As a child Katy Holder loved camping so much she would pitch a tent in her London backyard just to experience the joy of sleeping outdoors. She pretty much lived for her family’s annual camping trips to France and by her teenage years she had become a dedicated backpacker. Fresh out of school she worked in various admin jobs to fund trips abroad, but it wasn’t until her early 20s that she realised she could actually make a career out of combining her wanderlust with her other great passion … for food and its preparation.
“I didn’t know there was such a thing as a food stylist until I read a magazine article about one,” Katy recalls. “I immediately thought ‘that sounds like something I’d enjoy’. I realised I’d need some qualifications so I did a food science and dietetics degree. I was lucky to find work when I graduated, and as food photography was a growth area at time, I was fortunate to work for a range of magazines and advertising agencies.”
Along the way she met South African-born investment banker Alex Rogers when they were working in adjacent buildings and quickly forged a relationship based on their mutual passions for travel, fine food and the great outdoors. Always up for a challenge, they jumped at the chance of moving to Australia for Alex’s work in 1999. Since then sons Max, now 10, and Jack, now seven, and two Aussie cats, Bruce and Sheila, have joined the family.
In 2004 the family moved into a decommissioned 1890s church in Sydney’s inner south-west and the building has been a work in progress ever since. The previous owners put in a mezzanine level which now contains Max’s bedroom and a large study and storage space, while the downstairs area is a voluminous living/dining and kitchen area, with Jack’s room and the master bedroom where the former church entrance once was. “The vestibule served as a nursery when Jack was a baby,” Katy says. “But now we’ve turned it into a walk-in wardrobe.”
As one would expect in the home of a food professional, the kitchen serves as both Katy’s test kitchen and studio as well the hub of the home. Food is prepared in a large work space which has the cooker, sinks and appliances along one wall and more bench and storage space on an island and several trolleys. Props, ingredients and travel souvenirs blend in a joyous ode to fine food and the traditions of many cultures. Among them are numerous reminders of a recent sojourn in Japan, where Alex worked for three years.
“It was a truly amazing experience, enhanced by the fact that the whole family, even the cats came with us,” Katy says. “I was determined to learn the language and because I had the children with me, I was helped by all the wonderful friends I made in the playground. I also learned the art of calligraphy, which, being a visual person, I really enjoyed.”
When Katy and Alex first arrived in Australia there was only a handful of freelance food stylists working in Sydney, so “with a pretty good portfolio” under her arm, she was able to secure work relatively easily. She’s been food director of Family Circle, a regular contributor to Marie Claire, has ghost written several cookbooks and written for most leading food titles and publishers in Australia.
In 2013, at the urging of friends, who had shared Katy’s largesse on camping holidays, Katy produced Hungry Campers Cookbook, a fabulous portfolio of recipes using minimal cooking equipment mainly over an open fire. The offerings range from meals that can be prepared ahead at home and one-pot dishes to cook at the campsite to fish and barbecue meals, substantial salads, kids’ cooking, breads and desserts. Katy and the team prepared everything on location on real camping trips with friends and the book is peppered with gorgeous photographs of happy campers enjoying great food in the great outdoors.
Continuing the theme of food to go, Katy’s most recent offering is A Moveable Feast, a compilation of delicious dishes to take to a picnic, the beach, or when visiting friends. “All the recipes have been tested many times,” Katy explains. “Food can do strange things when it cools down, so it was important that everything could be made in advance and taste just as good hours later. I’ve also included tips for transporting the dishes, because there is nothing worse than going to the effort of making something delicious and having it damaged in transit.”
Recreate our lunch with Katy Holder with her moveable recipes here.
Words: Kirsty McKenzie
Photography: Ken Brass