When Michelle Rowe was 20, she moved to Bangkok and her food world exploded.
“I took a job on The Bangkok Post as the senior business sub-editor, and I lived in a tiny bedsit without a kitchen so I ate street food morning, noon and night,” she recalls.
“Stallholders would come into the office with steaming trays full of Chinese or Thai food, made by generations of the same family. It would cost you about $1 for the most amazing lunch. I loved getting so far out of my comfort zone and I got really interested in the stories behind the food.”
Michelle has been the travel editor for The Australian, travel editor and deputy editor of Gourmet Traveller, a food columnist for The Australian and WISH magazine. She now joins Region Media as our food and wine editor, complementing an already busy schedule with her PitchPerfect Media business.
Michelle will work with Michelle Taylor and Sophia Brady, writing about Canberra’s busy and diverse food scene for the RiotACT.
She grew up in a “very meat and three veg” Australian family where even spaghetti was considered slightly exotic, but travel fuelled the passion for food, driving her to understand more about how people eat around the world, and how tradition creates food cultures.
“I’m not a person who rushes to the museums when I land in a strange city,” she says. “I rush to the food market to see how people eat, what they eat and what the local ingredients are.”
Michelle put in a decade on Fleet St, working for the infamous British red-tops, brimming with “hilarious, intelligent people”. The job enabled her to branch into travel writing, using London as her base.
That led to eating her way through wild and wonderful corners of the world, including Bhutan where she sampled the national dish of chillies in chunky cheese and sipped warm, sour yak buttermilk.
“I’m pretty no-holds-barred when it comes to food,” Michelle says. “I don’t find anything off-putting, so even if the food isn’t my absolute favourite, I’m fascinated to learn more about what people eat and why.”
Although she’s eaten at quite a few Michelin-starred restaurants, the focus on food culture, ideas and people means they’re not necessarily on her short list of all-time most amazing dining experiences.
Instead, it’s places like the tiny restaurant in the mountains of central Italy that Michelle and her husband found entirely by accident. Hens pecked their way across the floor and plate after plate of rustic, delicious and wholly authentic Italian peasant food came out of the kitchen.
Arriving in Canberra for a job with no fixed ideas about the local scene Michelle discovered, quickly, that this is a place worth digging into.
“What I found was this amazing culture of food that’s hidden away,” she says. “You arrive at a nondescript shopping centre on a cold night, push open the door and inside there’s half of Canberra.”
She’s found that Canberra’s food world is not about white tablecloths and hushed voices, or pretentious carry-on. Instead, our identity is closely focussed on produce, skill and the search for unfettered excellence.
Canberrans are often well travelled and have eaten well and Michelle says both restaurants and their customers have high expectations and a fierce pride in their food. That’s enhanced by the sheer proximity of so many food growers and wineries, in contrast to major urban centres where people travel hours to reach producers.
All those relationships foster a close, vibrant and distinctively local food culture – and that’s what we’re exploring with RiotACT’s food and wine stories.
“Region Media has an amazing opportunity to tell the story of Canberra’s food and wine scene,” Michelle says. “We don’t need to go to Sydney or Melbourne for great food.
“We have strong food personalities, a unique climate, and uniquely strong links with where our food comes from. I really want to tell those stories.”
Contact us with your food and wine stories at firstname.lastname@example.org