Food & Culture

"I'm deeply proud of it": Julie Gibbs on publishing one of Australia's most seminal cookbooks, gender representation, and her latest project

Kylie Kwong celebrates some of her hospitality heroes and the individuals helping to grow a stronger community. This month, we meet cookbook publisher and storyteller Julie Gibbs.

For the 17 years we've been friends and colleagues I've admired Julie Gibbs' ability to bring the best out in people. Julie truly understands the creative process and has been an amazing conduit for generations of authors; enabling, inspiring, guiding and steering us, while allowing us to authentically tell our stories.
In every book Julie has published, you can feel, see and hear the author beyond the two-dimensional pages, which is testament to her remarkable talent and dedication. I trust Julie implicitly and respect her, and can't wait to experience her latest project with the Powerhouse Museum. - Kylie Kwong

Community x Kylie: Julie Gibbs

If you are the owner of a well-worn, sauce-splattered copy of Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion, you have Julie Gibbs to thank for it. Not that she will take credit.
"That's the most flattering thing ever as a publisher or an author, if you see a well-worn copy of a book you have produced. It's the best feeling."
Gibbs was 31 when she published Alexander's culinary tome in 1996, turning the respected chef into a best-selling author and household name – something she would go on to do with many more chefs, including Maggie Beer, Kylie Kwong, David Thompson and Matt Moran.
"I had been a general trade publisher and loved that but food was always a personal passion… When I started doing it, there were not many publishers doing cookery, not locally produced books."
Nearly 25 years later, The Cook's Companion is still in circulation, having sold more than half a million copies worldwide.
"I'm deeply proud of it," says Gibbs, who was invited to start her own publishing imprint Lantern in 2004, following the success of her early cookbooks. "Stephanie had put so much work into it, it was a major, major piece of work. She is so rigorous being a librarian, she was dogged in her commitment to producing that book. And because she was running a big restaurant, she did it in her spare time. It came out in 1996 and just took off in a way that we never could have imagined. People took it into their hearts."
Its success, she believes, was due to both its comprehensiveness and its timing.
"When I was publishing those books, there was no internet so they were books of information that people very much needed. That was how they got their recipes. The Cook's Companion was this vital household handbook. To get all that information anywhere else was impossible. That was a very big part of the food publishing phenomenon in the beginning. It was about giving people a beautifully curated compendium of information."
By 2015, that landscape had changed and Penguin Random House made the decision to close the Lantern imprint, after more than a decade of publishing some of Australia's best-selling cookbooks and raising the profile of dozens of Australian chefs, in particular, female chefs.
"I grew up in the 70s and feminism has always been very important to me," says Gibbs. "Seeing female chefs represented in the industry is really vital. Even now, we've still got to work hard at that."

Now Gibbs is on a new mission, creating a national culinary archive for the Powerhouse Museum. The project, which was announced in March, is the first of its kind and will focus on Australia's contemporary culinary history, from 1968 onwards.
"The archive is really important. There are so many tasks to do with it. One is to try to gather together treasure. The other one – and my next big push – is to educate the younger chefs now to keep things. That's my big crusade. Don't throw away your bookings books or your menu notes, or your Covid notices or takeaway menus. Keep your design briefs. Because coming back to this will be fascinating for people," she says.
The families of Margaret Fulton and Tony Bilson are already involved in the project and Gibbs is eager to hear from others in the food industry who may have treasure waiting to be uncovered.
"I just want people to know that now there is a place where their material will be faithfully preserved. It's all in one place and it's going to tell a really important story. They will have access to it and their families to come will have access to it."
Introduction by Kylie Kwong. Words by Joanna Hunkin.