If you had to think of one word to describe 2020 what would it be? I’m pretty sure I could guess your word and I would agree with you entirely. So, when I chatted recently with chef, restaurateur, traveller and author Christine Manfield about her 2020 experience thus far, I admired her philosophical approach to the present picture. Christine says her 2020 thus far has been ‘serendipitous’ rather than my crude ‘fucked’. She’s got class and a positive attitude that one.
Back in 2019, Chris and her partner decided it was time to make a sea change to northern New South Wales. They bought a house and made a plan to remove themselves from the supersonic speed of life in cramped urban Sydney for the chilled vibes and rolling hills of the Northern Rivers.
The thing is, they moved into their new home and new life on 1 April 2020. Yes – April Fool’s Day – during lockdown – in a global pandemic.
“Northern New South Wales was open and carefree,” says Christine. “We lived through the first week of lockdown in Sydney – it was so depressing. We suffered no FOMO when we bid adieu. There was nothing to miss.”
For Chris the lockdown in her new environment created space for new opportunities. It allowed time to slow down, settle in, do some renovations and connect with local growers, chefs and artisan producers. Her arrival was at the peak of the sweet potato and ‘incredible’ passionfruit harvest. Christine would oscillate between road side stalls, Murwillumbah and Mullumbimby Farmers Markets, getting to know the lie of the land, then baking cookies, cakes and preserving – great practice for the 2021 Show circuit!
But looking at the long-term picture, the global shut down meant work had ground to a trickle for Christine. A large part of her busy schedule for the past 20 years has been running global gourmet travel tours to her favourite places along international spice routes.
“This year has allowed us to sit back and assess,” says Christine. “A lot of our work in 2020 and beyond was global. Had the work stayed the same, and had the schedule of projects gone ahead, I would not have had that opportunity. Settling in would have taken longer.”
Like many of us this year, Christine been forced to pivot her business and reassess where she wants to put her energies moving forward. With a food bowl right on her doorstep and across broader Australia to explore, she has decided to stow away her passport for now and focus on regionality, starting with her first local pop up event.
As part of the Tweed Artisan Food Weekend from 27 – 30 November Christine will be hosting a ‘Farm Feast’ lunch at the gorgeous Farm & Co. in Cudgen. The menu will be mostly plant based but not strictly vegetarian, with loads of local artisan foods and produce woven in, served alongside organic wines.
Christine has also been busy designing some delicious Tweed Coast Food Adventures. The first two have already sold out! To be the first to know about future food adventure dates head to Christine’s website and sign up to her email list. https://christinemanfield.com
And there is also a ‘Top End Wilderness Culture and Food Safari’ led by Christine planned for May 2021. Sounds tempting!
As part of my Get Forked and Fly Chef’s Recipe series, which I reignited during the hospitality shutdown, Christine has generously donated a recipe to the ‘no eating out’ cause. It is taken from her stunning, encyclopaedic homage to Indian cuisine – Tasting India.
Christine says she chose her Coconut Beetroot Curry Recipe to share in part, because it is suitable for home cooks and the ingredients are very accessible, and in part because there is ‘a growing plant-based tribe up here’. She describes the curry, which has its roots in Kerala, southern India, as a tropical but earthy, simple vegetable curry that you can eat as a meal with flatbread and rice or as part of a banquet. Served at room temperature it’s a great picnic food as well.
With regional food tours, national food tours, pop ups and a new cook book landing in October 2021, Christine is going to have a full plate. I reckon she’s a contender in the Cookery section of the local show too. Bakers and preservers take heed.