Meet the locals: Jane Grover

By Jonathan Fletcher

Jane Grover is a chef, author, and Northern Beaches local. Her delightfully warm and hilarious personality perfectly compliments her passion for cooking, eating seasonally and supporting local. Jane truly is an inspiring person and I caught up with her to talk more about her story, her books and how she is loving her new home in Palm Beach.

Hi Jane, you recently moved to Palm Beach, how do you like it?

Yes, after living in Narrabeen for thirty years we recently moved to Palm Beach. We really wanted to be near the water and have a quieter existence whilst also being close to our family who all live in Sydney. My husband Paul loves going out fishing on his boat and we also love paddle boarding, swimming and walking, so it’s just an ideal location for us. We were drawn to Palm Beach because of its coastal ‘country town’ vibe and now that we live here we have found it to be that way… except on public holidays! 

Tell us a bit about yourself…

Well, straight out of school I trained as a chef and then after completing my training I worked in fine dining restaurants in Sydney for ten years. We moved to the Northern Beaches when I got married, and we had three children. It was then I left the restaurant world, to raise our family! It was about fifteen years later when I got back into the food world, in the form of running a cooking school out of my home on the Northern Beaches. The cooking school was a combination of my training as a chef and my knowledge of food as someone who had raised a family. I was forty years old at the time and had started thinking about the second part of my life and how I really wanted to live a healthy existence. I started to focus a little bit more on what I put into my body, where my food was coming from and how that would influence my long term health. My cooking school was aimed at helping people cook simple and healthy recipes from scratch, creating food that tastes great and is good for you.

Out of running the cooking school came my first cookbook “Naked Food”, This book was a collection of my recipes from the cooking classes, with the theme of doing as little as possible to the food, keeping the food ‘naked’ as such, and teaching people to cook from scratch. 

After my first book things went in a different direction and I was booked for a lot of events, cooking live for corporate health expos, charities and churches. I was travelling a lot with that work.

And then, in the midst of all that we went on a three month sabbatical as a family. We travelled across the bottom of Australia with our car, our boat, our tent and our teenagers. This trip became the inspiration for my second cookbook, “Our Delicious Adventure”; the story of that journey and the food and people we discovered. It was written to share the recipes created, but also as a travel guide to inspire others to go and see the beauty of our country.

What is your food philosophy?

Basically, I just like to cook food from scratch and to keep it simple, less is more – that was how I was taught to cook as a chef, and also how our grandmothers cooked. I always seek to source the most seasonal and local produce as possible and then will make from scratch my own stocks and sauces and pastes. 

Food is often best ‘Naked’, for example, if you have a beautiful tomato that is in season, it doesn’t really need a lot, maybe just some good Australian sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, add a companion herb such as basil and if you are into bread, a piece of locally baked sourdough! That’s more than enough for good food to sing and for it to be nutritionally rich, because you’re not messing with it too much.

Where do you find your produce on the Northern Beaches? 

I have shopped regularly at the The Beaches Market, a farmers market held each Friday in Warriewood. I also frequent Avalon Organics and Bonfire Bread is fantastic! We also really enjoy walking from our home to The Boathouse Bakery in Palm Beach for a sourdough or baguette. 

What do you grow at home?

Growing at home is such an adventure, it’s a trial and error process and for everyone it’s going to be different. Your success really depends on the aspect of your garden, how much sun and rain you get and how good your soil is. I have had a lot of success growing leafy greens, rocket, spinach and asian greens and I’ve always got herbs like rosemary, oregano, thyme and bay leaves. Along the edge our sunny driveway, I have dwarf lemons and lime trees growing in big pots. Those would be all my kitchen garden staples, and then seasonally I grow snow peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and basil in the Spring/Summer season. I have a go at carrots, peas and broad beans in the Autumn/Winter season as well! 

We also have an amazing full fruiting avocado tree in our backyard. I think it’s been there for over fifty years, planted by the original owners of our property, who we’ve been told were Italian fruiterers. We are now reaping the benefit with a steady supply of avocados in my kitchen.

If someone wanted to start growing food at home, what would you suggest is the simplest way?

The simplest way to start would be to either get a few pots, or find a little corner of your garden that you are happy to designate to growing food to and consider these four elements – 

  1. Soil – the quality of your soil
  2. Sun – how much sun the garden gets
  3. Water – rainwater or hose 
  4. Feed – you need to feed your garden

It can get very technical, but to keep it simple, buy some premium potting mix that will give you the right balance of everything the plant needs, fill a nice big pot and put it in a sunny spot! You can then plant from either seed or seedling but I would suggest starting with a seedling. Spring is a great time to plant tomato seedlings, cucumbers, capsicums and eggplants. Maybe designate a pot to try a few tomatoes or cucumbers. Plant your seedlings, keep the water up, maybe do some online research on how much water your chosen plant needs. 

If you have a spot in part-shade you could try growing some greens. Asian greens like bok choy grow really quickly, so that can be really rewarding harvesting them in six to eight weeks, whereas tomatoes and cucumbers are three to four months before they produce fruit. Herbs are another easy thing to grow, particularly in pots, which also makes them portable. I would start with the ones you eat most. 

What is one of your favourite spring recipes?

When I think of spring, I think of asparagus! Because I eat seasonally and choose to buy Australian grown food, it means I really look forward to specific fruit and veg when it comes into its season locally. Asparagus thrives for us from spring until mid summer. It’s sweetness is beautiful, it doesn’t need much,  I would just cook it really simply… steam it and then put some olive oil and a balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, pine nuts, pecorino or parmesan and then season with pepper and salt.  Here is the recipe…

What’s your favourite thing about living in Palm Beach?

I love the proximity to both Pittwater and Palm Beach, all the beautiful scenic walks with magnificent views over both sides of the coastline. A personal favourite is walking up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse and being able to look north to the Central Coast or to the south, looking back over the Pittwater, its world class.

You can find Jane Grover online where you can find her recipes, books and subscribe to her newsletter.