WHEN Annabel Langbein looks so polished in her TV programmes, it is hard to imagine she had a wild youth – very, very wild.
From living in a commune – squatting in abandoned houses and trapping possums – to her trip to South America where she met drug smugglers in her 20s to living in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1980s in a tiny room with a house full of gay men in the middle of the AIDS epidemic.
“I had a lot of idealism around that time and I think I embraced it and took it even further,” she said with a laugh.
One of the most popular and renowned cooks in the country is launching her memoir book BELLA: My Life in Food this week telling stories of her remarkable life and how food has shaped it.
In it, she highlights some of the recipes which had resonated most strongly with her throughout the years.
Langbein said writing the book was “surprisingly easy”, but it made her think about the influences in her life.
One of the biggest ones was her mother, who was a great cook and taught her from a young age that cooking was about “your heart and nourishing people”.
“It is not like being a chef because we know chefs are about showing off and performing. They want to impress people.
“But when you a cook it’s about resourcefulness and that spirit of welcoming that is so important. When you cook you make other people happy and you also make yourself happy.”
Food had always been in her life, she said.
At 4 years old, Langbein usually loved to pick flowers in her mother’s garden to make “mud pies” with soil and sand.
A few years later, aged 8, she went with her family to a restaurant and ordered a plate, on which the main ingredient was brains.
She had a blast remembering her father saying to her she would not be able to order anything else if she did not like the food.
“I was determined, and it was delicious.”
However, at this time, she could never imagine food would became her career.
“When I grew up, food was not fashionable.
“If you were going to be a cook, it was like a trade or you went into the army. It never entered my mind it was something I could do.”
After her trip to South America where she created a business of making croissants in Brazil, she started to believe it was possible.
But it wasn’t until Langbein lived with her mentor Daniele Mazet-Delpeuch that she figured out what kind of food she really wanted to cook and simple food which was connected to the land.
“When I lived in the bush, I was cooking over the fire and I really got to appreciate nature.
“And then I was living in Brazil, I was living outside my own language and my community, and I ended up working out that food was a great way of bringing people together and I could also do a business doing something I love.”
Langbein believed food was an amazing way to discover and learn so many different things.
“It is the bridge that helped me discover other cultures.
“If you think the universal thing we all do than anything else, because religion and politics can be very polarising people together.
“I always think when you bring people to the table all the barriers come down
This Sunday, Langbein will launch her book and share her experiences at an event in Invercargill.
The event would also be a fundraiser for Hospice Southland.
Event co-ordinator Suzanne Prentice said every year Hospice needed to raise more than $2.4 million to enable it to offer palliative care to those in our community who needed it most.
“Fundraising events such as Afternoon with Annabel Langbein’ are a very important part in raising the funds necessary for us to continue our work in the community. ”
She said door sales on the day would be very limited, so people should book their tickets sooner rather than later.
Langbein, a fan of Southland’s blueberries and cheese rolls, was very excited to meet the Southland community again.
She believed cooking could be very comforting and helped people during this challenging year.
“There are so many things we can’t control in life cook you can feel the sense of ownership and can bring people together.”
- An Afternoon with Annabel Langbein, Sunday, 2pm, Invercargill Workingmen’s Club. Tickets available at Paper Plus Invercargill, Hospice Southland and via www.hospicesouthland.org.nz/pages/annabellangbein