Child of Greek immigrants taught Australia about 'foreign' food

By · 27 Aug 2012
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27 Aug 2012
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25-1-1933 29-7-2012

TESS Mallos earned her place on the bookshelves of a generation of home cooks. Only a few years ago the food writer admitted she wasn't exactly sure what her cookbooks generated in sales. When pressed, she nonchalantly estimated a worldwide figure of about 1.5 million to 2 million.

It was the mark of the woman. Mallos, 79, who has died of stomach cancer in the Sydney suburb of Woollahra, where she lived, wasn't overly obsessed by the exact total or bragged about it. She was more interested in the impact her books had.

She also could have held herself up as the poster child of immigration, as the offspring of Greek immigrants, teaching many Australians how to cook "foreign" food. Instead, she pointed out how wonderful it was Australians were travelling in the 1960s and 1970s, opening their minds to new cuisines and packing woks in their return luggage.

Mallos earned an enviable reputation with her cookbooks, but in truth her work as a pioneering food broadcaster and slavish food historian pushing everything from the origins of okra to the correct spelling of "fillo" pastry speak more of a wider contribution to the local food industry.

Born Anastasia Calopades in Casino, New South Wales, to Calliope and Andonis Calopades, her father had arrived in Australia from Kythera in Greece at the turn of the 20th century as an 11-year-old. After working at a cafe in Sydney's CBD, he moved to Casino in 1919, where he ran the Marble Bar Cafe.

Her name didn't roll easily off Australian tongues, so she adapted it to Ann Tess, later just Tess.

She wanted to study pharmacy, but her father didn't believe in higher education for women so when she moved to Sydney, it was to work as a secretary. Mallos didn't grumble about lost opportunity, but her intellectual curiosity never left her.

Her children recall arriving home as young adults to find their Mum "fag in one hand, pen in the other and a bottomless pot of tea brewing" as she'd settle in to discuss the world's problems until the early hours of the morning.

She met John Mallos in the unlikely setting of a kitchen tea. They married in 1955, heading off on an adventure that would produce three children and start in surrounds that would test her ability to adapt. They moved to Delegate, in the Southern Tablelands, where they ran the Delegate Cafe for five years.

Mallos had grown up at her mother's apron strings, absorbing the exotica of a family vegetable patch with unlikely stars of their time such as zucchini flowers and eggplant. She also picked up a lot from the home cooks around Delegate. Her ability to turn her acquired knowledge into a practical application showed on her return to Sydney in 1961.

Her sister, Ellen, was working in advertising on a pitch for the Rice Marketing Board account. Tess appeared on camera for the project, a role she'd later perform with regular cooking segments on Good Morning Australia and other TV shows.

In the 1960s and '70s her work as a freelance food consultant was flourishing. She still had to convince publishers that Australians were ready for her Greek Cookbook (1976) that went on to notch up 13 editions. But it was The Complete Middle East Cookbook (1979) that would become her opus.

More than 45 editions of the book have been published it has sold all over the world, been translated into German and Arabic, and is still in print today. Mallos estimated its sales at about 650,000, which makes it one of the best-selling and most influential cookbooks ever to come out of Australia.

When Mallos was inducted into the (Sydney) magazine Food Hall of Fame in 2009, with 16 cookbooks to her name, it was at a stage of life when most would be winding down and enjoying retirement. But she had found a new love, the food of Morocco, which had also been turned into a book the year before.

Even as she battled cancer this year, Mallos found time to edit and revise the recipes for The Complete Middle East Cookbook, a new edition of which is due out this Christmas.

Her steel as food figure, magazine and newspaper columnist and enthusiastic public speaker illustrated yet another side to her cheeky, youthful personality the unrelenting work ethic that drove the career of this pioneering working mother.

Mallos is survived by her husband, John, children George, Anthony and Suzanne, five grandchildren, and siblings Ellen and Tony.

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