For Justine Schofield, food has always had a strong presence in her life. As the daughter of a French mother and with her ‘meme’ (French for grandmother) living in France when she was a child, Schofield was introduced to the kitchen at a young age and her passion grew from there.
“They’re my biggest influences and I’ve learnt everything from my mum,” Schofield says honestly.
“Mum used to have a little restaurant just out of Berry, in country NSW, when she first came to Australia. She had a little restaurant there and my grandfather was a top chef in France – so food has always been quite relevant for my family.”
“I would travel all the way over to France to stay with [my meme] and it was just amazing to see the way she would cook. They were very basic peasant style dishes but they always tasted amazing…I think that’s another reason why I love food, to take basic ingredients and add some magic and see how they turn out in the end.”
The ability to transform what may seem like basic ingredients into a decadent dish is something Schofield has inherited from her grandma and is evident throughout her first cookbook, Dinner with Justine, and in each episode of Everyday Gourmet on Channel 10 (which she has just finished filming the next 90 episodes for).
And her appeal can be attributed to this very element of her cooking; there’s no pretentiousness, hand-holding or extremely advanced cooking techniques. Schofield knows that not everyone is a trained chef, but still wants to give people the chance to create a dish that feels just like that.
“Because of how well chefs have been trained, they can take it for granted and skip stages. Where I’m happy to tell people step by step basics how to poach an egg, how to make butter, how to do very simple things because that’s what everyone wants to know,” she says.
Often sought out by her friends and family for cooking advice, and stopped on the street by fans, Schofield still refers to herself as a cook and not a chef. It was a mentality that held her back originally from releasing a cookbook, explaining in the book’s intro that she felt a cookbook was only something “grand, awe-inspiring chefs had the legitimacy to do”.
Since overcoming her apprehensions, Schofield faced the difficult task of choosing which recipes made the cut for her book. Though the worry of sharing personal dishes wasn’t a factor in her decisions.
“I will share absolutely everything,” Schofield says to whether she’s ever thought of “keeping” certain recipes private.
“I learnt that on Masterchef. I always remember Gary Mehigan coming up to us and everyone was trying to guard their recipes in case they wanted to cook them on the show. And I remember him getting so mad at us as a mentor saying, ‘Guys, food is about sharing. It’s always been about sharing and the better cooks would be very happy to share the foods that they grew up with and the foods that they love.’ I’ll always remember that because I think it’s so important to share recipes and food. I think it’s my job to do that now.”
Aside from sharing her recipes, Schofield often shares much of her life through food, as she says, food is a way for her to express herself and show her love through food. She’ll take to sharing aspects of her food journey and her life with GT editor Kylie Oliver as part of a high tea at The Pier in Geelong for Tastes of Central Geelong.
“I love a scone and it’s a must for a high tea, but you know what my favourite thing is? It’s those Cuban sandwiches with the soft white bread and chicken that’s been mixed with walnuts, celery and loads of mayonnaise – you have to have those as a component to a high tea,” she says before adding, “My fingers are crossed [for them].”
Published in Forte Magazine and online.