Allan Campion - Sharing knowledge, designing innovative products and writing about seasonal food and cooking. With a little consulting + mentoring along the way.
Allan has worked as a chef, food writer and consultant over four decades. He has cooked in countries such as Ireland, England and Turkey, established a culinary tour business in Melbourne, Australia, visited dozens of countries to learn about food first hand and is co-author of 40 cookbooks and food guides.
The (much) longer bio
My working life in food began when I was 16 as a commis chef in Dublin, Ireland. My family had recently returned to Ireland and my parents agreed to me starting work on the proviso that if it did not work out I'd go back to secondary school.
It worked out and I really loved stepping into the world of food and learning as much as I possibly could.
When we returned to Australia I applied to be a cook in the Royal Australian Navy, was accepted and joined two days after my 18th birthday. This brought me some amazing training and experiences. I got to travel across Southeast Asia visiting incredible food cities such as Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila, and Jakarta, plus the Pacific to visit countries such as Fiji, New Zealand and Tuvalu.
Everywhere I went it was the food culture that drew me in. Visits to food markets, searching for the best street food, signature dishes such as chilli crab, dumplings, noodles, local beers, coffee and drinks. Every new destination brought new cultures and so much more to learn about food.
By my mid 20's I was off to Europe, initially to work in London and then in Turkey. Both vastly places, but offering so much. Living in Europe also brought opportunities to visit (and eat in) Greece, Egypt, Spain, Italy, France and Austria.
These were never trips to high-end restaurants, but more importantly to again search for the best local food from markets, delis, bakeries, chocolatiers and coffee outlets. Restaurant visits were mostly for the daily fixed-price option, a brilliant way to eat really well on a budget.
By the late 1980's I was back in my home town of Melbourne. I had initially settled in Australia from 10 years of age, my family having migrated from where I was born in Dublin, Ireland. I was keen to find a cooking job that would be interesting and finally that came my way running the in-house cafe for The Melbourne Theatre Company.
This ended up being a great period as I was cooking for many of Australia's best actors, directors and playwrights as well as the incredible people involved in running the company, building sets, creating costumes and wigs. It was a unique opportunity to meet, talk with and gain insight into such creative people.
This time coincided with me beginning to write about food, primarily focusing on seasonal cooking with my partner Michele Curtis (also a chef). We began creating lists of what ingredients were best each month. We'd visit the best produce markets of Melbourne, talk with suppliers and began writing to the growers organisations to ask for information on availability.
Over a two year period these month by month lists became a great resource to shopping for the best in-season fruit and vegetables. The more we learned about seasonality the more convinced we became that it was one of the keys to great cooking.
This ran contrary to what food retailers wanted the public to believe at the time. It was an era when shoppers were being offered the same ingredients all year round. As if tomatoes and strawberries force-grown in winter tasted anything like those grown in the heat of summer, or asparagus made to appear in autumn had any of the flavour and crispness it does in spring.
Over time, the lists became an edible snapshot of the changing seasons and the best ingredients on offer. Before too long friends and chefs were asking for copies to use themselves. It became apparent that these years of research should be published properly, and it was then that the original idea for The Seasonal Produce Diary was born.
Proposals to various publishers for a seasonal guide were turned down, so in early 1994 Michele and I teamed up with graphic designer Ian Scott. Ian was the graphic designer at Melbourne Theatre Company, which is where we met. Together we talked over the possibilities of a seasonal diary and from these conversations Purple Egg publishing was born. The rest, as they say, is history.
The first edition of The Seasonal Produce Diary was released in 1995 and was well received by the food media and food lovers. This response gave us the encouragement to continue with the idea and see where it would lead.
The Seasonal Produce Diary went from strength to strength each year and became a much-anticipated yearly release for thousands of foodies. The combination of easy-to-use seasonal lists and creative recipes struck a chord with many and became a must-have Christmas gift.
Through the mid-1990s we also produced books for other publishers: Chilli Jam for Allen & Unwin and two editions of The Goods, Melbourne’s Best Food Shops for Wakefield Press. Later we began to publish other books under the Purple Egg imprint.
These included Sizzle, Modern Barbecue Food as well as Will Studd's international award-winning Chalk and Cheese in 1999. Chalk and Cheese took home a host of international publishing awards including Best Cheese book in the World at the World Cookbook Fair Awards, a Silver Award at the World Food Media Awards and the Michelin Best Food Book.
Alongside these books Michele and I were also writing recipe articles for magazines such as Gourmet Traveller, a weekly column on the best food stores in Melbourne for The Sunday Age newspaper and feature articles and restaurant reviews for Epicure in The Age.
The juggling act of publishing and writing saw us wind down Purple Egg after six years and switch over to working with publisher Hardie Grant Books. This led to a hugely creative period of writing from 2002 onwards with books including In The Kitchen and The Foodies’ Guide, The Seasonal Produce Diary, Food with Friends and King of the Grill.
Michele and I co-authored 40 cookbooks, food guides and seasonal diaries, as well as consulting to local and overseas clients, getting involved in food stores, as well as raising a family.
Michele and I have since gone on to separate lives and new businesses, but we remain friends and parents to two amazing young people who are now making their way in the world.
My work has expanded in a multitude of ways from cooking to working as a food writer and establishing a food tour and events business. My food travels have also continued unabated with journeys through San Francisco and New York, a driving holiday from Dublin through the south and west coast of Ireland. Japan and Vietnam have been on recent food itineraries too, as has Thailand which really impressed me away with its incredible cuisine.
It blows me away that I'm just as fascinated by food today as I was when I began in 1979. At just 16 years of age I knew I wanted to cook and was given an opportunity to be a commis chef. How lucky was I to know what I wanted to focus on from such a young age, and then be given opportunities to do that!
I keep going because here is always so much more to learn in food and cooking. And so much more to write about and share with others who share these interests.
Today I design innovative products and write books for those who love to cook and eat well with a strong focus on seasonal cooking. I also provide hospitality consulting, personalised mentoring and take writing commissions.
I hope you find lots of inspiration here as I share what I know about food with those who love to cook and eat well.