Volkswagen Magazine

Life

Home is in the Hills.

A wet and wintery drive through the Adelaide Hills gives celebrity chef Adam Liaw an opportunity to catch up with some old friends and familiar faces.

Words Paul Rodger    Photography Shane Reid

As so often happens when someone seems to have their life mapped out for them, fate intervenes to shake things up. That was the case when Adam Liaw won the second series of MasterChef back in 2010. Adam’s appearance on the reality TV show changed everything, thrusting him into the public eye and setting him on a course to become one of the most recognisable celebrity chefs on our screens.

The episode in which Adam triumphed is still the most-watched non-sporting event in Australian television history. His masterful skills with a skillet got him on the show and helped him win the finale. But how to explain his enduring appeal? Six years later and he has his own successful TV program, Destination Flavour, is the author of several cookbooks and writes regular columns for The Guardian and Fairfax Media’s Good Food. He has also just signed on as a Volkswagen brand ambassador.

His easy confidence in front of a camera and his ‘fun-over-fussy’ cooking style go some way to explaining his evergreen popularity. Or perhaps it’s just that he comes across both on screen and in person as a thoroughly decent bloke.

Calling in on a friend

Those who know Adam well say they aren’t the least surprised that a cooking competition made him a household name. This became clear on a day trip to the Adelaide Hills, where Adam spent his childhood and early adult years. It’s also where he first revealed a passion for good food, well prepared.

With a Passat 140TDI Highline at his disposal, the idea was to spend the day catching up with old friends in the Adelaide Hills. If only the weather had obliged. Adelaide might be Australia’s driest capital city, but you never would have guessed it on a day that started out with menacing skies and light drizzle before steadily getting worse.

With rain flecking the windscreen, we left Adelaide bound for the Hills to meet a close mate of Adam’s who produces some of the most adventurous wines in South Australia. Over a sample of Grenache drawn from one of Jauma Wines’ huge barrels, owner James Erskine says he prides himself on making “living, natural wines”. By this he means he uses natural yeast and bacteria only, and employs traditional practices that don’t add or take anything from the wines.

James says he got to know Adam when they put on lavish dinner experiences for friends and family in their early 20s—Adam dazzling guests with his food and James serving up perfectly matched wines. “When I got to know Adam, he was practicing as a lawyer and I was working as a waiter. He was doing lots of cooking at that point and we would join forces and put on great dinner experiences for our friends. “Adam has always been an entertainer,” he says. “Let’s not forget that good food, wine and being a good entertainer pretty much go hand in hand.”

»Let‘s not forget that good food, wine and being a good entertainer pretty much go hand in hand

Finding his groove

The rain had set in by the time we bid James farewell and pointed the Passat in the direction of Hahndorf, a little piece of Germany transplanted to the Adelaide Hills. It’s one of several places Adam spent his childhood. On the way, he explained how he grew up exposed to English cooking traditions on his mother’s side and Chinese-Malay traditions on his father’s.

He had a few years where he learned effective cooking techniques and honed his favourite dishes, but a move to Tokyo at age 24 brought with it the shock of the new. “It’s exciting when you find a different way of doing something you’ve done your whole life,” he says. “People don’t realise how closed their food world is. When I moved to Japan, it forced me to change the way I cook.”

His preconceived ideas about food thrown out the window, there followed a period of discovery and experimentation that led Adam to consider leaving his job as a high-flying media lawyer to chance his luck with MasterChef. The rest, as they say, is history.

From the source

Cruising down Hanhdorf’s main drag, you can pull in and stock up at German bakeries, smallgoods stores or stop off for a pub lunch. We were on our way to meet Sally—an old acquaintance of Adam’s—at Beerenberg on Mount Barker Road. The family-run farm produces jams, sauces and condiments, many of which are snapped up by tourists who pour out of visiting buses. From November through to April it’s also a great place to do a bit of strawberry picking.

We were extremely lucky to find round and ripe strawberries even in late May, and just as lucky to have some respite from the rain so we could pick them. “The farm has existed since the 1830s,” explains Sally. “My mum and dad inherited the land in the 1960s and started it as a business in the 1970s.” Now Sally, her mum and her two brothers keep the operation running.

On the way out of Hahndorf, we decided on a whim to stop in at the Glen Vimy Orchards roadside stall. Adam was keen to buy a bag of apples but there were plenty of other items for sale, such as olive oil, cakes and juice. Stallholder Kathy was clearly starstruck and enthused that her son, also a chef, would be jealous when she tells him that Adam Liaw stopped by.

That kind of reception is part of Adam’s life no matter where he goes now. Back at Beerenberg he could barely move for fans wanting an autographed souvenir or a celebrity selfie.

»The farm has existed since the 1830s

What the future holds

Adam drives a Tiguan as his family car but says he’s enjoyed the Passat every time he’s driven one. It’s the simple effectiveness of Volkswagens that appeals to him: “I’m not a fussy person by nature. I want something that is of high quality and that just works, so it’s the obvious choice.”

As for what’s on the horizon, Adam says recipe development for his regular newspaper columns, future book ideas and devising about 500 recipes a year keep him constantly busy. “I cook the old family favourites on a Sunday but my ‘work cooking’ is stuff that will end up in a paper or in a cookbook,” he explains.

The Adelaide Hills is a treasure trove of good produce and good people.

At the time of going to press Adam will have just finished filming the fifth season of Destination Flavour (airing early 2017). He also has a book due out in mid-November entitled The Zen Kitchen. True to his no-fuss style, it will feature Japanese family recipes—the kind that can easily be made at home.

Back in the Adelaide Hills, with the light fading rapidly we decided we had just enough time to take in the vista at popular Mount Lofty Summit. But the weather had turned truly spiteful.

With visibility at around 50m, we could barely see the car in front of us, let alone the much-vaunted views from the lookout. We fired off a few photos of the Passat amid the murk before beating a retreat to the warmth of the car’s cabin. The Adelaide Hills is a treasure trove of good produce and good people but further exploration would have to wait for another day.

More space and comfort

The eighth-generation Passat is available in three model variants: the 132TSI, the 132TSI Comfortline and the 140TDI Highline featured here. The new model is shorter than its predecessor (by just 2mm), but the wheelbase is 79mm longer, making for more legroom and headroom. The width has also increased by 32mm, giving occupants a sense of space lacking in other vehicles in its class.

Refined comfort is a hallmark. The Highline variant rides on smart 18” Dartford alloy wheels and features an 8-inch Discover Pro satellite navigation system. Opt for the Luxury package and the car receives LED headlights with separate daytime running lights bolstered by static cornering lights.