8 February 2023

South Coast chef Kelly Eastwood has created a career on her terms, with some adventures along the way

| Lisa Herbert
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Kelly Eastwood in her Bermagui kitchen

Kelly Eastwood’s Bermagui kitchen has seen some action over the past three years. Photo: Dave Rogers.

Bermagui chef Kelly Eastwood has an air of forward motion about her.

A determined and energetic person, by her admission Kelly has been creating her career on her terms. There’s no surprise she did not follow a traditional path to a life in food.

Originally from Melbourne, at 26, after working as a steward on superyachts in Europe for some time, Kelly took herself to Ireland’s famous Ballymaloe cooking school so she could return to sea as a chef.

She knew seafood was the mainstay of yacht cooking, so after Ballymaloe, Kelly went on to work in Padstow for Rick Stein, hoping to learn as much as possible about all things seafood.

She was then able to join the Getty family superyacht in the Mediterranean, sailing to exotic places such as Russia and Croatia.

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“I stayed with the Gettys for a year and then I went from boat to boat around the Med, on each a different challenge. I did that until I was 36.”

Kelly then jumped ship in Sydney and headed to the renowned Cordon Bleu Cooking School.

Having been named dux of the school, Kelly was sitting in the school’s career counsellor’s office one day explaining she wanted to go into food media, even though there wasn’t really such a thing in Australia. She picked up a piece of falling paper that turned out to be a call for volunteers to join MasterChef’s live shows.

Kelly’s first MasterChef gig was volunteering on the travelling live shows of the franchise, back around 2011.

Matt Preston, Manu Feildel, Gary Mehigan and the Eastwoods team

Kelly’s mates from the telly, Matt Preston (fourth from left), Manu Feildel (third from right) and Gary Mehigan (front), supported the NSW coast after the bushfires. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Kelly’s CV then found its way to producers at Channel 7, and her first TV gig came as a home economist on My Kitchen Rules (MKR).

After MKR, Kelly worked on Better Homes and Gardens, moved to The Great Australian Bake-Off, and then to the popular MasterChef television series, developing recipes, checking auditions, and making sure the challenges were difficult or long enough.

Kelly then accepted a role with River Cottage Australia, based in Tilba, and completed series three and four while also moonlighting on MasterChef in Melbourne.

In between filming, Kelly was asked to set up a cooking school at the River Cottage homestead.

“I loved doing the cooking school, and I’ve wanted one since Ballymalloe,” she said.

”I loved the Bermagui lifestyle. So while I was in Melbourne working on Family Food Fight, my partner was scouting around Bermagui for locations.

Kelly soon opened her cooking school and deli/cafe, but said: “We really only had one full summer and then the bushfires hit.”

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Enter World Central Kitchen, a global not-for-profit that feeds disaster-hit communities around the world and is headed by American celebrity chef Jose Andreas.

Kelly explains: “A friend from MasterChef was working for WCK. She called me with a proposal to utilise me and my kitchen to help bushfire victims, and I just said yes immediately.

“Next thing I’m being mentored by Jose’s head chef by phone (while he was feeding thousands of Mexican refugees on the US border) and I’m begging my suppliers to come up with tonnes of supplies. We ended up feeding at least 1000 a day.”

Kelly and her team of more than 270 volunteers partnered with WCK to prepare and deliver warm, hearty meals to the bushfire-affected communities from Mallacoota to Mogo, including the animals at Mogo Zoo.

“There was a great feeling in the kitchen, everyone worked so hard because it was so important, and people were so very grateful. People who didn’t know what to do with themselves, who had lost everything, came and volunteered so they could be doing something.”

Restaurant kitchen staff

More than 270 volunteers helped prepare and deliver meals from the Eastwood’s kitchen during the bushfires. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

After the fires, when the smoke cleared, Kelly reopened her cafe for three weeks before COVID hit.

WCK had gone off to Japan, but Kelly and her team were able to hit the ground running, delivering meals on the coast once again.

“We’d learned how to batch cook in huge volume, learned the whole process, so it was a great thing for the community during COVID.”

In 2022, Kelly teamed up with the people behind Cookaborough, a food delivery system that allows cooks around the country to receive orders, cost meals, and connect with customers. Kelly is now delivering more than 1000 meals a week, including many to the aged-care sector.

As well as her weekly delivery menus and cooking school, Eastwood provides catering in the region and will participate in the Crackenback Savour food festival this year.

Hers has not been a traditional path to a life in food but, as Kelly says, “I have developed a business model that suits my personality and my strengths”.

“I’m not shy,” Kelly laughs, “being trapped in a kitchen at the back of a restaurant is not my style.”

We look forward to hearing what’s next for Kelly Eastwood. A cookbook or two perhaps? “Oh yes, with loads of stories in them!”

You can get in touch with Kelly and Eastwood’s of Bermagui here.

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