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Marion Grasby: Conquering cross cultural cuisine

Marion Grasby at a market in Thailand
Marion Grasby at a market in Thailand

Supplied: Andrew Chant

Marion Grasby was a popular contestant in MasterChef Australia’s second series in 2010. She moved from Sydney to Bangkok in order to be closer to the producers and suppliers of her food range, Marion’s Kitchen. Her mother is Thai and Asian food was a big part of Marion’s childhood. Marion was born in Darwin and grew up in Papua New Guinea.

As a child, what did you dream of doing?

"I had so many different ideas when I was little. Having grown up in quite a few different places, I could see that there was a big wide world out there. I went from wanting to be an international spy, to wanting to be a lawyer, a journalist. I eventually did become a journalist, so one of those things did pan out — international spy did not."

Marion Grasby at a market in Thailand
Marion Grasby at a market in Thailand

Supplied: Claudio Raschella

You were born in Darwin and raised in Papua New Guinea. Do you have food memories associated with those regions?

"In my opinion, Darwin is such a different part of Australia. My memories of Darwin are going to Asian food markets, eating mangoes, growing chillies in our backyard, and eating crispy spring rolls and laksas on a Saturday morning at markets. For me, Darwin has a really Asian feel to it — probably also because of my mum and her friends and the Asian community.

In PNG, I went to the local markets with my mum because my mum and her family are such food people. I remember the smell, which was overpowering. I’ve always liked going to fresh markets, in particular, because you get to see the produce — fruit, meat, seafood — whilst being able to talk to people."

What was the effect of having travelled a lot at a young age?

"It gives you an appreciation for how people are different. You really can’t take one way for granted as the be all and end all. I love the fact that living in PNG was such a different experience, and gave me lots of different memories from boarding school in Australia. Living in a country like PNG gives you a very deep appreciation for countries that I’d say are a lot luckier, like Australia. There are people in PNG whose fortunes cannot change — doesn’t matter how hard they study. Sometimes access to school isn’t as easy as it is in Australia. I think, growing up, and seeing a lot of people and their experiences made me appreciate the things that are easier or more accessible in Australia."

Malaysian curry dish
Malaysian curry dish.

Supplied: Marion Grasby

You’ve mentioned your mum a couple of times. What were some of the lessons and values that you learnt from her?

"My mum grew up in a very small village about four hours west of Bangkok. She happened to meet my dad in Bangkok in her 20s. Her village is a typical rice farming village. She said to me once, “it was such a small world, where I came from. My biggest dream as a child was to own a car”. For her that would’ve been amazing because no-one in her village had a car. Going back to the village and seeing how life is much more simple there, really makes me appreciate how far she had to travel and learn to establish herself in Australia. She has taught me that if you work hard enough, and hope hard enough, you can make your own way."

Why did you decide to move to Thailand?

"We started my food range, Marion’s Kitchen, five years ago. It was a huge dream come true for me. I’ve always travelled to Thailand but never had the opportunity to live and work here. To be able to come back and create the relationships that I have with the local producers here, and really immerse myself in my mum’s country has been really amazing. That was one of the biggest motivating factors for moving here."

How is it different to living and working in Australia?

Thai green prawn curry by Marion Grasby
Thai green prawn curry.

Supplied: Marion Grasby

"There’s more fried chicken everywhere, which is great! Bangkok is such a dynamic city.

It’s more than just street food, bars, or shopping centres. I always describe it as an Asian version of New York. There are so many different boroughs and experiences to have — whether you want to have an authentic or traditional cultural experience, like seeing temples, or want to live it up and go to a sky bar and drink cocktails. You can do all of that in Bangkok. It’s impossible to say that you’re an the expert on the city because it’s so big and wonderful."

What effect has living in Bangkok had on your work?

"Being able to understand Thai culture as someone who’s living and working here has been a very steep learning curve. Even though I’ve travelled here so much and my mum is from Thailand, it’s very different when you’re actually here, and working here and making friends here. Being able to get my head around those cultural issues, which are very particular to Thailand or Asian countries, and being able to translate that to forming strong relationships with my producers, suppliers, business contacts, friends has been a very big learning curve but one I’m very much enjoying."

What do you miss about Australia?

"It’s very hard to get Promite over here — yes, I’m a Promite person. You can get Vegemite. I miss Promite and good sourdough bread. I miss a lot of my friends and family in Australia.

Red-braised lamb with egg noodles
Red-braised lamb with egg noodles.

Supplied: Marion Grasby

And I really miss living in Sydney and having Bondi right there and running along the beach."

After a long day, what do you like to cook at home for yourself?

"Generally, I like something simple because I would’ve been recipe or product testing. Nice asian greens, steamed with a little splash of Oyster sauce and a little bit of chilli, are quite good when you’ve been eating all sorts of curry, stir fry and soups. I love a big bowl of Asian greens. It makes you feel good about what you’re eating."

Imagine that you had the chance to host a barbeque anywhere in Australia. If you could invite three Australian guests (dead or alive) who would they be? What would be on the menu? Where would you like it to be held?

"My dad because he tells the worse jokes. My good friend, Adam Liaw [winner of MasterChef 2010] because I don’t get to see him enough and he is a wonderful human being. I would also invite Maggie Beer [chef and food producer]. I’d hope that she’d bring dessert because I’m terrible at making desserts.

I’m a bit guilty of putting Asian flavours on everything. So it’d be garlic, coriander, pepper prawns because you can’t beat prawns on the barbeque. And some grilled squid with some nice Thai nam jim sauce. And of course, some lamb — because I hardly get to eat lamb in Thailand — and serve it with a coriander, chilli sauce.

And it’d be at the beach in Sydney."

What would be your advice to your 15 year old self?

"Be patient. Things might not always go to plan, which is fine. Don’t get hung up on the things that go wrong."

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