You've worked as a PA to a well-known Melbourne chef and so does your heroine, Becca Stone, in Yes, Chef! How much of the novel is fact and how much fiction? And does it get annoying when people assume it's all true to life?
When I began writing Yes, Chef! I honestly didn't think it would ever be published. I wrote it more to prove to myself that I could finish a book and so in the beginning I did use a time in my life as a basis for Becca and some of the situations she encountered. These characteristics very quickly took a departure from reality, however, in order to suit the confines of the story and provide conflict and tension in Becca's life.
I'm always careful to maintain that Yes, Chef! is fiction as I wouldn't want people to think the chef I worked for was anything like the arrogant chef in my book. It's another reason I decided to set the book in London, aside from the fact that I adore the city and it would make it easier for my characters to travel to interesting places such as Istanbul and Florence.
I think it's only natural for people to think that everything must be true and I don't blame them. It isn't of course, I merely used my years of experience in the industry to provide an authentic background for Becca and the other characters.
Can you say who the chef you worked for was and if they've read the novel?
Chef Damien Malone from Yes, Chef! is most certainly not based on any one person but rather an amalgamation of people I've worked with in the past, stories I've heard from friends in the industry and what I've read and seen of notorious chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White.
Part of the inspiration behind Yes, Chef! was discovering for myself what an interesting and varied job I had working for a well-known chef and then wondering what it could be like if I didn't work for someone as nice and humble as my boss, chef Andrew McConnell.
I no longer work for Andrew as, after three years as his PA, I decided to focus on my writing and our farm, but we remain friends. I'm not sure he's had time to read my book but when he does I'm sure it will make him laugh.
Before becoming a foodie, you had an occasional stint on stage and screen in London. Can you tell us more about that and what it was like afterwards to be 'dropped' into the food world?
Growing up I always did a lot of acting and dancing and so when I left school I assumed that was what I was supposed to do with my life. I moved to London in order to pursue a career as an actor and yet I always seemed to be more dedicated to my day jobs than I was to attending auditions or honing my craft. As a result I only ever had small theatre roles and extra roles in film and television.
I did work behind the scenes for the TV series, Midsomer Murders, which was a lot of fun but it wasn't until I rediscovered writing that I understood what it was like to have a true career passion.
Working with food began as a job to pay the bills in London and then became a career choice once I returned to Melbourne and was offered the role as Andrew's PA. It wasn't until I began working for Andrew and then met my husband that I truly began to appreciate food and now even though I'm no longer working in the industry it still remains a passion for me.
A book reviewer was surprised by kitchens being described as 'such sexed-up places' in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential and your book. Why do you think being around food encourages 'mingling'?
I think it's more the nature of the industry that encourages shenanigans between co-workers. When you work such long and unsociable hours I think it's natural to flirt and fall for the people you work with as you see them more than you do anyone else. Working in a restaurant is also a very unique working environment.
At no other job are you run off your feet for between eight and 14 hours on end with very little breaks, dealing with often demanding customers while running in and out of a hot kitchen, all the while trying not to do anything to set off the highly stressed chefs. Restaurant staff need to find a way to make this all not only bearable but enjoyable and flirting is a part of that.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I wrote quite a lot during high school but didn't take writing seriously until I returned to Australia from London. I had the idea for a series of young adult fantasy novels but I struggled to get the first one finished. I didn't understand that I needed to treat my writing as a business and so I enrolled in a commercial fiction masterclass to get some advice.
The author who ran the class [Fiona McIntosh] enjoyed hearing my stories about the restaurant industry and encouraged me to elaborate on them and turn them into a book. I decided to take her advice as after four years trying to write fantasy I thought a change of pace might do me good.
I had such fun writing Yes, Chef! but never really had publication in mind. I thought I would prove to myself that I could finish a book and then go back to my fantasy series. But when I showed Yes, Chef! to a few writer friends their reaction was overwhelmingly positive and so I thought I'd send it to Penguin and give it a try.
Within a month I had a call from an editor at Penguin's digital-first imprint, Destiny, saying they were interested in publishing Yes, Chef! and three weeks after the eBook was released I received the wonderful news that they had decided to release a print edition. It was all very unexpected and now even though I'm on a different path from writing fantasy, I feel very grateful that I get to do something I love for a living.
How different is your life now in the Dandenong Ranges on a small-acreage farm with your husband and chooks to your life in Melbourne and London?
Very different. In London I used to spend my weekends shopping and going to parties and now I spend my weekends watering and weeding! Sounds like a change for the worse but I wouldn't say that.
We live in such a lovely peaceful area and it's such a pleasure to grow your own food. It's also a wonderful setting to write in. Before moving to the country we lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne so it's a big change and a lot of work but I enjoy being busy.
Oh, and we now have seven chooks which is a debacle as the original four don't like sharing their territory with the newbies one bit!
You grow vegetables, berries and herbs to sell to some of Melbourne's best restaurants. How does this process work? Are you up early and off to farmer's markets, and is it a seven-day-a-week job?
It's most definitely a seven-day-a-week job. Even though we don't work all day every day on the farm there's always something do be done, whether it's weeding, watering, feeding the chickens or sowing new seeds.
My husband works full-time running a number of top Melbourne restaurants and so our first customers were the chefs he works with. We do get up early to harvest and then he drops the produce off before starting work so it's a very long day for him.
Instagram has been a great marketing tool for us. We aim to grow interesting and varied produce that excite chefs and we've picked up new business by posting pictures of our wonderful produce. It's such a pleasure for us to see our produce on the menus of so many of Melbourne's top restaurants and even more satisfying to hear such well-respected chefs rave about the quality of the food we grow.
What is the signature dish your friends and family know you for? And are you a keen cook?
My husband is actually the cook in our family. He's not a chef but he has such a natural talent and love of cooking that he's the one with the signature dishes. Our meals always revolve around what we have available on the farm. It's so enjoyable to harvest your dinner from the garden and then cook with it.
I'm the baker in the family and my most recent signature dish is a rhubarb and cinnamon cake. I discovered the recipe on the What Katie Ate blog when I had an oversupply of rhubarb in the garden and it's so delicious and easy to make I've turned to it a few times when entertaining recently. The recipe can be found here.
For more on Lisa, visit http://www.lisajoyauthor.com/.
Finding my inner peasant...