Analiese Gregory Cooks, Hunts, & Fishes at the Bottom of the World

Read an excerpt from the Tasmanian chef's new book, "How the Wild Things Are."

February  9, 2021
Photo by Adam Gibson

Analiese Gregory was born in Auckland, New Zealand, to a Chinese-Dutch mother and Welsh father. Schooled remotely for several years during a caravan trip around Australia, she is no stranger to discovering the wonders of her environment without much provocation. Analiese worked in several of the world's finest restaurants—including under French culinary legend Michel Bras—before settling in Tasmania, the "bottom of the world," to head up the kitchen at the award-winning Franklin Restaurant.

She's since taken to the screen like a stingray to water, appearing with chef Gordon Ramsay in his National Geographic series Uncharted, working on her own upcoming travel and cooking show, A Girl's Guide to Hunting, Fishing, and Wild Cooking, and publishing her new cookbook, How the Wild Things Are, with narrative by renowned Tasmania-based nature and food writer Hilary Burden.

I reached out to Analiese for a quick chat on a few topics from the book that stuck in my mind while reading like barnacles to a rock.

Photo by Hardie Grant Books

Is there a hybrid or fusion dish born of your different cultures that you enjoyed growing up? I remember growing up that my mother would always make us chicken soup with a rice base, kind of like a loose congee but still with all the Western ingredients. like carrots and celery. I had huge cravings for it whenever I was sick.

What do you enjoy most about working with a video team to make a culinary show, and does the process have anything in common with working in a fine dining environment? The long hours! Television is a completely different discipline from cooking, but having endurance definitely helps. Preparation is also important—if we want to film a crayfish or rabbit recipe, for instance, there's still prep to do before filming to make that possible. Lots of running around and visiting suppliers. My favorite part is getting to work with people that I like, and the adventures we go on around Tasmania, like camping in stunning world heritage areas with no electricity, swimming in lakes to wash, and cooking over campfires.

What does "chill fine dining" (your words) mean to you? It means something in the way of "the food, wine, and experience being very important, but breaking down all the superfluous things around it that require time and energy." Taking the experience back to its bare bones. In the past, I felt a heavy weight of expectation for everything to be perfect.

Can you tell us a little about your "charcuterie wardrobe?" Should we all be filling wardrobes with cured meat? The charcuterie wardrobe came about because I was looking for a room at my house to cure meat in over the winter, and my walk-in wardrobe just happens to be dim, humid, and very cold! It does provoke all kinds of reactions from guests though. Eventually I'd like to put up some cool room paneling and build a proper meat curing room. An unused fridge or wine fridge also makes a great curing space, and you can attach a temperature/humidity controller.

What are a few of your favorite Tasmanian ingredients, and are they anything we can access here (including online?) Some of my favorite Tasmanian ingredients are abalone, wallaby, sea urchin, pepperberries, mekabu, saltbush, and leatherwood honey.

Excerpt: Tasmania

At Gourmet Escape, the annual Western Australian food, wine and music festival where world chefs and gourmands get their taste on for ten days under the bright gaze of the Southern Cross, Analiese was chatting onstage with the head chef of Slovenian restaurant Hiša Franko. In 2017, Ana Roš was named world’s best female chef in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants, a list commonly associated with Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and René Redzepi at Noma.

It didn’t matter much what their live audience thought. Ana and Analiese were having their own conversation in public, Ana tearing into Analiese for wanting to leave Australia and return to France, with its way of life and sense of cooking. Ana told Analiese she owed it to Australia to try and create the thing she was leaving for, because that way of life already existed in Europe. She implored her to go somewhere remote, pick plants, cook and document it. And so the seed was sown between two female chefs in a public moment that would change the course of Analiese’s trajectory.

Even when the surface of the sea is rough, life underneath the ocean is calm. All you can hear is the sound of the sea, as if you haven’t yet been born. You can be alone inside the womb of your head, in a way that you aren’t in the normal world where there is always some outside noise to distract you. Diving in the ocean, you meet a whole other world of creatures and plants totally different to the land world. There are no people, and while it is beautiful, it is also, sometimes, utterly frightening. Before moving to Tasmania, Analiese had only ever been a holiday diver: "Look at the pretty fish in the water." She had never swum in Sydney because she thought it too cold. Now she rarely goes anywhere without a wetsuit, hood, gloves, and boots.

How come? Because Tasmania is beautiful and pristine, and you can dive for luxury ingredients like abalone, wakame, or sea urchin with an annual recreational licence that costs very little.

