Guest Editor, Jane de Graaff from I Ate It All
I have to be honest and say that I am more than a little nervous as I wait to meet Matt Preston.
I\’m a long time fan.
By that I mean I\’ve been a fan since long before he began appearing as the gentle-but-fair food critic judge on channel 10\’s MasterChef.
You see, for those who have only recently become aware of the man and his cravats, Preston is first and foremost a food writer.
He\’s been writing columns and features for the likes of Delicious and The Age\’s Epicure for around 10 years. In that time he\’s covered everything from jam making to the mysteries of Grandma food, sharing stories and insights that delve deep into food as the ties that bind.
The release of his book, Cravat-a-licious, is a chance to see a collection of his best and favourite articles, spanning his food writing career – and it\’s a colourful ride to boot!
Having followed his work from glossy pages and smudgy news print to falling further in love with his cravat wearing ways on TV, it was with a nervous girly-giggle that I stood on tiptoe to shake the man’s hand in person.
For one thing he is a monster of a man; both in his huge and enthusiastic personality, and then in his sheer height.
But my jitters fade away as he eases me into conversation- it\’s hard not to love a man so clearly passionate about his work.
JdG: I have to start with the obvious and ask; what cravats are you wearing this morning?
MP: This is Eamon and the other one doesn\’t have a name.
-He removes the cravats to show me and I have to think twice about doing a runner with one of them.
The thing is, I have a green one like this and a green one with a very similar pattern and I think it might be Rachel. They have names purely so we can find them in the wardrobe. It\’s organisational rather than personal. And on the show tonight I wear Eamon and two cravats that I bought from a shop in Gertrude Street (Fitzroy, Melbourne) called Circa.
JdG: I know that you have been wearing cravats since you were a teenager, but you don\’t just wear one, you wear two or three neatly mixed together- why did you start mixing?
MP: About five years ago there was a piece in The Age about how cravats were going to become fashionable again. It freaked me out because I\’ve worn cravats since I was eighteen, and I thought to myself â€˜but that\’s my thing\’!
-He throws his hands in the air with mock anguish.
So that\’s when I started mixing them together and it just went from there. I like it, the matching, it\’s kind of fun.
JdG: How many cravats do you have now?
MP: I have one hundred and five. I was given three in Brisbane, I bought six more from Circa. Some were sent to me, made for me by viewers- it\’s lovely.
JdG: And have you named them?
MP: Not yet. Once they get used a lot then they get a name to differentiate them. Even some of my old cravats don\’t have names because we don\’t use them very much. It\’s just easier to have names rather than to say â€˜grab the red one\’.
-He picks up the copy of Cravat-a-licious and points to the cravats piled high on a platter on the front cover- then he reels off their names.
MP: You know that\’s Danielle, Alison, Ros, Myf, long Michelle, Tom… and that one doesn\’t have a name& It was bought in Hong Kong though. You see, they don\’t all have names.
JdG: The response to the book has been very positive.
MP: It\’s been good& It\’s a weird one though because it doesn\’t really fit in any one category. It\’s a collection& the real motive for this was to do something that was away from the TV thing. What I am is a food writer, and so what TV does is take a small part of me and blows it up really big. This is my way of showing that there are all these other pieces.
Most people have no idea what I do, other than I\’m the guy on telly with the cravats.
I\’m really happy with my writing, this is what I do and I\’m comfortable with that, there\’s good stuff in the book, and I hope people will get something out of it.
JdG: So how would you describe the book then?
MP: Books on food writing -straight food writing- other than the kind of political stuff like Michael Pollan, or Fast Food Nation- either they\’re political or else they\’re glossy, like gift books. Books that you buy to give other people& we really don\’t read them. I\’ve got loads of recipe books on my shelves that I have never cooked from.
There is definitely the notion of food books that are for the lounge room, then there are food books that live above the fridge -and those are the books that are dirty and stuck together, your bibles- but this is a book for beside your bed, or -dare I say it- for the downstairs lavatory.
-He says with a cheeky glint in his eye.
JdG: How do you pick your topics? Because they are certainly diverse.
MP: Lots of it is generated by the people you talk to. But for me a lot of it is about real food, people, and the food you will eat on a regular basis. Weather that comes from an Anglo Celtic background or an Italian background- I like that food underpins who we are as people. No matter what.
With the cover stories you get an idea and then you have to research, because they take a long time. The pig-kill story took two years. The temple food story took eighteen months. You have to persuade people that you\’re serious about sharing their story.
JdG: Do you get excited about the topics you cover?
MP: Oh yeah! I love what I do. It’s fantastic! The whole thing about it is that I am doing something that is a real privileged to do.
I used to write about TV. I used to get paid to watch TV- and that\’s not a bad job. But it\’s really not as good as going out and eating and drinking.
And learning. I am perpetually learning. You start as a novice; you talk to people and learn& by the time you\’ve done three interviews you\’re a pseudo expert on the subject.
And obviously the more you do it, the more contacts you get to know, the more there is. You look around and you see things and then you ask questions.
JdG: Do you have a particular favourite cuisine?
MP: No- I just love them all.
-And he\’s telling the truth- you can see it in his eyes.
Available now: Random House RRP$34.95