This Canberra Local Shares How She Founded Her Cooking School, Foodish

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Catch Alaine Chanter at Floriade this weekend.

Alaine Chanter always marvels at people who talk about how wonderful a cook their mum was. “Mine wasn’t,” says the founder of Foodish cooking school, currently whisking her way through no less than 170 events – from demonstrations to tastings and culinary classes for young and old – at Canberra’s celebratory salute to spring: Floriade. (The event wraps on Sunday, October 15, so don’t miss it!)

Thankfully for Alaine, Foodish is not a one-woman show. Her company comprises a team of chefs – to whom she has learned to delegate hearty portions of her workload. “Believe it or not, growing as a business is tough and it has been quite personally challenging for me to cede responsibility for things to others,” says Alaine. “I get frustrated but I also love not knowing where the pots and pans are because someone has decided to organise things differently. I also love hearing Foodish staff talking about their work with a sense of ownership. It’s not just about me, and that is a very great thing.”

With classes including ‘Dessert Roulades and Bubbles’, ‘Tasteful Turducken’ and DIY ‘Chocolate Truffles’ set to see out her school’s fifth year, Alaine explains that while Foodish is “all about teaching great cooking skills, it’s as much about inspiring people to want to cook beautiful food and the connections we forge when we cook together.”

The Canberra local hatched her love of food in France, where she spent her twenties after marrying a Frenchman. “My mother-in-law was a great cook, transforming this produce into wonderful meals. I loved watching her cook and helping her out a little bit. It taught me the joy of cooking with others and cooking with love.”

Alaine’s own mother had come to Australia alone, at 15, in the wake of WW2, “and missed out on just about every element of family life, including learning about cooking… I had grown up in Sydney and knew nothing about growing things, let alone seasonality in food. In France it was all or nothing. Peaches everywhere, then no peaches anywhere for another 10 months, except for those that my mother-in-law had preserved. I realised that I had a lot to learn.”

“My mother-in-law was a great cook, transforming this produce into wonderful meals. I loved watching her cook and helping her out a little bit. It taught me the joy of cooking with others and cooking with love.”

On returning to Australia, Alaine worked as a journalist and then an academic, teaching in politics and international relations. “All the while I tried to emulate as best I could my life in France; growing vegetables, learning to preserve, even scouring the neighbourhood for good-looking snails. And of course, I cooked,” she says. “After a good stint as an academic I embraced the opportunities provided by a redundancy and went to TAFE to study to be a chef. I thought I’d be the only oldie amongst the group of very young apprentices, but, to my surprise, there was a collection of us, all of whom had had pretty impressive careers and were now at the very beginning of something very new.”

Although she wasn’t sure what she’d do once she graduated, Alaine had a hunch it would involve setting up her own business. “I should have known it was going to be Foodish. It’s a no brainer. A passion for cooking; a passion for cooking with others; a love of teaching – it all came together in the idea of setting up a cooking school.”

This year marks the first that Floraide’s Tasting Plate program has been fully organised and managed outside of the ACT Government – and Foodish scored the contract. “It’s huge for us and very exciting,” smiles Alaine. “The timeline was tight, so we are very proud of our work.”

Enjoying the fruits of her career shift, she says that leaving academe to become a chef has only brought her positive attention. “I think people are genuinely impressed and, perhaps, a little envious of people who throw caution to the wind to pursue their passion. It isn’t possible for everyone. Not everyone has the freedom that I had, but many do. Go for it!”

Visit Floriade before it closes this Sunday October 15. Visit the website for details.

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