A French woman's new life in Tasmania
A Frog in the Billabong - Marie-Paule Leroux
By Robyn Lewis
The VisitVineyards.com team includes a number of published authors, not least of whom is Marie-Paule Leroux, who in 1991 emigrated with her winemaker husband Alain Rousseau from their village near Nantes in France, to Tasmania, Australia.
While Alain pursued his winemaking career in the then embryonic Tasmanian wine industry, first with Peter Althaus at Stoney Vineyard and later as chief winemaker at the cult Moorilla Estate, Marie-Paule left her executive position with Sauvion et Fils, an international wine trading company, and focussed on her other passion - food.
A Frog in the Billabong, which recounts her adventures as they adapted to life in the Antipodes - and learned to understand Australian slang - was first published in French, as La Grenouille dans le Billabong, in 2004. However demand for an English edition was loud, as rumours spread about this delightful memoir - at times highly amusing, at others poignant and moving. It was some years before the translation appeared, but well worth the wait for those of us who struggled to read it with our schoolyard French, as no doubt Marie-Paule originally did with English.
From encounters with strange noctural creatures like possums and huntsman spiders, via work with a wholesale food trading company, Marie-Paule gradually adapted to the more casual Australian lifestyle and the realisation that she wanted to establish her own business. Hard as it is to imagine in the decade of the 'noughties', which has seen the emergence of the celebrity chef and an explosion of interest and expertise in all things food, the 90's were still teetering on the edge of culinary deprivation in Australia, perhaps slightly more so in Tasmania than say NSW or Victoria. With her French flair, charm and confidence, Marie-Paule decided to change all that.
So her business 'Exquisite Flavours' was born, and with it, the introduction of not only foreign ingredients to the local culinary scene (such as the then little-used couverture chocolate) but also the celebration of the home-grown and hitherto neglected - such as John Bignell's goat cheeses and Norfolk Bay Pickled Octopus. The businesswoman in Marie-Paule ensured she negotiated exclusive contracts with her producers, and Exquisite Flavours grew from strength to strength - culminating in Marie-Paule winning the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year Award in 2001 in the Small to Medium Enterprise Owners category.
However this is a not just a story about love, passion and dedication to all things wine and food, but of her home and adopted country and state, of her husband, family and friends, and the trials of balancing the competing demands of life that most successful businesswomen face. When her husband Alain took up a winemaking position at Sirromet in Queensland, Marie-Paule faced her biggest challenge: running her business largely alone for two years. We are fortunate indeed that - newly armed with large-scale winemaking experience that the Tasmanian wine industry could not offer him - Alain was later able to return to a senior position at Hood Wines in Tasmania, bringing not only his increased expertise to the Tasmanian wine scene but enabling Marie-Paule to return to her much-loved adopted homeland.
This is a book for anyone seeking to learn from challenges overcome, for those interested in the Australian epicurean movement - and perhaps most importantly, for locals not afraid to see Australian culture through the eyes and sense of humour of one of our many immigrants who have enriched our country so much.
Published by Little Fox Press, Fremantle, WA. RRP A$35 including postage, from her website www.tasmania-conquest.com or order via select bookstores. The French edition is 26 Euros (A$46).
- Coal River Valley (TAS)
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