This photo of a merino sheep by Rod Outback is exactly what my childhood looked like, really.
Name: Jillian Burt
E-mail me: what…@yahoo.com
Paying job: Journalist. I have a haute-nerd and egghead portfolio, writing mostly on technology, architecture, engineering, business, and robotics. I’ve always mixed traditional newspaper and radio journalism with wonderfully strange sideline projects for independent magazines and publishers. In the last few years of the last century I concentrated on a few book-length projects that were translated into foreign languages. In Portuguese and Spanish my writing is as goofy-dreamy as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s. I’m sure my book in Japanese is on the same shelf as Haruki Murakami’s.
Dream job: Curating conversations. Creating dinner parties to hear people talking about what’s interesting to them and what’s on their mind: that then become podcasts and books of transcripts. My favorite books are the transcripts of the conversations between novelist Michael Ondaatje and film-editor Walter Murch, the late student of mythology Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers, writer Edward Said and musician and conductor Daniel Barenboim, the Dalai Lama and French novelist and screenwriter Jean Claude Carriere. And the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra’s dialogue with himself and the history of Buddhism, “An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World.”
Best meal ever: Every meal at Ames Street in Los Angeles, in the glorious chaos of everyday life with kids and dogs and laughter and music and a great deal of arguing about books. With friends and neighbors dropping in and bringing wine and dessert, so we’d have to get inventive to stretch the produce we’d bought at the Hollywood Farmers Market to feed the extra people who’d just arrived.
Favorite meat: I’m a nearly vegetarian and have pangs of guilt about eating the little meat I still do eat.
Favorite fruit: Mangoes, in India.
Favorite vegetable: Every variety of seaweed.
Vegetables I eat only to be polite: Anything in aspic.
Favorite dinner growing up: My childhood in a rural Australian setting was drawn from the dreary culinary experience of 19th-century English food. I’d read children’s books where the heroes were eating watercress sandwiches and it seemed like the most exotic food imaginable. As an adult the reality of watercress sandwiches disappointed me.
Processed crap I can’t manage to live without: Wasabi-flavored Nori sheets.
Most embarrassing cooking incident: Dislocating my shoulder while kneading dough for homemade dog biscuits from a recipe in Nancy Silverton’s baking book.
Most traumatic food experience: Watching Chen Kenichi clubbing fish to death on an episode of “Iron Chef.”
Food background: I spent my early childhood on a sheep farm in South Australia mostly trying to pretend I wasn’t there and figuring out how to escape to go and live in New York. (I eventually made it.) Thinking deeply about food and agriculture and the social ritual of dining wasn’t something I did until I moved to Los Angeles in the ’90s and spent 11 years there. I was deeply influenced and inspired by the landscape designer Sarah Munster’s concept of stewardship of the land.
When I returned to Australia five years ago the country was just in the beginning stages of this crippling drought. The stories of farmer suicides and the difficulties the rural people were facing touched me deeply. The stories I began reading about genetically modified food began to alarm me. And when the trees and gardens started dying in the cities I began trying to connect everything in my mind: the country and the city, the food produced and the food we consume, and what the organic principles and ethical dimensions of food I’d become interested in while living in California might mean in an Australian setting. I want to write that big picture into existence. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a side of commercial cooking that isn’t usually made public, in catering firms and five-star hotels, and been given a valuable education how owners and chefs make decisions about the produce that they buy.