Q&A: New Zealand chef Peta Mathias on love, aphrodisiacs and why travel is good for the heart

Kiwi chef Peta Mathias retells unusual love stories from around the world in her latest book Eat Your Heart Out. NZ Life & Leisure writer Emma Rawson gets the scoop straight from the foodie herself. 

Question: What inspired you to write Eat Your Heart Out?

Peta: I was asked to write a book of love recipes by Harriet Allen my publisher at Penguin Random House. She said, what with everything that’s going on in the world right now, what we need is love. I don’t really like writing recipes but then the book became a series of unusual love stories which was much more interesting to me and I agreed to do a few recipes.

Peta sitting outside Ghandi’s house.

Question: What was your writing and researching process for the book?

Peta: Harriet and I did a lot of online and hard copy research to find these stories. I also asked my friends, family, Facebook and Instagram followers to give me ideas. One the the most touching love stories between a goose and a swan was given to me by a client on one of my tours.

Question: Do you believe love and food are connected, if so why?

Peta: Yes they are inevitably connected because they are both sensual activities full of mystique. Many industries are based on fantasizing about food, sex and love. Sharing food with people is a way of sharing love and respect. If you prepare food with love, that love is transferred to the people who eat it.

Question: There’s a chapter on aphrodisiacs, do you believe they are true?

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Peta: No there’s absolutely no scientific proof that any food significantly enhances sexual arousal it’s wishful thinking at best. However certain foods do lead us to think of sex, mostly because of the sensual experience of eating them with our hands e.g oysters, asparagus, artichokes, etc.

Grande Ailoi Uzès cooking class.

Question: You’re an experienced traveler – is there a particular food that ‘takes you back’ to a particular place you have traveled to?

There are lots of foods and recipes that are associated with certain countries for me, for example the moment I arrive in France I want to eat foie gras. I just get the feeling and texture of it in my mouth and start longing for it. I learned how to cook it from a chef lover in Paris who used to feed it to me for breakfast with toasted pain de mie and Sauternes.

Question: What was a highlight of your recent trip to India?

Peta: Taking masala chai with my tuktuk friends in their slum house in Jaipur. They prepare it with such care, infuse the tea with spices and hand it to me in tiny cups as if it was liquid gold. Their eyes are shining with the pleasure of having a guest and I feel loved, I get to share lots of gossip and feel envigorated by the tea. Surely that is the proof that food is love.

Darjeeling on India Tour.

Question: Who was the most interesting person you met on the trip?

Peta: Everyone I meet on a trip is interesting  that is why I travel. The most stupendous person I know in India is my Indian manager who has encyclopedic knowledge of history and religion, sings, dances, tells jokes and loves shopping.

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Question: Why do you think it’s good for the heart to travel – and to eat?

Peta: It’s not only good for the heart, it’s good for the brain. We travel initially to lose ourselves and next to find ourselves to travel is to put yourself outside your comfort zone. It is in fact like being in love you’re under the influence. The normal rules don’t apply. you’re more open, more tolerant, more reckless and you eat foods you wouldn’t normally eat. Like love, it’s about surrender rather than conquest, and is less to do with countries and more to do with stretching your boundaries.

Peta in a cooking class in Puglia.

Question: What’s your ideal holiday book?

Peta: I don’t take holidays and the book I am reading at the time of travel is usually associated with research for my next book.

What’s something you always pack in your suitcase? Sleeping pills, ear plugs and an eye mask. For the plane I would like to have a sign I could put on my forehead which says, talk to me and you die, but I feel it would show how unevolved I am.

Eat Your Heart Out by Peta Mathias, Penguin Random House NZ, hardback, RRP $35


Peta Mathias explores Uzes

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