A Family Table in the Heart of Ojai
At Rory’s Place, the McAuliffe sisters transform California’s bounty into a destination dining experience.
Analiese Gregory left fine dining for a rugged life in Tasmania — and never looked back.
AT THE HEIGHT of the pandemic, amid bread recipes, amateur gardening projects, and other balms for (and expressions of) existential panic, I got very into Analiese Gregory’s Instagram. It was a rich, colorful tableau of Tasmania, the island state about 150 miles off the southern coast of Australia, with honest, down-to-earth captions that telegraphed the kind of zany, hobby-obsessed cabin fever so many of us were feeling. “Just a girl and her ham,” she posted beneath an image of herself holding a freshly smoked pig leg. “Woke up and made a DIY bay leaf wreath,” read another post. I have to meet this woman, I thought.
Gregory is a chef who worked for years in the high-pressure kitchens of fine-dining establishments like Le Meurice in Paris and Sydney’s Quay. In 2017, she packed up and moved to Tasmania to take a job as head chef at Franklin, a lauded (now closed) restaurant in Hobart, and to pursue a simpler, more sustainable life. Across her years working in Sydney, she had made short trips to Tasmania as an antidote to burnout. Unlike the city, “everything felt so clean and so pure,” she tells me over FaceTime late one California night (it was 5 p.m. the next day for her). Tasmania was “really cold, so like the antithesis of Sydney, and the produce was really amazing,” Gregory says. “I would climb the mountain, breathe the cold air, and eat some really good things.” She stayed with a few wine distributors she’d befriended. When she thought about the island, she noticed that all her memories of the place were positive.
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Ultimately, Gregory decided to make the move from the mainland. She loaded her possessions into the car, including her pet rabbit, Hazel, who rode shotgun, and got on the car ferry to the island. In short order, she was responsible for a house in frequent need of repair, and for the other animals she’d soon decide to raise. “Every time I came home, you know, the roof would be leaking or there would be possums living inside, and the goats would break out all the time,” she recalls.
But the demands of her chef job were the same. She still woke up and went to work for 16 hours, returning after dark. She was “constantly tired,” and it was a 90-minute drive per day to the restaurant. She’d signed a book contract but hadn’t managed to write a single word.
“I decided to take a break to write the book,” she says. “Then the pandemic hit.” The forced isolation enabled her to stay up until 3 a.m. testing recipes and to write. The result was worth it. The book, “How Wild Things Are: Cooking, Fishing and Hunting at the Bottom of the World,” is a celebration (with recipes) of bold, natural living and slow food. It also contains many of the kinds of images that first drew me into her Instagram: stunning Tasmanian vistas, gorgeous images of dishes like “Sea Urchin Farinata” and “Cashew Miso Cream with Young Vegetables,” and photos of Gregory looking casually beautiful, often wearing a kerchief around her head and a mischievous smirk. Or a wetsuit — to dive for abalone, naturally.
During the pandemic, the already tight hospitality industry of “Tassie,” as locals call the island, grew even more community focused. “I would go out and forage mushrooms and fruit and things, and take them to businesses,” Gregory says. She also volunteered on an organic farm. “I realized it was better if I was busy doing something. I’m not good if I’m not working; that’s not a good place for me mentally.”
Gregory began cooking a weekly dinner at Lucinda, a friend’s wine bar, which had switched to takeout when it wasn’t safe to gather in public. “I’d make things I’d typically cook for myself,” she says, “like mapo tofu, or chicken and rice, or gnocchi, and just open it up to the public,” making 50 portions to sell. It became a gathering place — “that was the only way we got any interaction with the outside world” — and she welcomed the same faces week after week. (She also posted the handwritten menus for these nights at Lucinda; these became another source of culinary inspiration for me during lockdown. I even wrote down items that showcase Gregory’s inventiveness, like “kefir ice cream,” and “fried doughnuts with XO butter,” hoping I might try a version at home.)
It was always Gregory’s plan to go back to working professionally in a kitchen, but this unique break shifted things. “Maybe I don’t want to go back to 16-hour restaurant days,” she began thinking. “I started to explore alternatives.”
