Q&A with Emma Parker, The Super Mum Chef

Emma Parker is the latest chef to lend her hand to Forbidden Foods. We sat down with her to learn a bit more about what she loves, what inspires her and how she tackles simple and efficient cooking.

What foods inspire you?

Well I’d be lying if I didn’t say a great photo doesn’t get me going, even if it’s of something that I would probably not usually eat. Not surprising of course considering the old adage “We eat with our eyes”. And if something looks super fresh and vibrant, made with thought and love, not to mention our physical and emotional well being, then I’m all for it! Generally I am a massive proponent of organic and whole foods wherever possible. However, being as time-poor as anyone else nowadays, when I do buy a pre-prepared food, I always read the label and choose a product that has as few ingredients as possible. I stay well away from added sugar, Palm oil often disguised as “vegetable” oil, colours, stabilisers, preservatives. You get the idea. And simple ingredients, that is, food items that are not so intimidating or limited to only a few specific applications.

I want to be able to go to my fridge or cupboard and have an array of options for any one ingredient that can be prepared according to my time and needs. Pasta and rice are a great example, as are gluten free flours, tomato sugo, pulses, stocks, green veggies. And I love condiments. A couple of nice vinegars, Asian flavouring staples, good quality oils, eggs and butter. I’d be lost without eggs and butter! Of course dietary choices and needs are taken into account depending on the individual. We are very blessed as a society to have great access to a wonderful array of foods if we are willing to educate ourselves about the options.

What Chefs/cooks inspire you?

Well, there’s no end to the barrage of inspirational people doing amazing things with food thanks to the ever-growing use of social media. I see people everyday that inspire me but there are a couple of go-to people who I know will always be doing something that ticks my boxes. One of them is Jamie Oliver. A cliche perhaps, but this man consistently delivers the goods and not only is his food beautiful to look at and scrummy to eat, he’s so incredibly likeable and he backs himself up with a genuine care and interest in improving the individual and society as a whole with some serious ethical backbone. He does all this with a super cute lisp and in such an endearingly encouraging and approachable way. He’s one celebrity that totally deserves his status.

Another amazing go-to who absolutely pumps out the goods is Deb Perelman aka Smitten Kitchen. She has been my figurative “saviour” on many a night when I can’t be arsed cooking and would rather mung out in front of Netflix than step foot in the kitchen. What this woman can’t do with an egg isn’t worth knowing and for a busy mum or a busy anyone quite frankly, Deb has us covered!
Closer to home I can not sing my praises louder for the beautiful team that is Lentil and Matt of Grown and Gathered.

They have such an incredible holistic, honest and gently passionate approach to everything they do and I know that the food they produce is all soul and zero guilt and is ethically inspirational.

What is your favourite Forbiddens Foods rice?

Ummmm, can I be honest and say I don’t have a favourite? Ive been using Forbidden Foods rice for a while now and there’s a wide enough range that it’s super easy and versatile to use. I guess I do have a soft spot for the black rice. It’s so perfumed and flavoursome and great for sweet and savoury dishes. I find it hard to go past the combination of black rice and coconut milk, maybe cooked with aromatics like lemongrass, pandan leaf or star anise. Fresh fruit on top. Yum! Great to have a “black rice porridge” sitting in the fridge for a quick but satisfying brekkie in the morning. And I LOVE a black rice salad, with lots of fresh herbs, nuts and seeds, a little sweet chewy surprise like goji berries and whatever veggies I have on hand. Doused with a sweet/sour/hot dressing, gets me every time.

What is your favourite Forbidden Foods instant rice combo?

That’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! Lucky I have just the one!
I’d say it’s the Black rice and quinoa combo. It can be made into something sweet or savoury so thumbs to options and with the added superpowers of quinoa it’s great for all those extra amino acids our bodies love. And how quick is it to prepare?!?!? Most of the work’s already done! Yay!

Any advice you can give us and fellow super mums on the go, on quick and simple cooking?

Oh the pressure and responsibility! Advice can be a tricky thing as there are so many tips and tricks and ways to cut corners and time and not everything works for everyone. However! What I try to hold in my mind first and foremost is to be gentle with myself. Life is a tricky business at the best of times and who isn’t too busy nowadays? No one I know! Not beating yourself up if you don’t produce photo worthy food or manage to get greens on the plate every single night really helps! Especially if kids are involved as chances are they’ll turn their nose up at one thing or another nine times out of ten.

Simple is also great. One of my choices once or twice a week is what my daughter calls a picky-plate. She loves it and often requests it and what’s even better is she’ll eat it! Its essentially a pared back anti-pasto, with whatever floats your boat, as long as all the effort required is slicing or scooping from a container, heavy on the fresh veg, shoved on a plate and picked at with the fingers. Too easy.

Batch cooking is always great, it’s not too troublesome to cook extra of something and then it can be eaten again during the week or better yet - frozen. The freezer is my best friend. Such a time saver.

I find that identifying the foods that I not only enjoy eating but am happy enough to cook with stress free are the foods I have on hand ALL the time. Eggs, butter, sugo, pasta, rice, garlic, cucumber, tomato, olive oil etc are used with regularity and abandon at my place. Sure, I’d love to eat mushrooms and polenta, most seafood and a multitude of vegetables but my daughter doesn’t so I save that stuff for “special occasions” - sigh! - and stick to what makes us both cry the least at mealtimes. Don’t get me wrong, I keep it healthy and throw in the occasional taste challenge but I like to preserve my energy to the alone time I hope to have once my lovely one is fast asleep.

For when times are truly desperate - and if you have children this may feel depressingly regular - its amazing how freeing and rebalancing it is to get someone else to cook the meals for awhile. Whilst not all of us are fortunate enough to have a partner or parent willing to put in the hard yakka regularly in the kitchen, the next best thing is a meal service. I swear on everything I hold near and dear that the right semi or pre-prepared meal can work wonders on finding the will to re-enter the kitchen and have another crack. It’s like a mini-getaway from kitchen drudgery, no shopping, no cooking, no CLEANING!!!! Hell yeah! I keep those basics I was speaking about on hand and my daughter can happily feast on pasta and cucumber until it’s coming out of every orifice and I’ll treat myself for a week. There are HEAPS of options out there and all it takes is a click of a button - and maybe a glass of wine to help facilitate the experience.

More often than not being a Super Mum means being super smart and acknowledging that we are already doing a pretty damn fine job. We aren’t necessarily going to be any more “Super” if we grind ourselves down in the process of doing the right thing. Honestly, there are so many possibilities, experimenting is the best bet, plus an extra glass of wine and some self love. Happy eating.

Emma parkerMeet the chefMelbourne chef