From the moment Samantha (Sam) Parish picked up a mixing bowl, she has never looked back, forging a career both behind the pans and behind the camera. Now based in Christchurch, the ambitious former Sydneysider is relishing the opportunities the ‘newest city in the world’ has to offer.
Despite some initial reservations, Sam followed her husband Luke to Christchurch in July 2019 after he secured a position in New Zealand. ‘I feel blessed to live here. I love new spaces and throwing yourself in the deep end.’
Happiest in her kitchen, food has always been a big part of Sam’s life. Growing up in suburban Sydney, food invaded her very DNA. ‘It takes a whole tribe to bring up a child, and my entire tribe was always into food,’ says Sam. ‘Mum is a nurse by trade but retrained as a chef when I was at high school. That really changed what I was eating at home. Even my Dad; he was quite often on dinner duty when Mum was working nights. He was obsessed with the barbecue.’
Deep down, Sam always knew she wanted a career in something food-related, but it wasn’t until she read an article about renowned food stylist and editor Sophia Young that she knew she’d found her passion. ‘I didn’t even know it existed, let alone that you could make any money out of it,’ she says.
The following year, she returned to her university studies while also undertaking her chef’s apprenticeship under the guidance of a talented French chef in a little casual-meets-fine-dining restaurant in Sydney’s north. It was a crazy time in her life. ‘I got no sleep,’ she laughs.
Through her university studies Sam made some great contacts in the culinary world. But she graduated in the middle of the Australian financial crisis when jobs were at a premium. Many of her friends had been made redundant. Determined to make it, Sam did work experience where she could to get a foot in the door, much of it unpaid. ‘You have to be willing to do the ordinary work. People think it’s all glamour, glamour, glamour, but a lot of it’s about shopping and doing dishes.’
With little food editing freelance work coming in, Sam returned to the kitchen, securing a job at Google Australia restaurant feeding 800 hungry ‘googlers’. ‘All googlers eat for free,’ explains Sam. ‘It was insane. I was in charge of a team of five chefs working in a kitchen of 14 chefs. Every day we had an entirely new menu. We were also part of the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution so we had to make everything from scratch. There were no cutting corners.’
After eight months working at Google Australia, Sam followed Luke to Townsville, Queensland, where she worked as a sous chef and acting head chef, and also headed her own café while there.
On returning to Sydney, Sam’s foodie journey took on a new direction. Making contact with the Sophia Young she’d seen in the paper, she got a gig working as a prep chef on a food shoot, where she caught the eye of stylist Justine Poole of The Australian Women’s Weekly. That, in turn, led to a six-month stint working on a book project with culinary queen, best-selling Australian cookbook author, food stylist and magazine editor Donna Hay, before landing a job at Australia’s bestselling premium food/lifestyle magazine Delicious.
During her time at Delicious, Sam worked her way up from the bottom, starting as a magazine food assistant and winding up as the magazine’s assistant food editor. Working under her mentor Food Director Phoebe Wood, Sam’s role included recipe writing and compiling food articles for websites, recipe testing, travelling the world for food trails and working with chefs to turn their mouthwatering dishes into readable recipes. She also had the chance to work alongside some of the top food stylists in the business, like well-known food stylist and photographer Kirsten Jenkins, honing her skills, learning to understand food from a publishing and visual perspective. ‘She taught me so much,’ explains Sam.
‘Working with Kirsten taught me how to cook and style recipes for a photoshoot and how to make food look beautiful.’
But at the end of three years, Sam felt she was ready for a new challenge, so she left her job at Delicious and went out on her own. ‘Freelancing just happened,’ says Sam. ‘Jobs just started opening up; people started approaching me. There are heaps of opportunities out there. You just have to put your hand up.’
Since going solo she’s been fortunate to work on incredible projects with amazing people, including all three of MasterChef Australia’s iconic former judges. She edited and contributed separately to George Calombaris’ and Gary Mehigan’s cookbooks; worked as a chef and stylist to Matt Preston on Appetite Fest in South Africa; developed recipes and features for Woolworths’ Fresh magazine; food-styled packaging for Waterthins crackers Sweet range, and much more. She is currently working on a cookbook with friend Alice Zaslavsky.
As a food editor and stylist, she’s responsible for plating and styling food that’s featured in everything from promotional photos to magazine spreads. It includes all the preliminary work that goes into a dish, from shopping, pre-cooking any items, to chopping and slicing, right through to cooking, selecting props and plating.
Throughout her culinary journey, Sam’s cultivated her own food philosophy, which is ingrained in everything she does. It’s about maximum amount of flavour, and a minimum amount of fuss (MOF MOF).
Whether it’s recipe writing, ghostwriting or presenting to the camera, MOF MOF is about cooking smarter not harder, continuously critiquing recipes to make them simpler and fuss-free, she explains. ‘MOF MOF is my food preface and bible and is my constant way of always thinking outside the box.’
MOF MOF is all about keeping it simple but also cooking smart. Her recipes are fast, fresh and simple. Drawing on her vast experiences as a chef and a writer, she’s become attuned to what makes food delicious and what makes people cook something again and again.
‘It’s my type of cooking,’ says Sam. ‘It’s not about being different for different’s sake – it has to make sense. I want to produce recipes that help people, not annoy people. I can knock some out in an hour or two, while others need to be tested more than 10 times. When I’m testing recipes, I am constantly rethinking. I find myself doing a lot of back-to-fronting recipes.’
Today, Sam’s job is hard to define; she’s created a diverse and fabulous CV. It’s grown organically. Over the past eight years working in food publication and hospitality settings, she’s carved an enviable vocation in cooking and creating interesting food content for editorial, advertorial and restaurant dining settings.
Here in New Zealand, Sam gets to do it all. Setting up a studio in the garage of her Christchurch home, she’s embarking on creating a space and a role within the Christchurch area as a food stylist, recipe developer, food editor and writer – showing how you can take a job like hers anywhere. Shooting all her stories for latitude right here in the heart of the city, whilst attempting to make a start at her own e-book.
Every Sunday Sam uses her Instagram to share a recipe that embodies MOF MOF. She finds the social platform the best way to get her unique voice and recipes across to whoever wants to listen and follow. ‘I’m amazed with how much people love the weekly recipe – there’s such a need for fuss-free cooking.’
At the end of the day though, Sam’s well aware just how privileged she is to do what she loves. ‘It is such an entitled job. They don’t just exist everywhere,’ she admits. ‘But I am only able to do what I do because of what I have done in the past. Hindsight is a magical thing. It makes you truly appreciate how valuable experience is. No matter what it is.’
Get inspired with Sam’s delicious recipes from Issue 69 here.
Words Annie Studholme