Sophie offers inspiration in the kitchen

Sophie Zalokar.

This year you might have noticed a new addition to The Leader – a weekly recipe by chef and food writer, Sophie Zalokar.

But who is the woman behind the delicious creations?

At the start of the year Sophie, who actually grew up in Nuriootpa in the 70’s and 80’s, set out on a ‘sabbatical year of travel’ around Australia on her BMW 1200 GS motorcycle.

She had left her home in Western Australia to adventure across the Nullabor through to South Australia and then on to Sydney when the serious rumbles of COVID-19 began back in March.

When she arrived at Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Victoria at the end of March, the border closure announcements began.

Friends in the Barossa had rung, offering their B&B as somewhere to safely land while considering the situation.

But with such unknown circumstances, Sophie decided to lease a cottage in Angaston and make the Barossa her base – thus reducing her travels to within the state.

Being familiar with her local newspaper, The Leader, and having already had recipes published before, Sophie thought submitting recipes could offer a creative distraction during a difficult time.

“The recipes came about as a way of offering some inspiration in the kitchen for locals. It’s the place everyone returned to during isolation,” said Sophie. 

“We’re all creatures of habit to a certain extent but we get three opportunities a day to be a bit more creative with our meals. 

“It helps to make this happen if you don’t have to look too far for inspiration. The local paper seemed the best way to share some favourite recipes that had previously proven popular.”

Sophie’s approach when creating a new recipe is thinking practically for those that are time poor, using basic equipment, prefer healthier food or have allergies and dietary restrictions.

Along with this she tries to include interesting flavours or textures that have a freshness and align with the seasons and local fresh produce. 

“It’s all a big creative jigsaw puzzle of sorts, which I very much enjoy,” she said.

Sophie is definitely well-equipped in the chef/food writer field. When she was younger she completed a cooking apprenticeship with Maggie Beer at the Pheasant Farm Restaurant.

Aside from an extraordinary education in understanding flavour and food provenance, Maggie provided her a window to the world beyond the Barossa.

Sophie left the Barossa region in 1989 to work overseas for 18 months, before settling in Perth. 

Here she continued to work as a chef and started food writing for a WA magazine and The West Australian; submitting a recipe every week that lasted for 13 years. 

Her first book, PicNic – Outdoor Feasts in the Australian Landscape, was published in 2002. 

In 2005 Sophie moved with her family to a property with holiday cottages in Pemberton, a small town in the South West of WA.

Over the course of 14 years, they created a unique culinary tourism business, Foragers. 

Sophie’s second book, Food of the Southern Forests was then published in 2014.

And despite being extremely well-travelled and having a large, successful career, Sophie has been happy to be back to her roots and contributing to The Leader this year.

“It’s been really lovely to be included in what’s still the go-to weekly roundup of local news. So much has changed in the Barossa since I left but the elements of a very tight-knit community have remained,” she said.

“Despite being significantly curtailed and feeling a bit like a foreigner in a familiar place, I’ve enjoyed my time here. Much smaller adventures than I’d planned but nonetheless I have made this year full of new experiences I’d not have had without COVID.”

In the new year, COVID permitting, Sophie hopes to leave the Barossa to resume her wider motorcycle travels in April.

She describes the future as ‘an open book’ at the moment.

“If anything, I think COVID has been a brake-pedal to allow for a kind of necessary pause to work out what’s really important individually, as a community and the value of our diminishing precious natural environment,” said Sophie.

“It’s not been without sacrifice and it’s been particularly tough on small businesses and the loss of those special family gathering moments. 

“I hope though this means we’ll be better able to adapt to whatever comes our way in the future.”

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