For International Chefs Day, we celebrate the first French TV chef in Australia, Gabriel Gaté. You no doubt know him for his culinary voyages “Taste the tour” televised on SBS during Le tour de France, or maybe you own one (or many) of his cookbooks: there are 24 now)! We speak to Gabriel Gaté about his career, cooking, cookbooks and more. Read our interview below.
Gabriel Gaté, thank you for being interviewed. I know that you have been interviewed a lot in your career in Australia.
My pleasure. Over the years, yes.
So your career started in France and you worked in a few restaurants over there in Angers and in Paris. And then in London, I think?
Yes, that’s right.
Then you met your future wife in Paris and came to Adelaide. Is that right?
That’s right. We arrived in Adelaide in 1977, around there. I found work in a restaurant and I worked in 2 restaurants briefly.
Were they French restaurants?
One was French, which was on Gilles Street. It was called Frères Jacques. It lasted about 2 year. It was run by 2 Frenchmen called Jacques, One was a chef, who was kind and the other who wasn’t a chef was mean! So the chef left after a while because they didn’t get along. I left as well. I led classes at the Alliance Française, and at Regency Park . And then I did home dinners. I started by doing some radio, quite a bit of radio and television. I started that in Adelaide.
It was on a show called A Touch of Elegance, right?
That’s right. That was really my first TV and then I did other things of course. When you freelance, you need to do a lot of things.
Taste the Tour
Do you still speak French daily now that you’ve been in Australia for such a long time?
Non, at home we speak mainly English. I speak French occasionally and for part of my work over the last 20 years, I got to return quite often. So it was good to visit family and discover France.
Especially when you did the Taste the Tour TV segment. I imagine you got to see your family when you were there for that too.
Yes, not every time but almost. It was good to go to France in Spring, every Spring for about 15 years practically and to discover the French regions. The richness is unbelievable and not only the ingredients but also of the artisans who make good cheeses,
Oui, pas toutes les fois, mais presque. Et donc, c’était c’est bien d’aller en France au printemps, tous les printemps, pendant 15 ans, pratiquement ou presque, et de découvrir toutes les régions françaises. La richesse c’est incroyable est non seulement les ingrédients, mais aussi chez les artisans, ceux qui font des bons fromages, or of those who make confectionery or pastries. These great chefs, the French. Certainly for a point of view of variety, I think there are things to see. The country is more interesting, in my opinion, in the West.
But why are the specialities of the French regions so different to each other?
It’s because they were created a long time before there was transport. In Australia, for example, you can eat the same thing in a pub in Perth or in Brisbane. But in France everything was established with local agriculture, where the fish from the lake, the sea or the olive oil because it was in the south and it didn’t grow in the north. It was geography and then, of course, emigration. And all the neighbours like the Germans, or the Spaniards, or from Italy. So it’s the regional influences and the geography, the rivers, the mountains, the sea.
I was wondering why given that France is so small compared to Australia. It’s quite amazing to see so many differences between the regions.
When we are in the mountains, it’s different to when we are by the sea… The dairy industry in France is extraordinary. There are cheeses of all sorts and some have existed for 2000 years like Roquefort. It’s this savoir faire which has been passed down over the years. And there is certainly the climate. In the North, it’s more the butter whereas in the South it’s olive oil and dishes which are more about the sun. Whereas in the North, it’s dishes that warm you up, cuisine which is richer.
Choose a single favourite dish
Do you have a favourite dish either to make, or to eat, if it isn’t the same for both?
That’s a question I’ve often been asked. If I ask my grand-daughter, she will tell me one thing because she is sure that she loves that. But when you have had experience like mine, it’s going to be 50 years in a few days, 50 years since I started learning my trade as a chef.
Oh really, in a few days?
Yes, I stated in October. Officially I started a few days before that. I started on 6 October 1971. So it’s been 50 years. On the banks of the Loire, I started my apprenticeship. But what I wanted to say is that after so many years, so much variety, of course, you have dishes that you prefer for certain situations.
Dishes that you prefer when you are by the sea, dishes that you prefer as a family because it’s Christmas. Dishes that you make because the children are coming. When you go to your parents, it’s the family roast or pasta for the Italians. So there are different dishes for different situations – there are also dishes for romantic occasions. And then there are Summer holiday dishes. In France, about 30 years ago, they asked the French people during Summer, people who were on holidays [what their favourite dish was]. Their answer was moules marinières!
And you don’t eat that in winter!
