This article was first published in Kairos Catholic Journal, Issue 11, 24 June – 7 July, 2012.
Geraldine Dillon is a household name when it comes to cooking in Australia. She hosted a weekly cooking program on Channel 9 from 1960 to 1976—Fun with Food and TV Kitchen—on Fridays at lunchtime. She also wrote food articles and recipe columns for 18 years, first for The Age, and then The Herald.
In between all that she wrote recipes for The Advocate, conducted international tours for gourmet food enthusiasts, operated two cookery schools in Melbourne, released the Geraldine Dillon cook book in 1974, which sold out, and for the last 33 years has led tours to Lourdes in France. She has achieved much in her life, but the thing that Geraldine is most grateful for is the gift of faith.
Kairos Catholic Journal’s Fiona Basile—an admitted food lover—spoke to Geraldine at her home in Glen Waverley to get the inside scoop on good cooking and the gift of faith.
Where did your love of cooking come from?
To be honest, it wasn’t so much a love for cooking; it was more a practical reason. When I was choosing something to do, I felt that everybody had to eat, so I wanted to learn how to cook. And while studying I found I wanted to pass on what I’d learnt to help others. I studied domestic science at Emily McPherson College, then started working as a home service adviser in the home service section of the Gas and Fuel Corporation.
But my first love was travel—I had always wanted to go overseas. So, I worked and saved hard and wanted to see as much of the world as possible. But I also knew it would be foolish to travel all that way and not do something that would further my work opportunities and qualifications, so I enrolled at the Cordon Bleu in London.
What was it like studying at the Cordon Bleu?
Studying at the Cordon Bleu cookery school opened up all kinds of doors for me because it was back in the day when no one in this country had really done that course. While I was there, Woman’s Day contacted me. It turns out they’d been watching me when I started the course—mind you, I had no idea at the time! They were bringing Muriel Downes, the co-principal of the Cordon Bleu to Australia for a national tour and they asked me if I’d be prepared to come home to assist her. They didn’t pay for my fare home but it was worth it to cut my trip short. So I came home by ship and assisted Muriel on her national tour—we travelled to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. I was about 23 years old at that time.
Was that your big break?
Yes. I consider that my big break, because as a result of that I was offered television in South Australia, the job as women’s editor of the Woman’s Day in Sydney and then Channel 9 offered me a television job. I didn’t think I had enough experience to take on the national job at Woman’s Day and I was so grateful to be home, so I decided on the Channel 9 job. I started there in 1960 and it lasted for 16 years. At the same time I was offered a column at The Age, which I wrote for nine years, and after that I wrote for the Herald for a further nine years. In between I was writing for The Advocate here in Melbourne and the Catholic Weekly in Sydney. I also did some radio work with 3AK.
You’ve done so much. What were your highlights?
When I sat down to think of all the things I’d done, I thought, ‘heavens, I’ve covered so much!’ I must say though that my 16 years at Channel 9 were the most happy and wonderful years; everybody was friends. In fact it was just like one big happy family.
We were working out of Bendigo Street in Richmond and we had a lot of live programs on at the time; they’d be all there in the day rehearsing when I’d be taping my shows. It was just fantastic. And I still see the girls from the office who I worked with regularly. One of the girls who I worked with in the olden days is still one of my good friends—she used to type up all the recipes for the various columns and she typed the whole manuscript for my cookbook.
Tell me about the role of faith in your life.
To me, the most important gift that I have ever been given is the gift of faith. I am grateful to my parents and to the Brigidine Sisters, where I went to school at Kildara College—it no longer exists. But my faith is the foundation for absolutely everything in my life. I could let everything else go—all the trips, the famous people, the amazing opportunities and everything that I’ve done. But to have been given the opportunity to have the gift of faith and to have it nurtured and sustained, is such a gift.
I am blessed to have three brothers—John is married with six children, Brendan, parish priest here at St Leonard’s in Glen Waverley and Kevin, parish priest of the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels in Geelong—who also helped nurture my faith. My faith has helped me to get through everything, all the ups and downs, and continues to do so. I’ve been so strengthened by my faith and the morals and the teaching that I had.
Do you have a favourite saint, quote or piece of Scripture that inspires you?
St Anthony of Padua has always been one of my favourite saints. I’ve always considered him my ‘fourth brother’! And it seems that he led me to St Francis of Assisi. For nine years I have belonged to the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO), to the English group with the Hawthorn Capuchins. We endeavour to live the Gospel life following the example of St Francis—going from ‘Gospel to life and life to the Gospel’—a daily challenge!
St Aloysius Gonzaga SJ is another favourite of mine. He died when he was 23 years old and he wrote a letter to his mother before he died and this is something that I used at mum’s funeral; I love it. He wrote:
Do not grieve for me when I die as though I was living among the dead, because I am living in the sight of God. There, I can intercede on your behalf much more effectively than if I were with you.
Now, for anyone who dies, or loses someone, despite missing them and being sad, how wonderful it is to realise and be aware that there’s somebody up there interceding on your behalf. And if we don’t bother to pray to them, or ask them or talk to them, then we’re missing an opportunity. That helps me a lot.