Mount Macedon foodie Alyce Alexandra chats with Jessica Micallef about how she forged an alternative career and the release of her new cookbook, Thermo Cooler Fresh Favourites.

What is your connection to Sunbury and Macedon Ranges?

My dad has a property on Mount Macedon, and while it was initially designed as a weekend getaway for our family, I fell in love with the area and being in nature so it’s become my second home. I now split my time equally between Mount Macedon and Melbourne, but the Ranges are definitely my favourite.

How long have you lived in the area?

Six years, but honestly I can’t remember a life before. I now spend my entire weekends gardening.

What are you passionate about?

Food. In every facet – cooking food, growing food, animal welfare in the food industry, sustainability of food for both environmental reasons and food security, health and the positive or negative impact food can have on our bodies.

But by far my favourite part of this sphere is the growing of food. I have a huge veggie patch divided into rooms with … my chicken coop situated in the middle. That way I can rotate my 13 chickens through the rooms where they can eat the leftovers of my crops, turn the soil, eat bugs and other pests and fertilise.

Outside the chicken city – as my family affectionally call it – I have my two alpacas, Kath and Kim, who do an excellent job of keeping the foxes away and turn the grass into fertiliser for my garden. I’ve also got two beehives. I can feed myself and my loved ones nutritious, ethical food, and in turn I can provide all these animals a lovely life, which brings me so much joy.

How did you come about building a career around thermo cooking?

My love affair with thermo cookers started in 2003 at only 15 years of age. My mum brought one of the first Thermomix machines sold in Victoria and from the minute it landed on the bench, I was hooked. Over the next six years I cooked anything and everything in my Thermomix, yet was frustrated at the lack of thermo cooker recipes available. Part-way through a law/commerce degree, I decided to write my own Thermomix cookbook,

Quick Fix in the Thermomix, which I self-published in 2011. I haven’t looked back.

Tell me about your new book, Thermo Cooker Fresh Favourites.

Ninety-three recipes all for thermo cookers, all quick and easy and all sure to satisfy! I wanted to centre this book around fresh produce, making it the star of the dish.

What would people be most surprised to know about you?

I can’t cook rice without my thermo cooker!

What are some of the best things about Sunbury and Macedon Ranges?

I love the quiet, the nature, the autumn leaves, the people, the community spirit, the little cafes, the wineries, the markets, the plant nurseries. And it’s all so close to Melbourne.

If you could change one thing about the area, what would it be?

Get rid of the 80km/h zones coming up from Melbourne on the Calder Freeway. And also more walking and bike tracks.