Gastronomically gifted, Karen Martini’s talent lies with pot and pan in hand. The celebrated chef has headed some of Australia’s most famed kitchens, including Tansy’s, Iceberg’s Dining Room, the Melbourne Wine Room and her current artisanal pizza restaurant, Mr Wolf. She has taken her culinary capability to the screen, whipping up delectable fare on Better Homes and Gardens as their resident chef and is a recurrent judge on My Kitchen Rules. From pan to pen, Karen is also an author, with seven cookbooks under her apron, including the recently released ‘New Kitchen’ and is a food columnist for Epicure in The Age and Good Food. A mum of two girls (Amber and Stella aged 7 and 8); the foodie is passionate, unpretentious and possesses a zesty, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, all with just the right amount of bite.

Proving to be the hostess with the most-ess, the beautiful Karen welcomed us into her eclectic Melbourne home, where we rummaged through her makeup bag, engaged in a highly fascinating discussion about the evolving food-sphere, the superfood impetus and what her natural remedy to appease all ailments is.

My skincare is up and down.

I do love the sun, so I try and apply sunscreen every day and then [my routine] depends [on what I’m doing]. I’m travelling tonight so I’ll take my Cosmedix Rescue Balm. It can be a bit heavy, but I’m quite dehydrated most of the time. I use a really good cleanser, when I remember! I use the L’Oreal Eye Makeup Remover – not many work, especially for when I’m wearing TV makeup and it’s a little bit heavier, that’s seriously one of the best!

THE RADIANT MAMA'S SKINCARE REGIME CHANGES WITH HER ROUTINE

BEAUTIFULLY BOTTLED FIGS AND BERRIES FROM TURKEY PAIRED WITH CHANTECAILLE, OBAGI AND COSMEDIX

As you get a little bit older you tend to get a bit stricter on the amount of things you do…

I use a Vitamin B serum and also a Vitamin C serum, sometimes it’s just a squirt on the hand and you just pat it on! I do Ellis Faas[for foundation] and Chantecaille Tinted Moisturiser every day – it’s got a sunscreen in it – and the Laura Mercier Concealer if I’m wearing more serious makeup. The Obagi Elastiderm Eye Cream is one of the best eye creams I’ve ever come across. SkinMedica is amazing too, and they have a really good cleanser. Then the Cosmedix Rescue Balm and Mask you put on at night, not every day cause it’s quite thick

I like that dewy, fresh look…

The Kevyn Aucoin is amazing mascara and all the Nars Pencils and Laguna Bronzer, I know everyone’s got that. And this Pencil for eyebrows – it’s actually not a pencil – it’s like little wind-out tiny crayon, so you can put individual little lines on rather than the big sha-bang! It’s Bloom, not many people do that particular one and I can’t bang on about it enough!

CULINARY QUEEN; KAREN'S LATEST BOOK 'NEW KITCHEN' AND AN ARRAY OF NARS EYE PENCILS

MONKEY SEE, MONEY DO; TINTED MOISTURISER, KEVYN AUCOIN MASCARA AND MONKEY NIK-NAKS

The three things, if I’m going to leave the house…

… and I’m not in a professional makeup situation, it’ll be moisturise, obviously, and either the MAC Studio Moisture FixIlluminator, Chantecaille or Ellis Faas, and then always, always eyebrows and always mascara. And that’s the no makeup look haha!

These amazing little capsules stop your hair having that frizz factor.

Snobgirls Hydramend and Amino Collagen capsules that contain a smoothing serum, they’re cute and they’re easy to carry around, you just rub it through towel-dried hair and they smell really nice too. My hairdresser, Marco Terzini, imports them from New York. I go to Spada in Melbourne for cut and colour. Marco is a very good cutter and his wife is great at colour and so is Jess there. They don’t take themselves too seriously; they’re just doing their thing. I quite like it ‘cause it’s quite a low-key salon and he gets on with it.

KAREN'S COLOURFUL BIRDY VASE AND HER HAIR SECRET, SNOBGIRLS CAPSULES

KAREN IS A CREATURE OF BEAUTY HABIT WHEN IT COMES TO SKINCARE

For facials and such I’ve just switched over to Liberty Belle

The other place I was going to has disappeared over night! But now I get a dermal sweep type treatment which is a non-invasive sort of facial which is really good, it’s like buffing your face essentially and it does have great results. And laser treatments on blemishes and spots and bits and bobs that come and go! Waxfx, a little place in Murphy St, South Yarra for eyebrows, Tamsin and Nicky there, and I actually go to Glam Nails which is like two doors up – just keep it all local!

I am quite loyal once I find someone

I like to get a rapport with them and they know you need to be in and out quite quickly and be efficient. Sometimes Paris my PA might come and we’ll have a meeting while I’m in amongst it. As a chef, I wouldn’t have thought that I would be ‘upkeeping’ that much with beauty, but I do now, obviously because I’m in front of the camera a lot and my face is recognisable – and now I sort of need to look good shopping at the market! Hence the eyebrows and mascara and washing your hair – no, the hair can be anything – as long as you’ve done your face!