Now Analiese has become so hooked as a diver she says she’s renowned among her friends for "doing stupid things on my own." Like driving through Geeveston down to the furthest towns, to Dover and Southport, to the southernmost tip of Tasmania, diving off rocks for abalone, or scaling cliffs to collect seaweed to make seaweed jam. Everyone thinks she’s taken early retirement, but she works at Franklin five nights a week and her freezer is stacked with her own wild catch.

Some of it is gathered from a week on Tasmania’s remote Flinders Island, where she cooked for the Visiting Chef Series with her mate Jo Barrett, baker and chef at Oakridge Winery in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne. When Analiese and Jo took over the kitchen at Flinders Wharf, they did more than cook. They hunted, foraged and dived for their produce. Flinders farmer Mick Grimshaw, who took them diving for crayfish, watched them in the water for hours. He says they bridge the gender divide: "friggin’ legends!" With two days off, she is heading up the east coast to Dolphin Sands–a place she is drawn to. But first she gets home to Huonville from the restaurant at two thirty in the morning. It was a good night because one of her suppliers–a dairy farmer and his wife–managed to get off the farm and away from the kids to dine at Franklin, where they had never been before.

While most of her customers are international tourists brought to Hobart by the reputation of the Museum of Old and New Art, she says the biggest VIPs are her growers. How happy it makes her to see them eating her food, especially when it is all about their produce.

She’s running a bit late, driving up to Dolphin Sands via Hobart’s Farm Gate Market, where one of the growers is pleased to see her snaffle the bunch of white asparagus no one else wanted and place it into her market carry bag along with flowering kale, "because it was there and looked cute," organic cheese, a bag of green lentils, and a bottle of natural vermentino from the Clare Valley courtesy of her neighbor, who she first met in a very Tasmanian way (one degree of separation): outside Franklin in his role as a wine distributor.

"You don’t know me, but I live next door to you," he said.

"It’s just a little bit weird," says Analiese.

It’s been a long drive, three and a half hours, so we head to the nearest vineyard for a late lunch with a view. Chef Zac Green, who lives up the road in Swansea six months of the year and the other half in the south of France, gives Analiese tips on local spots to shore dive for abalone. It is Tasmania. He loves fishing too, and so these two people who’ve never met before fall into the sort of conversation divers have about sharks and stingrays...and fear.

"Stingrays are just curious," Analiese says.

Back at my housesit in Dolphin Sands she starts snapping woody ends off the white asparagus, then looks for a spoon. Thermo plastic, wooden, slotted, a ladle, or a spider? When you’ve been taught the right way, it’s hard to let go of needing the correct tool for the job. Luckily, this house seems to have them all. Like all of her chef friends, she loves being cooked for because she’s always the one cooking. But at the moment she’s enjoying cooking at home because for a very long time, she didn’t. "I think there’s some kind of relationship between how many hours you cook at work and whether you cook at home," she muses.

For her, there used to be work cooking and home cooking, but lately they’ve come closer together. Work cooking used to involve tweezers, cutting things into tiny circles, lots of waste, and everything being very precise. At home, she gets ingredients and just goes for it, doing whatever she likes. "It’s a matter of what you have in the house, what’s around you, as well as all of the experiences you’ve had in your life so far."

She hasn’t fully decided what we’re having yet. Maybe blanch the asparagus spears first, then pan-fry them. There’s a massive bouquet of parsley I picked up in Swansea from the Sunday veggie van. Maybe go with a caper and parsley vinaigrette...there must be anchovies hiding somewhere.

We drink G&Ts while she raids a stranger’s pantry and I ask her where her recipes come from. "When you look at an ingredient like an abalone or an egg," she says, "there are many ways you can cook them. All the ones that come to your mind are things from childhood, your travels from around the world, the things you’ve done in restaurants. You cycle through a mental catalogue of things, then there’s another mental catalogue of things that go with this. Then there’s what do you have? Then you look at them and cross reference, and you mentally taste. It’s similar, but different, for designers who look at a space and imagine it with furniture. I can look at ingredients and imagine how they’re going to taste together. Sometimes you get it wrong, but not very often."

She says most of her Tasmanian recipes come together this way because it’s always about what’s around. Michel Bras is in her head too, saying never to buy vegetables from someone you don’t know. What does she take that to mean?

"If you grow something yourself, maybe you can see it from the window of your house; or, if your next door neighbor is growing something, you can picture their family. Then when you go to use that product, a) it means more to you, and b) you’re much less likely to waste it or to treat it with disrespect, I guess. You’re less likely to throw it in the bin because it’s Al’s turnip or Al’s chicken – it’s personal. So, I suppose what he meant is there’s a personal connection to those things."