But when you’re on holidays, the mussels are in the middle of the table, you’ve got a glass of white wine. You think it’s heaven. It’s convivial. We share. What we share is always good. It’s a little bit of a battle when you’re breaking down something like that, it’s good that it takes a bit longer. You have to concentrate on what you’re eating, so it’s good.
Yes, the French and the Europeans in general do that – they are together around the table, they take their time. It’s not like here where it’s often something quick. It’s really only when you’re at a restaurant or perhaps a Sunday lunch at your parents that we take our time in Australia.
Yes, it was one of the things that certainly surprised me in the beginning. Lunch in particular. IN 77, for families, it was white bread. White sliced bread and peanut butter, and there were other little things but it wasn’t really… and in the evening it was then that Anglo-Australian families would eat a larger meal.
Cooking at Gabriel Gaté’s home
At home, is it you who cooks most of the time?
Yes. 95 % of the time because I still enjoy it. It’s something that I still find very satisfying to make a nice little dish. It’s very easy to do anything. And also with the experience I’ve had, I can make something quite quickly. If I need to prepare vegetables, it’s done in a very short time. If I need to make a dish with several elements…
It’s a bit like a foreign language. It’s like you – you speak well so you don’t need to think about it. It comes naturally. It’s a pleasure to construct phrases, even if you’re not thinking about it. And for cooking, you give pleasure. Either you’re on your own and you please yourself, or you please others. It’s an art form that I still enjoy.
Do you ever not feel like cooking?
Yes, rarely but it does happen occasionally. It’s normally if I am tired or sick. Otherwise, I will make something simple. During the week, we make simple things. For example, last night we had [our grandchildren] Minnie and her little brother, and we made a roast chicken becuase it works well with children and it will make two meals for us. The vegetables can be reheated tonight and they will be good.
You don’t have to go all out every day, you can make a dish every other day or something simple, especially in the middle of the week. It takes half an hour to, of course, make a full meal for the family. That’s all it takes during the week.
What do you think of the “Food Prep” movement where people make all oftheir meals for the week on a Sunday?
I don’t like it. There have always been things like that of course. My publishers have often asked me to put menus for the whole week in my books. I’ve never really liked that. It’s the same as calculating my calories.
But I think we can have an idea. First of all, to stop eating when you’ve eaten enough. Of course you have to have good habits otherwise you die. It’s as simple as that. We all know that we need to eat less fat, to eat less meat, you have to eat more vegetables. But not everyone has the strength to do it, not everyone has the possibility, not everyone has the health. If you are depressed or something like that, it is difficult. The people who consume the most fat are often the people who have health problems.
And you, do you like to cook, Matilda?
How to learn to cook better according to Prof Gabriel Gaté
Well I cook for my boyfriend and I but I cannot imagine ever hosting a dinner party. I don’t want to impose my cooking on others!
Does it worry you too much?
A little, yes!
Well for today, I am your teacher. What you need to do is to enlarge your repertoire. You choose a dish at your level. You know your level. A new dish that you have never made and you decide to make it 3 times in the month. You do your prep. You take a good recipe, you choose an author that you like. The first time you really follow the recipe.
And then, you see what didn’t work and you establish a repertoire much like when you learned French. You must have been a good student because you speak so well. So you need to do a bit of research work, and then once you’ve made a dish three times, in general, you haven’t mastered it but you can do it well.
Yes and then you need to continue to take on new dishes. I tell my students to take on a new dish every month. After a year, that’s only 12 new recipes but after 10 years, that’s 120 dishes. You will become more confident through practicing. I can sense your doubt, you worry, you like to do things well.
That’s right. Has Gabriel found your little concern?
Yes, you have!
You know, it’s ver common. There are more people like you than there are like me, in terms of cooking.
That’s why we all like to dine out!
Of course, it’s wonderful to go out to enjoy yourself.
Cooking on our screens
Since you first regularly appeared on our screens in the 80s and 90s, how do you find that cooking in Australia has changed? And how was the programming of cooking shows changed?
There has been a big evolution, especially from the 70s. Cooking evolved with health and we may not think about it, but health has dictated a lot of changes to techniques. Dishes are less heavy, we cut the fat off the meat, etc. People have travelled, chefs have travelled.
In the beginning, in the 80s, there was a large French cooking influence because it’s the cooking that cooks in Australia are taught. If you go to college, if you go to Regency Park or wherever, that’s what you learn the techniques, the mise en place, the juliennes of vegetables, the sauces, that sort of thing.
