Cath Kerry is well-known for her culinary skills and elegance. Achieving great success as a chef and restaurateur, what’s lesser known is that Cath is also a vintage collector with a strong love of the earth.
South Australia’s legendary chef Cath Kerry came out of retirement earlier this year to be part of Adelaide Festival’s 2017 Long Lunch program and host a communal dining table for 200 people on the floating Riverbank Palais.
Cath Kerry reflects on how her cooking journey began in the 1980s, ‘Looking back we were a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs, throwing caution to the wind. I started offering people a table in a lovely space in the house I was renting – a meal for ten – and that’s how it started.’
Cath Kerry is unfazed by her recent 70th birthday. With an honest and hearty wit she is both inspiring and, on occasion, intimidating. Her presence commands a room with refined sophistication and she is known for her large, colourful eye glasses. ‘I never set out to make a fashion statement but if you’re going to wear bloody glasses why not enjoy them?’
Respect for the table
A strong reverence for ‘the table’ reflects her upbringing and instilled an early love of food. Cath recalls, ’One should always treat the table with respect – and manners are of the utmost importance. I see kids who don’t know how to hold a knife and fork. That’s incredibly sad …’
How does Cath balances her professional calling with home entertaining? Cath comments, ’When I have people come over it’s a bit terrifying for them – I am a chef and I do have eleven dinner sets! I believe they’ve all got to be used – you’ve got to give them life. I’m a collector and I love using them. But I bend over backwards to make the food simple. I restrain myself.’ Cath’s unique collection of dinner sets ranges from British Wedgwood to French 19th century and includes vintage artichoke, asparagus and oyster plates.
Cath lives with her partner of 21 years and their two Siamese cats. Jicky, named after Cath’s favourite Guerlain perfume, is her doting shadow. Her rambling garden near North Adelaide is a culinary paradise, with numerous fruit trees ranging from apricot and nashi pear to guava and avocado.
Cath loves being surrounded by the lush greenery of her garden and ‘the growth of things’. She adores having ‘mountains of parsley at her disposal’ together with ‘other hard to get things like tarragon’. Cath considers her avocado tree a miracle with this year’s crop producing around 300 avocados. ‘We had to hire in bees this year to make sure the million (no kidding) flowers were pollinated.’ Meandering past a thriving green fig tree Cath tells me she almost lives on them when in season and suggests, ‘cut the figs in half, add blue cheese and wrap with prosciutto’.
Early Teaching Career
Born in the UK to an English father and a French mother, Cath’s family migrated to Australia when she was eleven. An early career as a French and English teacher lasted little more than a decade. Unable to resist her culinary calling, Cath’s burgeoning food passion exploded into a successful catering business.
Cath’s success is underpinned by strong food principles, ’Real food is one of the last affordable, safe pleasures. It’s a shame people save good olive oil, butter or mangoes for special occasions when they have guests. Your body – and your family – deserves the best as well.’
Cath dedicated her life to this conviction, convincing thousands of customers and inspiring brigades of staff members. A terrific leader and mentor, her 15-year stint running the South Australian Art Gallery Restaurant was the perfect fit – creating and aligning menus with art exhibitions, winning her business many awards. In 2006 Cath was honoured to receive Restaurant and Catering Australia’s prestigious Lifetime Achiever Award, recognising her exceptional skills and contribution to the industry.
‘Chefs have a love of the earth’
‘Chefs have to love food, and have a love of the earth and they have to be inquisitive. Success is if they keep coming back. I think you can feel success in a place when everything’s gelling – the team, the kitchen and the front are all pulling together. And you just have a sense in the room that guests are happy.’
Never short of an opinion, Cath became the Restaurant and Catering Association of South Australia’s first female president. Her current role as Head of Judges for the annual Awards for Excellence is a natural progression. Cath points out that she doesn’t judge establishments herself, she trains the judges.
Sally Neville, Deputy CEO of Restaurant and Catering Australia praises Cath as ’an avid and passionate Francophile who has a single minded view about food and hospitality that states her claim in the history of the arts.’ Cath agrees she is a proud Francophile – brought up speaking French beautifully, she still has relatives in Toulouse, France and tells me that the French customary social practice of a meal is on UNESCO’s world heritage list.
You can read more about Cath and enjoy her recipes as she has recently started her own blog, It’s Not the Last Supper, a delightful read with ‘musings on friendship, dining, manners, eating, etiquette, life, connecting and the occasional recipe’.
*All photos courtesy of Cath Kerry