A BEAUTIUFLLY KOOKY BIRD VASE FROM PORT FAIRY IN VICTORIA ALONG WITH SKINCARE ESSENTIALS

A FIEND FOR ALL THINGS FIG; KAREN IS DEVOTED TO DIPTYQUE'S PHILOSYKOS

I wear the Diptyque Philosykoseveryday…

I can’t get enough of the fig… and the Bergamask by Orto Parisi is the newest one, it’s from France and I picked it up in Wellington, New Zealand of all places, it’s musky and spicy but there’s some sense of green notes in there as well ’cause I tend to lean towards the citrusy, green notes. Maybe it’s more suited to winter but it stays with you! I can’t find my Gypsy Water but I wear that too. And the Comme de Garcons, although I think Michael’s getting through that quicker than I am!

I LOVE this Celine bag

I’m trying to downsize bags, of course you’ve still got three compartments and I always tend to overfill mine! Fat Celine is never a good look! I’m not totally faithful to brands, but I wear J Brand jeansCarla Zampatti – for the odd well-cut jacket, she’s very good at that, WillowScanlan and Theodore, although often they design for quite small-chested women – I’ve told them that! Then you can pick up your little basics in Witcheryand Country Road.

CELINE-OPHILE; KAREN'S TRUSTY TRIO BAG SPILLS MAKEUP ESSENTIALS ALONGSIDE FRESH TOMATOES FROM THE GARDEN

ADORING RUDY AND KAREN IN HER MELBOURNE HOME

It’s just about well-cut, everyday stuff.

Chantelle for bras with beautiful details and Love and Lustre for their underwear, they’re sort of larger, like French knickers rather than a G-string, if you’ve had children – you’ll get it! Fiorina for jewellery and I had some stuff made while I was away too, I like a crucifix, a drop earring with a pearl, a bit of a rocker edge sometimes. Alexander Wangand Jerome Dreyfuss for handbags – I’ve got a few of those and Miu Miu.

I get travel sickness and I take fresh ginger with me.

I also moisturise and drink water, and then drink more water if you’re drinking alcohol! And some sort of illuminator too, this one is MAC Studio Moisture Fix, it’s probably actually meant to be a lotion that goes under your makeup but I find that it keeps you looking better when you come off the plane.

TRUSTY TAKE-OFF NECESSITIES; TRAVEL SPRAY AND MAC STUDIO FIX ILLUMINATOR

THE CHEF SWEARS BY THE HEALING COMBINATION OF TURMERIC AND GINGER

If I’m feeling nauseas or tired or before I go to bed…

I put ginger and turmeric shaves into tea or hot water and then infuse. The healing qualities in fresh turmeric is nuts – so you grate it into your tea, or even in food, but it’s better to infuse it in a simple, tisane-style. It’s new, well not a new superfood because it’s one of the oldest superfoods! But it’s really good for you in terms of cleansing and helping your gut absorb nutrients as well. They dry it and powder it down, but the qualities it has in the fresh form is way higher than when you get it in the dried and processed. So ginger and turmeric together, my chef who is from Nepal, I tell him ‘oh Chef you’re sick drink this’, and he’s like ‘oh yeah, I’ve been doing that for years! Now it’s hip!’

My kitchen is my office 50% of the time!

That book has basically come off these benches – I generate it, it’s me, I don’t have a team of recipe writers. All the stuff on the wall – I cook and plate – it’s not that I’m a control freak, but possibly I am! I really enjoy that, that’s not something I want to hand over, I have a vision for the dish, and it gets tweaked as I’m cooking so I can’t necessarily hand over a recipe for somebody that’s not finished for them to refine. I like to say that the recipes resonate and work for people, and what you see in the pages you’ll almost get. Well hopefully I can take you through to the point of plating, but then it’s up to you, haha it’s not my fault if you can’t do it!

"THE OFFICE OF HAPPINESS"; A BEAUTIFULLY SWEET NOTE LEFT BY KAREN'S DAUGHTER

WHERE THE MAGIC HAPPENS; INSIDE KAREN'S KITCHEN FEATURING FRESH KALE STALKS AND TOMATOES

I do cook at home.

You can see on my Instagram, I cooked a curry the other night that will probably end up on the pages of the next book or on TV. Everything has its place and it’s like a cycle of what’s in season, how I’m feeling – everyone in this house is generally eating whatever I feel like eating! The girls can be [fussy eaters], or I get a ‘oh mum, there’s a bit of spice in this!’ or ‘I think you’ve maybe added too much mint to this salad!’, I get a bit of feedback like that!

If you want to know what’s going on in your family and children’s lives…

have dinner with them…hey, how simple is that! We sit around the table as often as we can, and even if the kids are having dinner on their own, the girls will eat at the table, not on their laps in front of the TV or computer. The focus is on food, and then they can regulate themselves, we don’t tell them how much or not to eat, it’s an important thing. That’s why I am writing recipes and trying to inspire people to just have that down time. It might only be 20 minutes, but the TV is never on, and I put my phone over on the bench so it’s not at the table. If you can’t have that half an hour of peace, life is just as fast enough as it is. I love it when you go out for dinner and see people all on their phones, haha sometimes couples get on better that way!

