For over three decades this cook, author and media personality has become one of our most recognised Australians. Lyndey Milan’s cookbooks have won national and international awards, her TV and radio shows have won her millions of fans and she’s definitely held her own in the male-dominated Australian food, produce and wine industries. Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2014 for her ‘services to hospitality, particularly to the food and wine industry, and to the community’ you’d think this proud Aussie had never seen any tough times.
In this interview with TV presenter Chris Bath, Lyndey opens up about how she dealt with the the tragic loss of one of her two children – her son Blair Milan, who died at age 29 just two days after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
Speaking about the challenges, she’s faced in her life she says her personal philosophy is “It’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with it that’s important”.
The cook, author and TV personality recently returned to where it all started, donning the headphones at radio station 2UE 954 to co-host Fresh, a weekly food, wine and lifestyle programme. Every Thursday from 2 – 3pm, Lyndey covers What’s in Season, recipes, wine matching, restaurants, foodie events, gourmet destinations and encourages listeners to ring in so she can “read their fridge or pantry” and tell them instantly what to cook for dinner!
To find out more about the challenges this powerhouse has overcome and her many achievements – but also to get a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the lighter side of Lyndey’s life, just hit play.
Here’s a transcript of Chris Bath’s exclusive interview with Lyndey Milan:
CHRIS: So you’ve been doing food for how many years now?
LYNDEY: Over thirty years.
CHRIS: Will you ever get sick of it?
LYNDEY: Do I look as if I’ll get sick of it any time soon? (laughs)
CHRIS: Your cookbook… Lyndey Milan’s Taste Of Australia … has just… wait, I’m going to read this so I don’t get it wrong… won Best TV chef cookbook, in the world, in English. That’s no mean feat here where everyone’s a TV chef.
LYNDEY: It’s in the world – it’s not in Australia, so …
CHRIS: It’s Britain! Everywhere. Nigella. Jamie.
LYNDEY: Absolutely… eat your heart out! At the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2015… first it won best TV Chef Cookbook in Australia and Best Culinary Cookbook in Australia and then it was a finalist in Best TV Chef Cookbook – and I went to China and I won! And what I’ve found out since then – they’ve only just emailed me – is in the Frankfurt Bookfair, they had the ‘Best of the Best for the past 20 years’ I came third overall in 20 years.
LYNDEY: I think it’s a great accolade for Australian producers cos I’m a very proud Australian and regional Australia and Australian wine and food producers are really dear to my heart and I hope I brought them alive not only in the book, but in the TV series as well. It’s often the little producers I think who are extraordinary. You know I went to the Yarra Valley where I milked Salmon for the Salmon Roe.
CHRIS: Well hang on – how do you ‘milk’ salmon?
LYNDEY: Well, It’s amazing, you know it’s the only place in the world that does it and it’s done humanely. So first of all they’re put into a ponds with oil of cloves… And they just become very groggy and go to sleep and you then pick them up, and then you massage them, and you are able to get all the eggs out. And then they go back into a recovery pond and then wake up and they swim away.
CHRIS: So how did you get involved with the Royal Agricultural Society?
LYNDEY: So the Royal Agricultural Society is a not-for-profit society and it’s Governing Body is the Council and there are 54 Councillors and you’re only ever elected on with 100% vote especially in those days – and so in 1996 I was elected to Council and I was the third ever female and I was first female to Chair a Committee certainly.
CHRIS: Sorry. This is in 1996 – that’s not that long ago then really?
CHRIS: And you were only the third woman?
LYNDEY: And I’d never been a showgirl! (laughter)
CHRIS: And so how did you handle it… with due respect to the Royal Agricultural Society, it sounds if you smashed a glass ceiling in the ultimate boys club.
LYNDEY: Well they were already ready to smash the glass ceiling – that’s why they asked me – I don’t think they thought I was meek and mild.
CHRIS: I don’t think anybody would ever accuse you of that!
LYNDEY: I was just so honoured. I absolutely love the RAS and what it does in terms of promoting Australian agriculture and putting things back into the land and I couldn’t believe that THEY would want ME, you know!
CHRIS: What would you say are the challenges, broadly speaking, that you’ve faced in your life?
LYNDEY: I think it has been, and especially during my lifetime there have been challenges as a woman, definitely. Especially to be accepted for who you are and what you are – in terms of what you’re capable of. Also I’m really uncomfortable when people say ‘Oh, she’s got balls’, no-one would say that about a man. Ever. So that has been a challenge, I have to say. But you know I don’t want to get into that because I don’t want that to be something that constricts or confines me. Because it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you deal with it that’s important.
CHRIS: So, when you say “It’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you handle it”, how do you handle something like your son dying at the age of 29? It’s got to be the toughest thing you’ve had to handle surely?
LYNDEY: Well of course it is. And I just think everything else tough that happened to me before that was my training ground. I didn’t know it was my training ground, I just thought … you know ‘I’ve got to deal with this, I’ve got to deal with that’. Blair died three days after he was diagnosed. So it was pretty horrific. Nothing prepares you for that at all and the best thing you can do is think about ways of honouring him and his memory (Editor’s Note: there is a video insert here of Lyndey and Blair in their TV show ‘A Taste Of Greece’ in which Blair arranges to bungee jump above the Corinthian, but it’s a surprise for his Mum. He cheekily tells the viewer “she’d never agree to me doing it”. The result is a lot of laughter and a special moment for them both), and I’ve got a daughter and I just have to say my partner was magnificent as was my family.
CHRIS: You mentioned John your partner. And you two have started a business together. How does that work? How do you live and work together?
LYNDEY: Well the thing is he is a business man and I’m a cook, so you know we’ve got clear roles in the organisation but we do often think the same thing at the same time. But also we’re a very modern couple – we have two apartments.
CHRIS: Oh, one each.
LYNDEY: Yeah, If we’re both in Sydney we’re in one or the other unless I’m going somewhere or he’s going somewhere without me and it works really well.
CHRIS: So what do you do… dinner at mine or yours tonight?
LYNDEY: Oh no, we usually plan it. It depends because mine is very close … we’ve built a TV kitchen/video studio and my place is close to there, so we’ll often stay there, his is the other side of the harbour, so that’s great. So it depends on what we’re doing and where we’re going.
CHRIS: What? So I’m thinking that you’re in the same building but just in different apartments but there’s a whole harbour between you?
LYNDEY: Oh there’s a whole harbour between us. It’s good. It’s great. We’re complimentary. We’re not competitive. Well we might be… socially.
CHRIS: What like at karaoke?
LYNDEY: Well yes, I’ve taken him to singing lessons – we sing together, he’s got a beautiful voice. It’s great fun. We change words to songs and sing them for people’s birthdays!
CHRIS: That’s fantastic. Lyndey, thank you.
LYNDEY: Thank you.