One alternative has proved especially promising. Last year, Australian public television network SBS debuted the series “A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking.” It shows Gregory in full adventuress mode, doing “the stuff I would do on the weekend to fill the cup back up.” Now those things have become her full-time job, she says with a smile: fishing, diving, seeing friends, making cheese with people.
“All of my projects have moved home,” as she puts it. Gregory makes miso, raises pigs, and then does a home kill and makes charcuterie. Three-hundred liters of vinegar sit just out of my eyeline as we talk. She concedes that the projects are starting to take over the house a bit, but “they had to go somewhere.”
A capacity for thinking creatively and a DIY ethic seem to be in Gregory’s blood. She recalls the dearth of processed sweets in her home growing up. If you wanted dessert, you made it yourself. “We didn’t have Twinkies or things like that,” she recalls. “But if you baked a cake, you could eat as much of it as you wanted and no one cared.”
Gregory was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, and her father was a successful professional chef, but he lived in the U.K. “He would come and visit and cook things that I wouldn’t eat,” Gregory remembers. Her mother is half Chinese and half Dutch. “So we were basically raised on foods of those two cultures,” she adds. “Lots of stir-fry, lots of congee. There was always a rice cooker going in the kitchen.” It was “very not cool in 1980s New Zealand” to go to school with those foods in your lunch box, says Gregory, but she has since come around to appreciating it, and her food has a notable Chinese influence.
Her maternal grandmother had three sisters who also lived in Auckland. They emigrated together from Guangzhou in China. “They’re really the first people who taught me how to cook,” Gregory says, recalling the Cantonese dishes of her youth, like cha siu bao, bird’s nest soup, and hot pot. One of her aunts would choose a dish, shop for all the ingredients, and lay them out in preparation for a full day of cooking with Gregory by her side.
These days, the varied types of cooking Gregory has done — home cooking in her youth, haute cuisine at work, recipe testing for her book, and casual high-end takeout during the pandemic — have come together in a distinctive style that prizes the freshest ingredients and an openness to experimentation.
“It’s all evolved organically,” she tells me. “Five years ago, I would never have said I would just be living in the countryside in Tasmania and doing this.” But Gregory offers something special, a combination of pluck and expertise, and a real commitment to pleasure that comes through in all she does.
The transition to becoming a television personality has been “very strange,” Gregory says. “It felt like I was relearning a whole other career.” But she’s kept it real by ensuring it stays true to her real life. When producers suggested they curate scenes for TV, Gregory resisted. “I would be like, ‘No, I have to actually kill the fish, or cut the fish, or do the thing,’” she says. “It has to be authentic.”
“A Girl’s Guide” is shot entirely at her house with friends and people she knows, like suppliers from her time running Franklin. “I’ll call them up and say, ‘Hey, can we go wallaby hunting with you, or can we pick your vegetables, or can you show us your beehives?’”
There is a tendency to romanticize the idea of the intrepid chef. But one reason Gregory’s book and TV show resonate is that she shares her challenges too. It’s not an idealized picture: “I’m always shoveling chicken poo to put in the garden,” she says, “or getting people in to redo the roof because it’s sinking. It’s a lot of work, it really is.” Recently she got bees because she really wanted honey, but then became terribly allergic to their stings. Now she wonders if she should bring her EpiPen every time she goes outside. Sharing trials like these, she has amassed a following enthralled not just by her perseverance but by her humanity.
If the rumors are true, a second season of “A Girl’s Guide” is in the works, and Gregory is looking forward to planning more activities to show viewers. She concedes that making the move from fine dining comes with plenty of fear. There have been “many nights sitting on the couch thinking, Will I be able to make a living and pay the mortgage?” she says. But she is no longer led by the ruthless, competitive spirit of the upscale restaurant world. Guided by curiosity, joy, and determination, Gregory has charted a new life for herself. It is filled with adventure, but also carried along by the demanding rhythms of everyday life in the country. “Right now I have this massive pile of wild fennel seeds,” she says before we hang up, “so at night I sit in front of the fireplace and pick the wild fennel seeds. There’s always something.”
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Nina Renata Aron is a writer and editor based in Oakland, California. She is the author of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls.” Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Rachel Kara is a freelance photographer. She has worked for brands and publications across the globe, photographing people and places near and far from her home by the ocean in Sydney, Australia.
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