Sunday, 15 December 2013

Inspiration, Bush Tucker , a real chef and a recipe....and the birth of Outback Affair

Have you ever smelled the fragrance of crushed lemon myrtle leaves?

The inspiration for my books comes to me in strange places sometimes but the inspiration is always rooted in something that interests me.
I’ve always been fascinated by the outback of Australia and the traditional foods of Australia’s indigenous population.  Indigenous food can be described in many different ways such as bush tucker, native food, or Aboriginal food. In the late summer of 2012 we dined at a wonderful local restaurant on the mid north coast of NSW (The Jaaning Tree) with an aboriginal chef, who bases the menu on traditional and bush tucker foods. Chef Clayton Donovan prefers to look at it as using native ingredients with the foods that everyone eats.
The idea for using a chef in a future book began to percolate but I couldn't pin it down to a story.
 I had written the first two books in the Affairs series (Holiday Affair and Italian Affair) and I was wondering where the third Richards brother was going to find his own happily ever after.
My planning was interrupted to a trip to Las Vegas in mid-2012 to meet with my publisher. On the trip home I was flicking through one of the Virgin Australia on-board magazines and I read an article about a food journalist. By the time we landed back in Sydney, I had my story, my food journalist heroine, and an internationally renowned bush tucker chef school set on the Northern Territory coast.
As I wrote the story, I wanted the chef school set up and the bush tucker concepts and recipes to be authentic, so I paid a visit to Clayton, the owner and chef at The Jaaning Tree. (If you want to have a look at more about Clayton and read some mouth watering dishes.. .you can read about him in the Australian Good Food Guide.
So I visited Clayton and he was delighted to help me with my research. I learned about the working of a restaurant and chef school, and he told me all about bush tucker and the sourcing of ingredients.
In my book I use some of the flavours that Clayton described to me. When Alex and Jess meet in an old run down bar in the outback, Jess is overwhelmed by the appearance and the tastes of her first bush tucker dish.
She totally forgot about the man sitting across from her as she snapped six shots of the meal in front of her, from a variety of angles. She looked up at Alex, suddenly realizing he was watching her with a peculiar expression on his face.
“Do you always take photos of your meals?”
Get out of this one, Jess.
“It’s my first meal in Australia and I want to remember it,” she said weakly.
So much for the acting.
“An interesting habit,” he said. “Although I agree, Janet’s meals are spectacular. She’s wasted in a place like this. It never gets very busy, and she does to like to impress the guests.”
            Jess was barely listening to him. She had speared a piece of fish and raised it reverently to her mouth. She closed her eyes, savouring the taste, and trying to figure out the herbs that combined to give it the subtle flavour. She opened her eyes and that direct blue gaze was fixed on her lips as she chewed delicately. Pointing her fork at him, she pulled out her best imitation of her mother’s voice.
“Has anyone never taught you manners? It is extremely rude to stare. Particularly when one is eating.”
“You really are a case, aren’t you?” Alex threw back his head and laughed. “When ‘one’ is eating? I think that ‘rest’ at Cockatoo Springs will do ‘one’ the world of good.”
“Don’t be smart. I’m just enjoying my meal. And I like to cook so I am figuring out what is in it.”
“Unless you know your bush tucker you won’t figure it out.” Picking up his fork, he speared a piece of fish and chewed it without taking his gaze from hers. “Lemon myrtle and pepper berries.”
The leaves of the Australian native, lemon myrtle have an amazing lemon fragrance, but without the acid of lemon juice.  The leaves can be used fresh, but are also available dried and powdered. It blends wonderfully with seafood. The leaves, stems and berries of the pepper berry plant have an aromatic peppery taste producing approximately three times the anti-oxidants of blueberries.
If you would like the recipe for Fish fillets with Lemon Myrtle Rocket Pesto served with Pepper Berry Vinaigrette Salad you will find it in the back of Outback Affair, along with an acknowledgement to Clayton for his assistance with my research.
Outback Affair is available from


  1. One of the best anniversary dinners Mr Saunders and I ever had was at a restaurant in Cairns called Ochre, we fell in love with bush tucker and lemon myrtle and pepperberrie are a staple in our pantry these days.

  2. Love the Affairs bundle! The Italian Affair is my favorite@

  3. I love chefs in romances...and recipes. LOL I'm a foodie and love learning about unusual cusines.

    Marcy Shuler

  4. I haven't read this series yet but I loved Tangling with the CEO so Im definitely going to have to pick up this set!!

  5. You said, "My planning was interrupted [by] a trip to Las Vegas...." Now THAT must be rough. I wish MY planning was interrupted by, let's say, a trip to Banff National Park in Canada ... or Monaco ... or Italy, LOL!
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. LOL... it was trip to meet the wonderful people at Entangled Publishing and I loved it!

  6. My son is a chef - and not sure his kitchen work has included such excitement.

    And to my knowledge have never been fortunate enough to be interrupted for a trip to anywhere but the mailbox.
    annettena at yahoo dot com


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