But there is also an Asian influence and an Italian influence, especially for family cooking. And Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Australians have learned to prepare a lot more variety. For example, for you, in Adelaide. When I was in Adelaide, the Central Market was already very good, but it wasn’t very varied. And then all of a sudden you could buy spices, Asian herbs, much more variety, much more fish. So the variety, so the agriculture changed a lot, transport helped and there are a lot more products from tropical places. All of that has happened. And also Australians like to travel a lot.
From the point of view of cooking on television, when I started doing recipes in the years 77-78, we just did a recipe. Usually you were a guest, so there weren’t many programmes. But there were a few but it was more like Bernard King, which was sponsored, he did a lot of advertising on their shows.
I don’t know that name.
Bernard King. He was an actor, a singer, an entertainer, who had a show on every day for a long time. He wasn’t a great chef, but Australians enjoyed [the show].
But I think for example about what I did with What’s Cooking 1991-1992, I did that with Colette Mann – she was an actress. It was every morning, and we made great dishes and we had a team and we really cooked good food, not only French. we also did Asian food, desserts, cakes.
I think there was a time when there were programs where they were really cooking. Now there’s a bit of cooking as well but it’s mostly in Australian television productions, it’s mostly entertainment. It’s shady.
But it’s important for a programme to be entertaining. People won’t watch for long if it’s boring or annoying. So, that’s how it works of course, if it’s a cook by himself who makes dishes, maybe we’ll give him a show during the day, if he’s young or handsome or if she’s young or handsome. Otherwise, it won’t work. You need something else, something more than just recipes.
We don’t really find true cooking shows anymore. MasterChef, is more about the competition. And the other one, My Kitchen Rules, the focus wasn’t on the cuisine but on the personalities of the contestants.
Yes, that’s what people enjoy these days. It goes with social media. Every thing is different.
A wonderful career
Reality TV is not for me at all! So you’ve had a very successful career, which will soon mark 50 years. What has been the highlight of your career?
Of course, there have been many. It’s a bit like choosing a favourite dish. There are highlights for moments, generations. Certainly, when I published my first book, it was in Adelaide. It was a big moment for me. It was called French cuisine for Australians.
It helped me move to the next level. It was at that moment that I understood that I was a communicator. We are all communicators when we cook a dish, we communicate tastes. I understood that I wanted to share with others. So the book was a great success, it really was something else. I published it together with my wife, who’s called Angie.
And then, there was What’s Cooking on TV which was a program 5 days a week, throughout the year. I did that for 2 years. So there were important moments, professionally and all the books, each book… now I have 24…
I was wondering if it was 23 or 24 now.
So each book, it’s like a baby. It’s a lot of work, to write it to retouch it to get it published…And the work that interested me the most in the end was Taste the Tour. First of all, I was producing a programme, so it was one dimension more from the technical point of view of television. I was still quite free to present what I wanted, just that I was restricted to four or five, six minutes. And then I was quite disciplined to follow the regions where the Tour was going.
So it was wonderful to go to France every year and produce this television, to show it to Australians. And that’s something I’ve done for 15 years. So it was a great end to my career. I also really enjoyed meeting great French chefs, like Paul Bocuse, Michel Guérard and many others. And working in great restaurants in France was great, but it was the unique experiences of making wonderful dishes and sharing with others. Yes, I have been very lucky.
Yes, but you’ve earned it.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, especially in the first years. It’s always work but when you’ve learned how to work, to love what you’re doing, it’s not as hard, except if you’re not any good.
It’s always hard if you’re not talented.
If you’re not talented, it doesn’t need to be hard; you need to change! But if your health isn’t good. I knew Paul Bocuse, the great chef, for a long time. We met quite a few times. We had the opportunity to do things together, to share meals, to travel and he often said that to me. I’ve been lucky to have good health. I think it’s more important than anything else.
And you’ve also been awarded the Croix de Chevalier dans l’ordre du mérite agricole.
It’s a great honour, a beautiful decoration. It’s important in France, and it was for my contribution to gastronomy and the things I have done.
Cookbooks by Gabriel Gaté
So you know a lot of chefs in France, and in Australia we know you well for your TV shows and your cookbooks. Do the French know you?
No, not really. There are a few professionals that know me because I’ve met a lot of them of course. But no, because I didn’t manage to sell my books in France It’s a shame because the English [chefs] manage to sell their books in France. I tried with a book that I was very proud of which was called Good Food For Men, which encouraged men to discover the joys of cooking. There was the health aspect too.
I thought that it could be easily translated and especially because I was young. It’s true that we are popular in a profession with people of the same age. That is to say that if I started now, I wouldn’t be as popular. Even the books wouldn’t be as popular because we only buy books from our own generation.
