Shaun Micallef: how I eat

Author: Interview by Maggie Scardifield
Photography: Supplied

What's the best party you've ever been to?
My great-grandmother's 90th was pretty impressive. She smoked a cigar. I'm not sure she was completely aware of what she was doing, but she got through half of it.

Your go-to dish in the kitchen?
I can do a green chicken or a red beef curry. Sometimes I mix it up and do a red chicken curry or a green beef curry. Once, I tried a green red curry and a chicken beef curry, but that didn't work. I also once tried a curry curry red green with a side order of chicken beef, but that was a disaster. Matt Preston gave it a two.

What does a typical midweek meal look like in the Micallef household?
My wife is a great cook. She can rustle up some mighty fine vittles when she wants to. She once made a bowl of Buddha Jumps Over the Wall soup to die for. In fact, we almost did.

What similarities do great food and great comedy share?
They both need to go down well with paying customers.

Before moving into comedy, you practised law. What was served at morning tea?
I distinctly remember eating a madeleine cake and dunking it in… oh, hang on, that was Proust.

These days, what snacks are in the writers' room?
There's a communal teething rusk we have on a string in the centre of the room. And sometimes a seed bell.

You're from Adelaide, the home of Gourmet Traveller's Restaurant of the Year, Orana. Have you been?
I knew Orana before it was famous. Chef Jock Zonfrillo was very junior back then and I remember coming in once and ordering a toasted cheese sandwich. He didn't know how to do it he was so green. So was the cheese. I whipped one up for him and he was amazed. He's never looked back.

What's been the most memorable meal of your life?
I once ate a sculling oar at the Adelaide Rowing Club. It really stuck out.

You've hosted the Logies. What's the food really like at Australian television's night of nights?
I was too nervous to eat. I drank 12 bottles of Lucozade to keep my energy up and almost had a hyperglycaemic fit.

Who else in the business inspires you?
Grant Denyer is pretty funny, particularly when he does his impression of Milo Kerrigan. I assume that's who he's doing.

Tell us about Tales from a Tall Forest. After three novels for adults, why the decision to write a children's book?
Well, I didn't really choose to write it; it kind of chose me. I know that sounds terribly pretentious, but it's true. I just wrote what I thought was a funny story about a monkey who thought he was God and I showed it to Hardie Grant and they said it was a kids' book. So I wrote the other stories in the same way I would write an adult book - which is good, I think, because I'm not writing "down" to what I think is a child's level. I'm crediting them with some intelligence. The books I liked as a kid were the ones that told me things I didn't know in ways that were surprising.

What was the most rewarding part of the process?
Seeing the illustrations Jonathan Bentley came up with. That he could give the story and characters such richness and beauty was a revelation. It always makes the writing look much better than it is (as in Through the Looking-Glass, for instance).

Food is a running theme in many fairy tales. Why do you think that is?
In the old days, food was aspirational. Most people ate rocks or, if they were lucky, small trees. To be able to eat an apple - even a poisoned one - was a real treat. And as for a gingerbread house - wow! Anyone would think they'd gone to heaven.

Which fairy-tale character do you most identify with?
I grew up with a wicked stepmother and two ugly sisters so, of course, it's The Little Mermaid.

You have three boys. What did a bedtime story involve?
When they were young, I improvised stories for them. Most would involve a central character bearing their name. Invariably it involved being eaten by some sort of dinosaur and escaping when it went to the toilet. This story is not in the book, thank heavens.

Which of your idols, dead or alive, would you most like to have over for dinner?
I don't know if I'd have any dead people over for dinner no matter how much I admired them. Very unhygienic. Okay, maybe Ingrid Bergman.

What food makes you happiest?
Cheesecake. And then another cheesecake.

Who's the funniest person in your life?
My sons. They're very funny but they don't have a need to seek validation from strangers, so they won't go into show business. Thank God. I can do without the competition.

Shaun Micallef's Tales from a Tall Forest (Hardie Grant Egmont, hbk, $29.99) is out now.







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