Marion Grasby, cookbook author and Thai-Australian entrepreneur, earns a living

From the start of MasterChef Australia’s second season, Marion Grasby was the crowd favorite to win. The talented cook’s calm demeanor and quick wit not only tempered the high stress level of the competition, but also made her incredibly likeable to viewers. Her stories of learning to cook from her mother, a trained Thai chef, were endearing, but they weren’t just empty talk – the food she produced episode after episode was a testament to their skills and willingness to learn.

Although Grasby did not win – the 2010 crown ultimately went to Adam Liaw, who is of Malaysian descent – MasterChef Australia was a life-changing experience. She took advantage of her notoriety and popularity on the culinary reality show to launch her career in food and entrepreneurship. The food company Marion’s Kitchen was formed the same year, a cookbook came out 12 months later, and her digital presence is one of the most dynamic for an Australian.

And to think that food was never part of her original plan. “It was my childhood dream to become a journalist for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). To get the job, I studied journalism and law. I worked very hard at my job and did it for three years. After a while, I realized that what I liked most was the storytelling part of the job, although I didn’t think I was particularly good at telling serious stories, ”Grasby jokes. “My mom is a chef and I never considered a career in food – the plan has always been to read law and be a journalist. It finally occurred to me that I could do the food thing and the journalism thing too, once I figured out how. “

Much to the chagrin of her mother, who was extremely proud of the fact that her daughter was on television, Grasby quit her job at ABC to pursue a master’s degree in food and wine history, and had worked his way up to graduate degree level. when it was accepted for MasterChef Australia. After leaving the competition, returning to her old college life didn’t seem like the right decision, so she and her husband started Marion’s Kitchen with the goal of giving consumers better quality spice and pasta blends than available. at the time.

The range, which is also sold in Malaysia, includes meal kits, sauces, spice mixes and dressings. We can’t recommend Coconut Sriracha enough – you can find it at Jaya Grocer, Qra and a few other select grocers. “The Coconut Sriracha is also one of my favorites! Australians tend to find it a bit too spicy, but I wasn’t going to cut it down. This is how it should be, ”she smiles.

Although the timing of Marion’s Kitchen’s launch was somewhat of an accident, Grasby had given a lot of thought to its rationale. “Honestly, I was a little disappointed with some Asian ingredients available in supermarkets. These were such bad interpretations of curry pastes and spices. I wanted to bring the really good traditional things to as many people as possible, and I wanted everyone to have green curry like my mom did, or a pad thai sauce like hers. But if well-made, authentic sauces and pastas were more expensive, so be it – back then there was this idea that Asian food was really cheap. I don’t think this is the case! It is something so special and you have to pay more to get quality ingredients to make really tasty food.

She stops for a moment. “In the past 12 months, we have sold five million products. It’s a lot of houses that have me in it. I find it really amazing, and that feeling never gets old. I am very grateful for it and I am very touched when people say they have tried or enjoyed any of my products.

Grasby’s recipes are as popular as their products because they cover a wide range of Asian dishes that cleverly use unexpected ingredients. A personal favorite is her Cacio e Pepe, a traditional Roman dish made with spaghetti, cracked black pepper, and cheese, but which she cooks instead with Sichuan peppers and fresh noodles. Italian nonnas can be grumpy at this, Chinese food purists may also balk at its spicy garlic butter linguine – which combines oriental herbs with pasta – too.

“There are avant-gardes in the kitchen who stick to traditions and there is a huge role for them, but that’s not quite who I am,” she said thoughtfully. While she cross-pollinates the staples she grew up with, she also displays a commitment to authenticity and stays true to the spirit of a particular cuisine. This is the result of his training in the history of gastronomy and wine. Although she did not graduate, the time spent studying the basics of food has profoundly influenced her approach to cooking, which is a balance between respect and creativity.

