The politics of cooking
Plenty of future plans have been cooked up over long lazy lunches on the University of Adelaide’s Barr Smith Lawns and for Annabel Crabb, those plans actually involved cooking.
Host of Australia’s first dedicated political cooking show, ABC TV’s Kitchen Cabinet, Annabel is one of Australia’s most popular political commentators.
She writes for ABC Online’s The Drum, is a columnist for the Sunday Age, Sun-Herald and Canberra’s Sunday Times, and has worked as a political correspondent and sketch writer for various publications.
She’s also the author of The Wife Drought and soon to be released cookbook, Special Delivery – which she has co-written with one of her oldest friends and Kitchen Cabinet’s recipe consultant, Wendy Sharpe – the plan for which was formulated over university lunches on the lawns.
For Annabel, it’s the cooking part that is fulfilling her lifelong dream to incorporate food into her career. To be able do this in the kitchens of some of Australia’s biggest names in politics combines food with her other passion – asking the tough questions of our country’s leaders.
‘Invading’ their homes armed with a retro cake tin or basket filled with one of her own dessert creations, Annabel’s informal technique of interviewing over the cooktop has seen her charm and disarm the likes of Bronwyn Bishop, Kevin Rudd, Julie Bishop, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Some surprising quirks and personalities are revealed as well as the cooking expertise of some more than capable cooks.
Annabel says her passion for cooking came from being raised by great cooks in her mother and grandmother. Growing up on a sheep farm outside Two Wells in regional South Australia, she also had a lot of ‘shearing/baking experiences’.
Studying a double degree in arts and law, Annabel has fond memories of her days at university, not surprisingly many of these revolve around food – eating cheese triangles in the refectory and “thousands of avocado and cream cheese sandwiches” at the Art Gallery café.
She also spent a lot of time distracting friends in the On Dit offices – friends such as Samantha Maiden, David Penberthy, Vanessa Almeida and Misha Schubert – who have also gone on to forge successful careers. Their names are among the who’s who of Australian media circles – often referred to as ‘the Adelaide mafia’. Annabel also rubbed shoulders with future federal politicians on the university debating stage.
After graduating, Annabel sat for a cadetship at The Advertiser, having identified that a legal career wasn’t for her. She jokes that her law degree is “like a car that’s never left the garage, it doesn’t have a scratch on it!”
“But I’ve never regretted doing a law degree and I feel like I use it almost every day,” she says. “When I got to Canberra and was reporting on federal politics, I found that I wasn’t fazed by legislative language and my knowledge of the Australian constitution was invaluable. I’ve reflected on many occasions that it was a good degree to do.”
Annabel says that aside from the connections she made, she treasures her time at university.
“It made me interested in so many different things – the education I received was an expansionary one which is great to have.
“You can’t learn curiosity which is one of the great advantages of good journalism. The only way to develop curiosity is to have great teachers who tell you interesting things.”
Her own curiosity led Annabel to write The Wife Drought, a book which explores the way the presence of a helpful spouse can be a huge career asset. Although she has a supportive partner, Annabel says her career in modern media is much more self-powered and entrepreneurial, thanks to the different platforms used to convey information.
“I’ve taken huge advantage of that over the years partly because I’ve had three children and I’ve used every drop of flexibility that you can squeeze out of the system that the communications revolution has given us,” says Annabel.
“I feel very fortunate because if I’d started having a family 15 years earlier and tried to do the kind of job that I do, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
“There’s no doubt that the communications revolution has brought many risks and disasters for the media industry but it’s also brought opportunities and I think I’ve been a beneficiary of lots of those.”
Kitchen Cabinet airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on ABC, or catch it on iview.
Story by Genevieve Sanchez