Annabel Langbein on her US television debut

Annabel Langbein

Annabel Langbein is New Zealand's leading celebrity cook, food writer and publisher, and the star of her own successful international television series, Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook. Annabel has self-published 18 cookbooks, which have won numerous international awards, been translated into multiple languages and sold close to two million copies throughout Europe, North America and Australasia. Now she is bringing her acclaimed television program to US audiences through PBS stations across the country. (To preview Annabel's TV series, go to http://bit.ly/1iKu2FW.) In addition, she's publishing the companion cookbook,The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures, in the US as well. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book.) Annabel spoke to us about her program:

When people ask how I came to have my TV series screening on PBS stations across the United States, I realize it's the culmination of a journey that started way back in suburban Wellington when I was a child.

As a toddler I would spend hours out in our big backyard garden, making mud pies and cakes - with my mother's prized roses a frequent ingredient! Slowly my mother weaned me into the kitchen - the sweet smells of her famous baking would lure me into her realm and I would end up riveted on the bench, watching the alchemy happen and waiting for the beater to lick.

She always encouraged my efforts in the kitchen, buying me wonderful cookbooks (Julia Child and Simone Beck's Mastering the Art of French Cooking was a present for my 14th birthday). When I left school at 16, she even suggested I pursue a home economics degree. But I was ever the rebel child, and instead went to live on a remote commune with some friends, growing vegetables and living off the land.

Even there I was always cooking - baking bread each day in a huge cast iron camp oven over the coals, and even doing my preserving over the fire. I loved growing my own food and feeding other people, but back then I never imagined I would make cooking my life and build a career around it.

There were a lot of amazing adventures before I found my pathway. I lived in the bush for a couple of years as a fur trapper, and worked as a helicopter jumper in live deer recovery, made lobster pots and fished for lobster, and even did a stint as an eel fisher (ick, I don't know how I did that, I hate live eels!).

During those 'bush years' I would often spend months in the wilderness without electricity or any of the accoutrements we take for granted in daily life. I'd come out of the bush or the sea with something I had shot or caught and head to the kitchen with Julia - her Lobster Thermidor was always favorite, and I'd often make her Coquelets sur Canapés with the squab I had shot.

Still searching for a career path, I cooked in a little Italian restaurant, started a croissant business in Brazil, managed a vineyard and went to university to study horticulture.

Realizing I was at a crossroads in my life, I got it into my head to write to my idol Julia Child to ask for guidance. Amazingly, she wrote back, advising me to come to New York to further my culinary career. So I moved to Brooklyn, studied nutrition and did some teaching up at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School on 92 Street, before heading back to New Zealand to start up a film catering company.

It wasn't until I was forced by injury to reassess my life that all these experiences crystallised into a plan for my future. Hospitalized for four months with a crushed spine after falling off a horse, I was told I had only a five percent chance of walking again. As I lay there I decided it was time to make the most of the life I had almost lost, and I concocted a plan to share my food knowledge to empower others to live healthier and more resourceful lives.

I decided the way to do that was to write - firstly a column in a weekly magazine and then cookbooks, which I published myself (I'm up to number 22!). Inevitably when I was writing it always came back to food and all those memories that a good meal shared will trigger - people and places, smells and flavors. In writing I found something that brought the threads of my life together and allowed me to explore all the connections.

I married a wonderful man who was and still is a farmer and we started a family. When our two kids, Sean and Rose, were small, we lived in New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland, but would spend all our holidays on our land on the shores of Lake Wanaka in the South Island. When we bought it 20 years ago, it was a total wilderness, no road, no tracks - just a hill covered with bracken and blackberries and a muddy swamp.

Over the past two decades we have built our lives here, breaking in the land to create gardens that feed us, nourish our spirits and connect us to the simple rhythms that make life feel whole and good. I love living close to nature like this, working in the kitchen with what is growing around me, and learning to be more resourceful and honest in the way I cook.

I believe that food is the connector that brings us together. It connects us to nature and the world around us, to our friends and family, to our own community and other cultures and also to our own creativity.

Over the past six years we have created and filmed three 13-part series of my TV show Annabel Langbein The Free Range Cook here. I look back and think how lucky am I to be here living this life and watching things grow. There is a real sense of thrill and joy in building something like this, and I love the fact that through my TV series and books other people can take pleasure from it as well.

To find out more about Annabel visit her at annabel-langbein.com

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