’t know her personally when we began the series, but I was just charmed by her. She has a PhD in 17th-century English poetry and bursts into tears when recounting great legislative moments in the Senate. She’s brilliant and a bit bonkers.

If we lined up the current G20 world leaders and entered them into a lightning-fast round of MasterChef, who would win?

Angela Merkel would wipe the floor with the lot of them; she’s a sneaky baker, I’ve read. Donald Trump apparently prefers to eat at McDonald’s because there’s low risk of food contamination. This suggests to me that he would have neither the skills nor the judgement to compete. Vladimir Putin would almost certainly have someone else make some snow egg-type creation and pretend it was his own work. Curiously enough, this was also Clive Palmer’s technique on Kitchen Cabinet.

And you’re the wildcard. What would you cook?

I would make a pavlova, because it’s the ultimate dessert of diplomacy. It’s gluten-free, and you can decorate it with the recipient’s favourite things. I once employed pavlova diplomacy when I cooked with Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd during the 2013 election campaign. I separated four eggs and made custard for Tony out of the yolks, and pavlova for Kevin out of the whites. Neither was very thrilled by this gesture, I must admit.

When is your favourite time of the year for eating?

January. There’s absolutely nothing like a perfectly ripe white peach. You can’t really preserve a white peach. You’ve just got to eat as many as you can while they’re around. It’s very hedonistic.

What makes a great restaurant?

Generosity. When I first went to Sixpenny (a little Sydney restaurant near me that charmed its way to the top), it wasn’t just the food that made the place brilliant – it was the little touches: complimentary sparkling water, a warm loaf of bread to take home. A place that is welcoming, with waitstaff who smile, will always pull me back.

Your advice to a total kitchen novice?

You will need more butter than you think.

Annabel Crabb’s most recent series on ABC was The House.

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