NEW YORK — Analiese Gregory is a chef who knows first-hand where her ingredients come from. Usually, it's her hand.
Living on the wild and biodiverse Australian island of Tasmania, Gregory might be found diving for abalone one day or hunting deer the next.
“To be able to just go into the ocean and get a sea urchin out and then just eat it, it’s like, why would we even try to do anything else here? It’s just what makes sense,” she says.
Gregory is offering a view of rugged life at the bottom of the world with “How Wild Things Are,” a cookbook loaded with striking images of the chef herself cooking dishes at a campsite or a rocky shoreline.
The recipes reflect Gregory's fascinating mix of refined, European-trained fine-dining skills and her knack for marrying them with the freshest ingredients of New Zealand and Australia.
“I kind of came finally to a place where I can bring a lot of the different influences together, I suppose, which I’d never used to be able to do,” she says.
One page might be instructions on how to make a possum sausage and the next might be a recipe for potato gnocchi with lap cheong and kombu butter.
Unable to source a decent piece of wallaby where you are? No problem: Gregory says everything in the book is interchangeable. Use venison or pork instead. For items she can’t hunt or forage, she prefers to buy directly from farmers.
“Take a really nice thing that you really like and then stick with things that you think will be complementary. Do kind of as little as you can to it,” she says.
Gregory was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to a Welsh father and Chinese-Dutch mother. She moved to London to work for her father, an executive chef, which led to stints in London’s The Ledbury and Paris’ Le Meurice.
She worked at the celebrated Sydney restaurant Quay and at Michel Bras’ eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant in the South of France, where she honed her foraging skills, like climbing trees to gather fresh hazelnuts for that night's special.
“I definitely am a bit of a nomad. And then every time you go places, there’s always a couple of things that really stick with you.”
There's more than a touch of Lara Croft to Gregory, who is proficient with liquid nitrogen and molecular gastronomy, but also able to kill and poach a rooster or pull a trout out of river and smoke it on the riverbank.
“I went from doing things with induction and steam and everything being super-precise to just like throwing stuff into a giant fire and seeing what happens,” she says.
She relocated to Tasmania to an old farmhouse on a 2-acre block in the Huon Valley with goats and chickens and buckets of things fermenting. There's a mad scientist feel to her: When she finds Jerusalem artichokes, she turns them into ice cream.
“I moved to Tasmania and kind of started cooking in an entirely different way. But all those other recipes I really love are still kind of part of the story,” she says. “There’s things that I make now with strange, maybe unique little twists.”
When she has a hankering for flounder, she goes and gets it. Finding the fish requires standing waist-high in freezing water in the middle of the night with a spear and a flashlight.
“It can be a really beautiful activity or it can be like really just wet and cold and horrible. It can go either way.” If she spears any, she serves it with miso and dill pickles in a split beurre noisette sauce.
One of her fans is Jane Willson, publishing director at Hardie Grant Publishing. The two first met for breakfast and Willson found Gregory compelling, not least because Gregory casually noted that she was curing meats in a closet at home.
“It’s about minimal intervention and working with ingredients at their prime, being true to them, and I guess being true to herself in a way, not following someone else’s rules,” said Willson. “You might not dive for abalone, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take joy from this book.”
When COVID-19 stretched into Tasmania, Gregory did what came naturally: She cooked. She made meals for neighbours and repaired strained relationships after some farmers grew irritated that her goats sometimes escaped and ate their roses.
“I can’t cook for one person. It feels kind of pointless to me. So I just started giving food to the whole street and we made this really great community,” she says.
She had been planning to return to restaurant work, but now is making a TV show and has hatched a scheme to open a 10-seat restaurant for lunch in a nearby abandoned veterinary clinic.
“I was on the couch after a Netflix marathon. I was just like, ‘You know, what if I didn’t drive to work for like an hour and a half every day and waste all that time?’” she recalls.
“I told some friends and they were like, ‘This is not the worst idea you've ever had. It actually might be quite a good one.’ I am one of those people with lots of ideas. Not all of them are good.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press