Kim Caunt dished up generous helpings of expertise and enthusiasm for the Border’s fine fare and now an annual award has been established in her honour, writes JODIE O’SULLIVAN.
WHEN it came to food, Kim Caunt could hold a conversation in any language.
Kim’s “gift to the world was food”, long-time friend Michael Byrne told the more than 300 people who gathered at Willowbank Farm Albury to celebrate her life recently.
But perhaps if you had asked Kim, she may have argued quite the opposite; that in fact it was the world that had given her the gift of food.
It was a gift she embraced passionately and shared generously, with big dollops of enthusiasm and expertise.
And while Kim travelled the world revelling in many food-finding expeditions, it is on the Border that she has left a lasting legacy.
Sadly, both her local and global gastronomic adventures, including a much-anticipated trip to Turkey, were cut short when Kim, 55, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer in February.
Much like the gourmet grocery business she worked for in recent years, food was an “essential ingredient” to Kim’s personality, says Michael, who first met Kim in 1978 when they started at Ryde Catering College together.
“She cooked in it, delighted in it, discussed it, shared it, taught people about it, holidayed around it, promoted it, sold it and even invented it,” he says.
Fellow foodie and Q Food Albury owner Noelle Quinn says Kim was instrumental in developing both the Border’s palate and its profile.
She “enthused, encouraged, educated and ignited others to be food passionate”, says Noelle.
That’s why an annual award, Kim’s Table, has been established to honour her passion for encouraging others in all things food.
Noelle first met Kim as she was bringing to life a specialty cheese shop at Haberfields in the early 1980s.
“For me and for many others during those years Kim was our introduction into Australian and international cheeses,” Noelle says.
“Not just cheese, but all things dairy — clotted cream, yoghurt, creme fraiche, washed rinds, blues, sheep, cow and goat’s cheeses.
“I recall how proud she was of the Mungabareena, a small square reddish-orange washed rind that stank out our fridges.”
Then there were the accompaniments.
“‘Decent bread’, I can hear her saying, ‘you’ve got to have decent bread’, which at that stage came once or twice a week from Melbourne,” Noelle recalls.
“There was crackers, lavosh, quince paste, and all the latest food trends she had seen, read or discovered.
“She had the opportunity to travel in Europe during the Haberfields cheese years so then it was the aged gruyeres, emmental, and melting raclette over new baby potatoes, ensuring that with this we drink a crisp riesling because ‘it’s how they do it, it aids your digestion’.”
After eight years with Haberfields Kim set up her own small providore business, Food Foragers, from the family home in Mount Street while continuing as a consultant with the dairy company.
She actively promoted the use of local produce while scouring Melbourne and Sydney for specialty lines and hard-to-find items, all the while sharing the recipes and techniques she gathered along the way.
With her expanding awareness, Kim “desperately wanted our region to wake up and be noticed”.
“To talk, to grow, to share food in events, at markets, in festivals, at farm gates and in our community,” Noelle says.
“Kim, with a handful of the rest of us, started the first food group, RAW (Regional Albury Wodonga) — it’s still the best name.”
This was to lay the foundation for the birth of the Hume Murray Food Bowl and all that was to follow for the region, from food festivals to farmers’ markets.
“Kim was such a great ambassador for the markets, shopping at say the Willowbank vegie stall and passing on her tips for what she might with this or that vegie; they loved her on both sides of the counter,” Noelle says.
" ... only Kim could cradle and stroke a perfect peach, a special book, a fine knife in the way most us might reserve for a puppy or new baby.NOELLE QUINN
In the 1990s Kim — with the help of her friend in food Peter Howard, TAFE NSW and RAW — saw the regional cuisine model become a component of apprenticeship training for local chefs.
In the years to follow Kim and Noelle taught the module together, traipsing from farm to cellar door, restaurants and producers to allow young chefs to see first-hand where and how things were grown or made and by whom.
“Many a past apprentice has returned to tell Kim how much they valued the experience, the exposure to Kim’s passion alone gave them such enduring knowledge,” Noelle says.
Kim’s unwavering passion quite likely inspired younger brother Rod Waite into the food industry where he is currently the chef at Q Food Albury.
Out in the wider public, the Border’s food-loving residents and local chefs were delighted when Essential Ingredient came to town several years ago and with it Kim as a fixture in the business.
“Every visit was much like Christmas,” Noelle says. “A new line of exquisite crockery, a special salt, pasta, truffles, Mexican or Middle Eastern ingredients ... things to ooh and aah over and smell.
“And yes, we all know how only Kim could cradle and stroke a perfect peach, a special book, a fine knife in the way most us might reserve for a puppy or new baby.
“I still remember the day the new oven arrived for her kitchen renovation and her words, ‘I just needed to hug it and I wanted to climb in and sleep in it’.”
From artichokes to appliances, the nurturing of all things food extended to home and family.
For Kim’s husband Graeme and their two children Amelia, 24, and Ed, 22, their family home stands as testament to her passion.
An abundant vegetable garden spills across the front yard while inside bookcases bulge with much-thumbed-through cookery books and the coffee table overflows with the latest issues of Gourmet Traveller.
Friends and family both agree they have yet to see a collection of cookbooks to rival Kim Caunt’s.
So it’s no surprise to hear Amelia say her mother rarely cooked the same thing twice.
“Mum didn’t really have a signature dish and she didn’t really ‘do’ leftovers,” Amelia says.
“She just had so many ideas and loved trying different things.”
Both Amelia and Ed accompanied their mother on separate trips to France (Amelia) in 2006 and Italy (Ed) in 2008.
Amelia laughs as she recalls that the accommodation was always booked in relation to the best local markets.
“Basically we would go and see the sights between all the food places,” she says.
“It didn’t matter if we were travelling overseas or locally, everywhere we went as a family there would always be something to see, taste and try.
“In France it might have been a little cheese shop tucked away somewhere with a little old man in it. We would buy all this amazing stuff and make a picnic.
“One of my fondest memories is the time we ate prawn sandwiches for a week when we went to Mooloolaba and Mum made this wonderful cocktail sauce with pineapple.”
Graeme says Kim’s passion for food transcended language barriers.
“Food was like walking and breathing to Kim,” he says.
“When she travelled she wasn’t a tourist; she had such respect and passion for how the culture was reflected in the food that people just embraced her.
“She could hold a conversation in any language in food.”
That universal love was evident in Kim’s life and is treasured as shared memories after her death.
Gathered on the banks of the Murray River at the farm of long-time friends and food producers Byron and Vicki Gray were hundreds of people who had loved and been influenced by this remarkable food pioneer.
In a spread befitting a fanatical foodie, local growers, producers and chefs contributed a bountiful array of cheeses, gazpacho, pates, terrines, chocolate and home-grown fruit and vegetables for Kim’s final feast.
These offerings were lovingly sent with hand-written messages Kim would have adored such as: “This tomato gazpacho is made with fresh tomatoes from Dad’s Yackandandah garden”.
Washed down with lashings of gin and tonic (Kim’s drink of choice), the food community joined with family and friends to bid farewell to a gentle woman with a giant heart and even greater appetite for life.