It comes as a bit of a surprise that the Amber Rose was born and bred in Kaiwaka. Her mum is legendary biodynamics guru Kay Baxter, who created the heritage seed and permaculture haven of Koanga Gardens. As a teenager, she’d have to spend a couple of hours in the gardens every day after school harvesting tomato seeds and making endless purées, soups and sauces. It’s unlikely that she ever dreamed that one day she’d be the personal chef for Jude Law and Sadie Frost, Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. It was a circuitous trip getting from Kaiwaka to London, but food was always part of the ride.
Not long out of her teens, Amber headed off to Melbourne, and worked at iconic bakery Babka. She gained a solid baking background from the Eastern European masters. “There was this little old Russian lady who used to say to me: ‘you make a good-looking dumpling, you get a good-looking husband!’”
After a couple of years here she moved on to China, where her father was working in film and TV. Teaching English as a foreign language was ok, but it was much better when she ended up acting in Chinese soap operas – over-dubbed in Chinese. “Yeah, it was pretty bizarre – but the food was truly fantastic,” she recalls.
It was here that she got a call from a friend who was in London working for musician Liam Gallagher. His friends Jude Law and Sadie Frost needed an assistant, and the friend had told them about Amber. A day or two later she was on a plane to London.
“It was a really busy, creative household,” Amber says. Sadie’s friends were often over: Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Moss, among others. There were children, tea parties, lots of fun. Not so fantastic a few months later – Sadie and Jude had split and things were bad. “Sadie needed a fair bit of support at that point,” she said. “We became quite close and that’s really how I ended up doing my a book with her quite a few years down the track.”
When Amber had her son Ollie in 2005, things needed to change. She retrained as a doula (a practical and emotional support person during pregnancy, in labour and also postnatally), and used her healthy recipes to nurture and sustain. One of her clients was so impressed with her food that she asked her to do some styling with her on a food photography book. It was the beginning of the cookbook trail for Amber.
She has written two books in fact, both bestsellers, and a third one is not far away. Love Bake Nourish came out in 2013. It’s full of baking recipes that do away with refined white flour and white sugar. Instead she uses fruit, honey and natural syrups to give sweetness, and ancient grain flours such as buckwheat, spelt and rye to give depth of flavour and texture.
The next book came out a mere 18 months later. Written in conjunction with Sadie Frost, it’s called Nourish: Mind Body & sSoul. Sadie did the ‘mind’ bit, with tips on meditation and mindfulness; Sadie’s personal-trainer sister, Holly Davidson, gave exercise plans, and Amber ran the soul-food department. It’s basically a manual for conscious living.
While whipping out her books in quick succession, Amber was also working as a food stylist on TV shows, with Fiona Cairns (who made Prince William and Kate’s wedding cake). She was cooking privately for celebs as well, eventually becoming Kate Hudson’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal chefs. “Gwyneth is someone the press loves to hate,” says Amber. “She is actually incredibly kind, intelligent and loves her children. She’s one of few celebrities that doesn’t use a nanny when she’s not working. And she loves baguettes and cheese!”
Amber was cooking a Thanksgiving dinner at Gwyneth and Chris’s house when Adele, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Ewan MacGregor and Stella McCartney arrived. “I’d just spent about eight hours in the kitchen cooking a huge meal – I really didn’t want to be meeting that lot looking like I did. Chris made me come and meet them all after the meal and they all stood up and clapped – it was pretty surreal!”
But that fabulous London life is on hold for a while. Amber came home for Christmas and has reunited with old flame Ed Guinness from the Leigh Sawmill. They’d first met when she worked there, aged 16. They’re expecting a baby in November, after her next book hits the shelves.
“This one’s about community and where food comes from locally. I’m going back to my roots to a degree – but I’ve also become completely obsessed with gut health,” says Amber intently. “There’ll be lots of gut-boosting foods and fermented foods, and it’ll also be a kind of reference book. There’ll be basic recipes for broths, stocks, patés, dips and purées with seasonal variations, which will enable my readers to go off on different tracks using a base recipe with confidence.”
She’s looking at ways she can work from home after she becomes a mum again. Immediate plans for work will be based more online. Her website will be key: “I’m hoping it’ll become a platform – for my books, a blog, interesting food products for a store and online cooking courses too.”
“This area is so full of connections – so many extraordinary people with great food ideas,” Amber says. “I’m looking forward to becoming a part of that.” Sounds like there’s a whole new chapter in store for this author.
www.wilddelicious.com | Instagram: @wild_delicious
Books availabe from Matakana Village Books.
CIDER BRAISED PORK BELLY
This is a super-easy dish to make with delicious results. When I went to pick up some local cider from Jones Road, I was amazed to discover that they started their orchard over 35 years ago with some of my mum’s (Kay Baxter) heritage apple trees. The cider that they make is dry and delicious, and it makes for a heavenly marriage when paired with pork. The free-range pork was from the local village butchery in Matakana which has been going for over 90 years and is now under the stewardship of the lovely Matt Watts.
Tip: Ask your butcher to score the skin on the pork belly for you. It makes the preparing time a lot quicker and easier.
Serves 6 to 8 | Prep time 10 to 15 minutes | Cooking time 4 1/4 hours
2 teaspoons of fennel seeds, lightly crushed
2 to 3 teaspoons of sea salt
4 red apples, washed and halved
2 red onions, washed and cut into quarters, skin left on
2 large whole bulbs of garlic
A small bunch of fresh thyme
1 bottle of Jones Road Cider (750ml)
600ml chicken stock
1.5 to 2kg piece of pork belly
Freshly ground black pepper
- Optional: Extra small apples to roast and eat with pork.
Preheat your oven to 200C. In the bottom of the roasting dish (big enough for your pork belly to lie flat with a bit of extra room), lay the prepared apples, onions, garlic and thyme. Pour in the cider and chicken stock.
Rub the scored skin on the belly with the fennel and salt, making sure that the seasoning gets into all the scores in the skin. Lay the pork on the fruit and veg in the roasting tray and pop the whole dish into the oven for 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, take the dish out of the oven, cover the whole thing with a double layer of foil and turn the oven down to 160C. Roast for 3 hours.
After 3 hours, take off the foil and turn the oven back up to 220C. Place the pork back in the oven uncovered to crisp up the crackling. If this isn’t happening, turn the oven to grill and place the pork near the top of the oven, but not too close or it will burn to easily – be careful! When you have lovely bubbly crispy crackling, take the pork out of the oven. Carefully lift out the pork, scoop out the veg and fruit, and place the dish over a high heat and allow the liquid to reduce to a tasty lightly thickened gravy.
Sieve the cooked apples and onions into a sieve and add to the gravy. Squeeze out garlic and add that to the gravy too, give the whole thing a good whisk adjust seasoning with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste.
Serve the pork belly in lovely big rustic slices with some of the cracking and the gravy on the side. Great with roast potatoes, lightly sautéed cabbage and whole roast apples.