Albury chef Michelle Matusch will be sharing tips and tricks learnt from her vast career spanning country pubs through to high-class international restaurants at this year’s field days.
Michelle will MC the cooking demonstration program staged by Smart Hospitality at the Farm Gate Produce Market pavilion.
Although she grew up on the NSW south coast, Michelle has links to the area as a student at St Paul’s College, Walla, in the late 1980s.
Back then, she was introduced to the Henty Machinery Field Days and the world of farming by a young beau.
An adventurous spirit led Michelle to work on a horse stud, in truck stop kitchens and as a nurse’s aid.
At 21, she undertook a hospitality apprenticeship under a Group Training Scheme in Queensland, allowing her to train over several locations.
“I started at pub level and worked my way to fine dining at major hotel chains before heading overseas to work in the US and Canada,’’ she said.
“My best skill is making something out of nothing – I can whip up a three course meal out of a virtually empty fridge.’’
While staying at Jindera with her sister in 2004, Michelle obtained casual work with Smart Hospitality, in Albury.
“I have been working there on and off ever since – Smart Hospitality have given me the opportunity to work everywhere from small country pubs to larger establishments such as Brown Bros and All Saints Winery.
“This has given me a great insight into the region – its strength is the diversity of produce available.
“In Queensland I spent most of the time cooking seafood, mangoes and pineapple but when I came here it was lamb shanks and slow cooking.
“People in this region celebrate the season with food – there are a lot of great events taking place and the wine regions add another dimension.
“People are more aware of where their food comes from and are wanting to connect with it.’’
Michelle discovered that connection first-hand while working as a part-time co-ordinator of the Hume Murray Food Bowl farmers market.
Michelle was also teaching hospitality, food safety and work place assessments, and working with the Youth at Risk program through TAFE.
She quickly realised students wanted to learn how to cook but not everyone wanted a certificate so she launched the business, reslishlife.
Relishlife was aimed at supporting and educating people in cooking nutritious and flavoursome food, built on a foundation of sound dietary advice.
“After undergoing gastric banding surgery in 2009 due to health issues including Type II diabetes, I became aware of the need for ongoing nutritional education and continued motivation provided by my personal trainer,’’ Michelle said.
“While my cooking skills enabled me to enjoy the first few months as an excitingly creative time, I soon became aware that for others, the ability to transfer the dietician’s advice into suitably textured nutritious meals on the table proved challenging and frustrating.
“As I continued on my own weight loss journey, it became apparent it was the ongoing support and dietary advice that was proving most helpful, not the cookbooks sitting on my bookshelves.’’
Four years ago, Michelle was appointed the manager of the mobile kitchen for Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food.
“It was a crazy time – we had a kitchen in the back of a truck serving a cross-section of society, including the homeless, disabled, parents and passionate Jamie Oliver fans,’’ she said.
“They were all learning to cook in the same class and everyone, no matter how experienced, learnt something new.’’
Michelle moved on to work with the homeless at Meals @ the Bridge in Melbourne’s Batman Park.
“We created a community where eventually the homeless were helping to cook their own meals, giving them a feeling of pride and success,’’ she said.
Michelle travelled to Italy to study the therapeutic community of San Patrignano where 1500 homeless people are given skills to work in the community’s five star restaurant and 65 different industries.
“It was about retraining and re-educating people to have an amazing contribution to society,’’ she said.
Michelle is now pioneering a 20ha community farm, called Eagles Corner, at Wooragee, for the homeless.
She is completing a Diploma in Organic Farming through the National Environment Centre, and establishing a market garden with a long-term aim of creating a farm gate café.
The farm will be based on biodynamic principles, recycle grey water through reed beds, use composting toilets and generate solar power.
“I am looking forward to attending Henty this year – last year we sourced the shed and water tank for Eagles Corner from the field days, as it’s all about being part of the local community with everything we do,’’ Michelle said.