FOODIE FRIDGE; DRAWINGS BY HER DAUGHTERS AND THE ARTY MENU FROM HER RESTAURANT, 'MR WOLF'

A COLOURFUL PALETTE; ''NEW KITCHEN', FRESH MANGOES AND WILDY POPPING ANEMONES

We’re a multi-cultural country and we are very indulgent in the way we eat…

Because we go ‘oh I feel like…’ and you can go and get it. We do have extravagant palettes in Melbourne, and even Sydney’s catching up haha! We’re very serious, and I think Australian chefs are good at going overseas, coming back, and crafting whatever they’ve learnt to suit us here. New Kitchen is a snapshot of Australian cookery, and the way people are eating out and therefore want to start trying to experiment, in wanting to cook that style themselves, with Korean, Japanese, Indian, etc. It’s all about pickling and brining and curing and health but still tasting really good and rewarding yourself at the other end – like ice-cream sandwiches, donuts, hot-dogs, cronuts, all that stuff – so everyone is indulging and then they’re juicing! I do find the food-scape has changed with social media, you can flick something up on your phone and automatically you’re either inspired or feeling guilty.

I think we’re challenged by social media.

We’re told what we should be looking like, feeling like and how we can achieve it. But I love it, I need it, especially Instagram. I’ve got more to say in a photograph. It’s fun, and it means that you see things from around the world that inspire us here, so it makes for a really fast life. But I really believe that there is a place for good things done well and well-crafted all the time, whether it’s hot on social media or not, it will still be wanted and needed because people just want to go back to what they know sometimes. You want to be able to go to your restaurant and know you can get a beautiful Caprese salad or stir-fry noodle or whatever it may be from that particular place because you know they do it well, and they’re not going to experiment with coffee foam and potato on Thursday night! You need those restaurants too, but you need a balance – the whole thing’s a balance!

THE HILARIOUS KAREN & HER DOG RUDY

THE GORGEOUS KAREN AMONGST THE POTS AND PANS

I believe cooking from scratch is healthy.

My mum cooked everything from scratch. Buying the marinated chicken at the butcher, that they’ve marinated usually from some sugary jar mix and they’ve diced some chicken breast and then you go home and cook it, that’s not healthy cooking. Cooking from scratch is marinating it with whatever yourself, so you know what’s in it. The other healthy angle is the superfood angle, and incorporating more raw or wholefoods that are good for you – it doesn’t mean it has to be hippie – it used to be called hippie food back in the day where it was just about lentils and socks and sandals and hairy armpits and crystals!

The superfood thing…

they are better for you yes, but it doesn’t have to be obsessive, I think Paleo is good too, a little bit of this, a little bit of that mixed together, but being black and white, and no dairy and no carbohydrates and no this for long periods of time is not good for you, I don’t believe on long term basis. But there is a tribe out there, like the Messiah’s come! But it is a good thing because it’s making people think about their diet and what they’re putting into their system, and that’s what My Kitchen Rules which I’m on inspires people to think about food in a different way, whether it’s good or bad. Paleo costs a lot to live like that! And if the whole world did, the footprint is too big to be consuming that much meat. I think if we all drank more water and had smaller portion sizes and we moved a bit more we’d be healthier. You can still eat what you want but think about the portions. I say! I’ve done eight days overseas and I’m running around Caulfield Park, which is three km – when I say run, it’s more like a shuffle!

CULINARY FETISHES; HER FAVOURITE RED KNIFE, FRESH HERBS, LEMONS AND AN EVIL EYE FROM GREECE

A COLLECTOR OF COOKBOOKS; A SLICE OF THE COMPREHENSIVE COLLECTION IN HER HOME OFFICE

I have a fetish for shoes and pepper grinders!

You may as well throw in handbags as well! I’m Tunisian, French, Italian, English and Irish – there’s a bit of everything in there in my cooking. I do rather get excited by knives, sorry I like knives too! My other collection is cookbooks, I’ve got around 450. I do use cookbooks – I have to check my own recipes sometimes! The Stephanie AlexanderGreg MaloufMaggie Beer[cookbooks] – I flick constantly,  I love seeing people’s work, it’s like their heart, their bible.”

Story by Rikki Hodge-Smith; Interview by Sigourney Cantelo; Photography by Myles Pritchard; Hair and Makeup by Isobel Claire

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  1. December 16, 2015
    ra.wyndham

    This is by far one of my most favourite interviews you have done, thank you.
    Karen is so beautiful and I loved reading about her favourite things.

    1. December 30, 2015
      sigourney

      So glad you liked it Rach! We love Karen too 🙂

  2. January 13, 2016
    beautyglossiping

    Fabulous! Love Karen both on TV and her recipes – lovely to get an insight into her life. Thank you for a great interview.

    Lisa // Beauty Glossiping

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