Food & Culture

Leigh Sales: how I eat

The 7.30 presenter and author on lobster suppers, special apples and Paul McCartney.

By Lee Tran Lam
Leigh Sales
Leigh Sales

What was in your lunchbox growing up?
I always hated having to eat a packed lunch. In Queensland, it always got so rancid because of the heat. I refused to have a sandwich because it would get sweaty and horrible. I used to eat fruit and Vita-Weats.

You've said that going to your local Chinese restaurant, Double Golden Dragon, was a special event. What did you order?
Old-school Chinese fare like sweet-and-sour pork, spring rolls and beef in black-bean sauce.

Do you have a favourite scoop from your time studying journalism?
There was a huge story in the early '90s about James Scott, a medical student who went missing in the Himalayas and was miraculously found after around 40 days in freezing conditions. I scored an interview with one of his hiking companions, who happened to be the brother of one of my best =friends.

One of your earliest stories was about charity lunches for the homeless. What did you take away from it?
How lucky I was to not be homeless on Christmas Day.

You were the ABC's Washington correspondent during an eventful period of the Bush administration. How was it covering 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Hurricane Katrina?
That was a massive news period to be there and a very scary time for the world. I remember being so shocked at the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. I visited Biloxi right on the coast and it was like a pile of toothpicks. It was hard to believe it had ever been full of buildings.

Did you become a fan of American food?
I ate some truly dreadful food, but had some amazing meals, too. I did a road trip with my friend Melissa through Maine, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and we had the most incredible lobster suppers almost every night in community halls. We'd start with a bucket of mussels, have a lobster each, and then a slice of whatever pie was on offer.

In your new book, Any Ordinary Day, you write of your role hosting 7.30, "I sometimes interview people on the best days of their lives and often on the worst." How do you prepare for that?
It's hard. I ask the production team to let me know if there's any particularly confronting material in the stories. I try to remain detached if the material is very sad or emotional. I find animal cruelty and child abuse stories very hard to take.

In the book you're also upfront about the uterine rupture you suffered during the birth of your second child. What made you feel ready to write about this?
The fact it had had such a profound impact on me as a person and my view of the fragility of life.

The likelihood of someone having MS and being a terrorist's hostage is one in 1.39 billion, but that's what happened to Louisa Hope, who is interviewed in your book. Do you often think about luck and the role it plays in our lives?
All the time. I am grateful for where I am, because it is mostly due to an accident of birth. I don't believe in God or fortunes or anything like that, but I do find myself doing silly superstitious rituals, things like, "If this light stays green, then the Prime Minister will say yes for a 7.30 interview tonight."

During a difficult time in your life your friends dropped off dinners with entertaining labels. What was the "Trump's 'Grab 'Em By The Pussy' Chicken and Vegies" like?
Ha! That one was basically roast chicken and vegies, nothing that had any real connection to Donald Trump. My friends providing food is a practical way of showing they care. My friend Ping dropped me off a fish pie recently when my father died and it was so comforting. I try to do the same for others in return.

You ate at Blue Hill in Manhattan during a recent trip to New York. How was it?
Usually I'm very sceptical of that kind of dining. I always feel like, "Am I about to be the kind of rube who pays $45 for a raw carrot? How good can a carrot be?" The answer is that it can be extraordinary. Everything about Blue Hill was flawless. The last thing they served was an apple cut into slices. The variety of apple was a snapdragon, which I don't think we have in Australia. It was the most astonishingly delicious apple I've ever eaten. I felt tears well in my eyes – it was that perfect.

You scored the only Australian TV interview that Paul McCartney gave during his tour last year. Saying it was a big deal for you might be an understatement.
My parents owned Help!, Rubber Soul and Revolver, so they were the first Beatles albums I ever heard. I'm a massive fan and meeting him was one of the greatest days of my life.

You also got to play the "Magical Mystery Tour" piano he's used onstage for 30 years. How did it feel to hit the same keys he has?
I don't think I was that happy on my own wedding day.

Appearing on Play School must come close as a career highlight, though?
My kids think so. They were far more excited by that than they are by me appearing on 7.30.

Do you reach for the popcorn when a leadership spill occurs?
I wish I had time to break out the popcorn! I'm always the one at the centre of the action on TV. Huge news days are very intense and I am wrung out afterwards.

You and Annabel Crabb mentioned a recipe for "Chatters' Crack" on your podcast, Chat 10 Looks 3, that ended up going viral. What's in it?
It's basically a slice made of Saladas, toffee, chocolate and toasted almonds. It went absolutely insane among the listeners of Chat 10. We heard that sales of Saladas went crazy.

Any Ordinary Day (Penguin Random House, pbk, $34.99) is out now. 7.30 is on the ABC Monday to Thursday each week.

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  • Author: Lee Tran Lam