She’s trying to reduce the number of groceries she has to go to town for. Now she has her own chickens, she’s crossed eggs off the list. Next it will be honey, but she knows she’ll never be completely self-sufficient because she’ll always have to buy things like flour. "At least I can buy it milled yesterday or today by people I like and respect, who are doing something good for the land and the world."

She’s been Skyping with National Geographic, and they’ll be here at the end of the month on a three-day reconnaissance for their show Uncharted. She’s been assigned the role of "Gordon Ramsay’s guide to Tasmania" and they plan to go diving for sea urchin on Bruny Island. How perfectly magical and serendipitous that while she chose not to work for him when she was in London, he is arriving on her patch nearly twenty years later. They talk about filming her walking out of the ocean like Ursula Andress in Dr. No. "Yes, I can do that for you, but you do realize I’ll be wearing two centimeters of neoprene and a snorkel," she tells the producer.

For Analiese, uncharted means diving in out-of-the-way spots, where you are under the water and there is no pollution, and everything you see is wild. Wild means taking 4WD-only tracks in a national park and going to places where you don’t really see other people. Wild is driving all the way to Ansons Bay to someone’s shack on a rough road that makes you think you’re never going to get there. Wild is trying to avoid Tassie devils on the road at night and seeing more wildlife than you’ve ever seen in your life before, even though you’re behind the wheel of your car. Wild can also be feral. "Like when I go to Bruny and camp on a friend’s farm or sleep in his shed and when I wake up I go to the ocean, go for a dive, come back, butcher some wallabies with him, go possum shooting with him, and if he asks, 'Have you been floundering?' we go back for waders, and go floundering." It is the kind of wild with no real creature comforts that is not unique to Tasmania, but feels more available here than in other places.

We eat pan-fried white asparagus, buttery green lentils, and roasted flowering kale with Persian feta and a sharp parsley vinaigrette in a welcoming house that neither of us owns, and we talk about tomorrow: how ideally the water is going to be flat and glassy, and visibility will be really good. She needs to dive. Diving does for Analiese what meditation or yoga does for other chefs who need to control their stress levels. Analiese would never call herself a good swimmer. She rarely swam growing up and had a fear of deep water, which meant to dive she first had to overcome her dread, along with a hatred of cold water.

"I suppose in moving to Tasmania I mastered some of the fears that had been holding me back in my life, or something." It’s peaceful in the water, she says again; how really calming it is. We are rolling about in the Jimny, almost bumping our heads on the roof as Analiese negotiates a 4WD track on the way to Cape Tourville Lighthouse in Freycinet National Park. It’s fun, and we hoot and holler and gasp at the ocean blues while Jimny just wants to go faster, the track getting steeper and rougher down to Bluestone Bay. The stones are so perfectly round, and blue like breath on a foggy morning. I ask her what the syringe on her dashboard is for. She says she used it to de-worm the goats before she left home this morning. She worked in a century-old medina, once, in the city of Fès in Morocco when she was invited to do a two-month chef’s residency at Numero 7. She says it has a sense of place as old as the world, that when you look out over the rooftops, with the exception of the satellite dishes, it is like Jesus could be alive and walking around. She says she thought she knew Moroccan food, its tagines and pastillas. It was really the reason she went there. But she found there were other influences: Jewish, Arabic, and those of the nomadic Berbers. That’s when she realized to really understand Moroccan food, you had to understand the country’s migration patterns.

"It became really in-depth and interesting, and suddenly you’re in this other world where it’s not tagines at’s much more varied and totally different than I ever imagined. People told me about these dishes that became mythical for me–sardine tagines or the monkfish and chickpea tagine that I had in a private home when I first arrived in Marrakesh. It wasn’t anything I’d ever seen in a cookbook or ever thought about or had before. It was out of this world."

When you’ve worked all over the world and been an angry chef, moving to Tassie seems a reasonable lifestyle choice. Shopping isn’t a new dress, new shoes, or a onesie. Shopping is at Tuckerbox for chicken food or goat worming or asking Dallas, the farmer across the road, if you can get three bales of hay from him. You could be back in the medina in Fès, because meeting people who don’t know your past is the same in any wild or exotic place: you feel like you can be your best self, not held back by the burden of other people’s expectations or the limitations you place on yourself.

You do wild things.

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Jess Kapadia

Written by: Jess Kapadia

Jess is a food and travel writer/editor who grew up in her mom's Indian-Jewish hybrid kitchen. She's written for publications including Edible Los Angeles, Saveur, The Daily Meal, Food Republic, The Spruce Eats, and Food52. Jess lives in Brooklyn with her cats, Frasier and Niles.