Grasby, who has two young children, gets her perspective on the world from her parents and her mixed heritage. Born in Darwin to a Thai mother and an Australian father, she spent a few years in Papua New Guinea and vacationed with her family throughout South East Asia as a child. “We loved to eat, so everywhere we went it was about the food. My father is a white man from Melbourne, but he travels like an Asian, ”she laughs again. “All of these experiences have made me very inclusive – I don’t see any limits; I just see beautiful and tasty things. I always respect the cuisine and the education I received while traveling is really important to me. But what’s also important is recognizing that food is evolving and changing all the time. My way of cooking comes naturally to me as a Thai-Australian citizen of the world because that’s what I am.

While Grasby had visited Thailand often, she wanted to discover her mother’s homeland as a local and decided to temporarily relocate her base there. This decision also made the management of Marion’s Kitchen easier, as its food products are made in this country. There is a good reason for this, she says. “To me, lemongrass in Australia just doesn’t taste the same as in Thailand; chili peppers either. I don’t know why, but they don’t! It was important to me that the products were made where they came from, so that they were of the best quality and taste possible.

Grasby and her family made Bangkok their home once she finished with MasterChef Australia in 2010. A few years after the product launched, she ventured into video making. After all, she had the skills to be in front of the camera and a working understanding of broadcasting. The team set up a temporary studio in the office boardroom, but the relaxed ‘let’s see how it works’ effort was a game-changer for Marion’s Kitchen quickly – the cadence of her voice, the heartwarming nature of her food. and his signature spirit were a winning combination in establishing his brand’s digital presence.

“The videos have absolutely become bananas. They were much more popular than we could ever have imagined, ”she recalls. “Very quickly, we grew to six million subscribers and 42 million views each month on all of our channels. It’s crazy! We went from a food company to a media publishing company that just happened to be involved in food, which was a total accident. Last March, as it became clear how severe the pandemic was going to be, Grasby and his family returned to Australia on government advice. She assumed the move would take two to three months; it is now a year and a half.

Today, Grasby runs his business from two locations: Bangkok, where products continue to be made, and Noosa, Queensland, where his studio is located. The rapidly growing broadcasting empire is under the leadership of Marion’s Kitchen Media. Telling authentic and relevant food and lifestyle stories across seven digital platforms, she inspires audiences of millions every month with fun, honest and informative video content. Although far behind chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay in terms of number of subscribers, at 4.1 million, she is ahead of Nigella Lawson, Rachael Ray, Martha Stewart and her casting mate MasterChef Australia, Liaw.

The pandemic did more than shift Grasby’s physical base, it also inspired a slightly different direction for the recipes she shared online, based on feedback from her fans. “People wanted a lot more comfort food and to cook foods at home that made them happy. If you can’t go out and see family, you’d want to bake bread or make ramen from scratch, or maybe watch someone bake bread and make ramen from scratch, ”he jokes. -she.

“My point of view is that more and more people wanted to make noodle soup broth or dumplings on their own, which I find very interesting because even if they couldn’t go out to a restaurant, it was not. it wasn’t necessarily the restaurant food they craved. We took advantage of the opportunity offered by the pandemic to make more complex foods without a cheat sheet. If before, the emphasis was on preparing good dishes very quickly, which will never change because you always have to have a meal on the table quickly, it was now possible to show our subscribers how to make a curry paste. starting from scratch, for example. , or a tasty broth.

Grasby also wrote his second cookbook during the pandemic and it is now available for pre-order at “Next on the agenda is a nice line of non-food products because I want to be able to use my creativity in a way that goes beyond food,” she says enthusiastically. “It would look like ceramic crockery, cutlery, linen – stuff that my viewers can see me use in my videos and then buy them quite easily. She hopes to release the line next year.

Any news about obtaining this master’s degree? She smiles mischievously when I mention it. “It’s been 10 years; maybe I should finally think about it. Even if not, Grasby’s hands-on experience in the food business and her lifelong exposure to diverse cultures puts her well ahead of typical graduates, who have mostly had their noses buried in the books. . A truly rewarding career in food comes from living well, eating often, and celebrating the food you cook, which makes her a winner in every way.

This article first appeared on October 18, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.

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