So at that time I was still young and so I was really interested in teaching cooking to everyone and my teaching technique, I think it’s very good, a bit unique but I would say I’m one of the people in the world who has really figured out how to teach cooking in particular and book publishers are saying “the book is really interesting, but you’re not known and you’re from Australia, it’s going to be very, very difficult for marketing.” Some of my books are sold in other countries, in the US, in England, in New Zealand and a few other countries. But not in France, but that’s okay. It’s a pity.
There are enough people in those countries [where the books are sold] who appreciate you.
There definitely are a lot. It’s a market with many, many cookbook authors.
And so, you’ve written 24 cookbooks? How do you find so many recipes?
So it’s a bit like music, you can always create different songs, you can write different songs. When I wrote a book, I usually had a theme. So the first one was this French cuisine for Australians. So it was really my own dishes at that time. The dishes that I was making for dinners, that I was teaching. After that, my second one was Family Food and also I had worked with the fight against cancer. I wrote three best-selling books on this theme.
With the CSIRO?
Non, that was later. It was with the Anti-Cancer Council. So it was books for families with variety and moderation. So if you want, each time if it was for a family, it needed to be family dishes, varied dishes, seasonal dishes. So there were guidelines.
After that, Good Food for Men, was also a special title. I have done a few books on desserts. I really like cakes and desserts. They were Pocket books. One dish dinner. Dishes that you could prepare in a wok or a casserole, like couscous, like bœuf bourguignon or a vegetable stir-fry.
So, if you have a theme, like the books that came out about Taste le Tour, it’s easy, it’s a theme that I’ve done for television. You have to do research. A lot of research and then you have to find varieties.
There are hundreds of ways to season a chicken. You look in every country, there would be dozens of recipes for chicken, dozens of recipes for chicken legs, dozens of recipes for chicken breast, roast chicken, minced chicken…
You need to have a repertoire. That’s the work of a chef, it’s to never stop learning. If you contiue to learn, you can create of course. It’s still difficult though because there is a moment in time where when you start a book, you have a lot of enthusiasm, but then it becomes tiring, it becomes long, it’s a bit like a PHD.
Yes, that takes me back to when I was writing my thesis years ago…
At the beginning, you say it’s really good and at the end, there are complications, you need to change things, you need to edit things, you need to redo this or redo that. And you have had enough. And after that it’s all good.
Then when the book is released, you plan for the next one! Are there French dishes that just won’t work in Australia?
Yes, there are a lot of things for example that need a particular cheese. There is a lot more variety now. Adelaide has good cheese shops at the market for example.
You know anything that has foie gras. In France, of course it’s very popular. Here, it’s difficult to talk about it because it’s politically incorrect. As soon as we talk about it, especially in the press, we often get criticism, of course. For France, it’s a big cultural thing, of course.
Australians are not used to, for example, eating organs, not like gizzards as you sometimes find in French cuisine, even in salads. That’s for example something that I thought Australians, they don’t have the appetite for.
No, no, it’s very difficult. But you can buy chicken gizzards, duck gizzards. You don’t use it much. When I first arrived, there were dishes like blanquette de veau, all the dishes that were cooked in a clear liquid. Australians liked dark cooking and it’s the same with fish. We bag the fish, make a big broth and poach the fish and serve it with a sauce. Here the fish needed to be fatty – you needed to either fry it or put breadcrumbs on it. Now it has changed a lot.
But that was difficult at first. We were used to poaching fish, all that, and the same thing with meat. In France, we used to make wonderful pots au feu, great classic dishes. It didn’t work much here, but now it’s almost everything. Things have changed too, but you were talking about offal. Even in Australia there is less offal than there used to be. When I first came you could buy kidneys – all the butchers had kidneys, lambs brains, sweetbreads. It was very common. It wasn’t expensive and it was the cuisine of the time. But now you can’t get it easily. You can, but you have to order. But even then I wouldn’t serve them to a group. Even things like black pudding boudin noir – very popular in France and England in the past, but here less and less. So there’s more variety and less variety at the same time.
We thank Gabriel Gaté for this interview and congratulate him on 50 years of cooking! Happy International Chefs Day!
Find out more about Gabriel Gaté
You can find out more about Gabriel Gaté on his website.
We also strongly recommend that you follow Gabriel Gaté’s instagram account where he shares old footage from his TV appearances and amusing sketches.
Who is your favourite French chef? Do you own any of Gabriel Gaté’s cookbooks?