An editor’s dream

by Pat Churchill on April 13, 2015

I was saddened to hear the onset of dementia has meant Dame Alison Holst has retired from the kitchen.

She became a household name in New Zealand in the mid-60s with her first appearance on our black and white TV sets

Over the years she has produced more than 100 recipe books, a good number of them in partnership with her son Simon.

I first met Alison in the early 1970s when I was features editor at The Evening Post in Wellington and the then editor, Mike Robson engaged her to write a weekly cooking column for the feature pages. At the time I was writing a column for bachelor cooks myself and our columns usually appeared on the same page. This was well ahead of the days of colour pages or digital cameras, so our recipes were rarely illustrated, apart from an occasional piece of clip art.

Alison was an editor’s dream – always on time with her column and her copy was clean.

She had a long association with New Zealand’s Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL), a company later acquired by Fairfax Media. Her recipes were published in many newspapers throughout New Zealand and in fact until as recently as last November, Alison and I shared regular billing on the fortnightly food page in The Timaru Herald until Fairfax decided to supply all of its New Zealand newspaper titles with identical centrally generated pages.

Our paths crossed numerous times over the years, particularly as we were both members of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers.

In 1994 when I was working as corporate relations manager for INL, I inherited a small book publishing venture after a the company’s commercial printing operation was sold. In addition to my main job, I became publishing manager for a number of titles including cartoon collections and a couple of cookbooks.

alisonskitchenThat job saw me working with Alison Holst on her Alison’s Kitchen titles, plus a couple of her calendars. It was an interesting and immensely satisfying diversion from my usual work of producing annual reports, house magazines and the like.

I particularly enjoyed the days when Alison and her fellow home economists Jane Ritchie and Dee Harris had finished testing the recipes and moved on to preparing the dishes for photographer Sal Criscillo to capture them for the latest book. It’s always inspiring to watch experts at work and to pick up useful tips.

I liked Alison’s professional approach and her attention to detail. Every recipe was well tested and unambiguous. She had high standards and she stuck to them. And it was great seeing the finished cookbooks make their way onto shop bookshelves.

Post-publication, I made it my business to take a lunchtime stroll through local bookstores and do a little clandestine “rearranging” of the displays. Books need to be flat, with covers showing, to attract attention. I’d pull a couple of Alison’s Kitchen books from the shelves and arrange them flat on a stack so the covers were visible. Other colleagues  involved in the book trade confessed they also did a little book rearranging.

When I moved to Australia, clippings of the latest Alison Holst columns would slip out of my mother’s fortnightly letter. And Mum’s handwritten recipe collection contained many Holst favourites.  Alison is trusted and her recipes work.

Occasionally I’d mention a favourite recipe to her and she’d ask if she could use it. She’d put her own stamp on it, giving it new spark.

Alison may have stepped away from the stove in her own kitchen, but she has ensured that many a home cook has learned to put interesting food on the table for several grateful generations of Kiwis, my own family included.

Thank you, Alison!



A trifle cheeseparing

by Pat Churchill on October 11, 2014

Complimentary: free, gratis, on the house, free of charge

It has quite a ring to it and it’s good to get a “complimentary” gift. On my recent birthday I received a balloon-bedecked email from Melbourne restaurant Mr Mason, along with an offer of a “complimentary meal” – “for bookings of two or more guests.”

How nice. I accepted the offer and made a booking for The Spouse and me.

It was all very pleasant. An interesting menu. Not large but appealing enough to make choosing quite an exercise. Same with the wine list

The young French waitress knew the menu well and described, explained and answered any questions.

A good dining experience. A pleasant celebration.

Confit salmon, duck breast, chocolate souffle - the food was fine Confit salmon, duck breast, chocolate souffle – the food was fine


Then the bill arrived.

I certainly wasn’t expecting free drinks. But the only thing complimentary on the account was a main course. They did say “complimentary meal” not “complimentary main course”. One course does not a restaurant meal make, at least for me.

It was sad to end a pleasant evening on a sour note. I imagine the staff don’t enjoy it, either

A couple of days later another email popped up: a thank you for dining at the restaurant and a request to fill in their feedback form.

I promptly obliged. Really, everything was good – except for their interpretation of “complimentary meal.” I thought I should mention it. If I had been given a complimentary flight by an airline, I wouldn’t expect to be slipped an invoice for occupying a seat once I boarded the plane.

Sadly, there was no reply from the restaurant. I guess they want to hear only praise, and not criticism. In fact, I did applaud the staff and the food. No complaints there.

It may be a question of semantics, Mr Mason, but I think you let yourselves down by being niggardly. Don’t overpromise if you don’t plan to deliver.

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