|Eulogy – Jean Margaret Hill 1942 – 1994
Jean won over a period of 20 years over 50 (mostly gold) medals. Her achievements included 13 Gold, Silver and Bronze medals at “Olympic level” and included numerous national and other international awards, before tragically becoming a victim of cancer in 1994. No other individual that I know of in Australia has ever won so many Olympic gold medals as Jean did. In one Olympics she won more individual medals than the sum total of the whole team. Not only was she a fantastic food artist, but also a wonderful mother to three beautiful children Garry, Lorraine and Tamara.
During a twenty year period, she produced in a “small business” over 600 different models from Butter, Margarine, Marzipan, Bee wax, Bread, cube sugar and cheese. With incredible speed and natural dexterity, she could for example produce a 400cm high single colour mermaid margarine model in 4 to 6 hours. Some of the more complex commissions took up to three weeks to produce. Her work was very much in demand with models predominantly in margarine and beeswax dispatched to every state in Australia and often as far as Europe.
Jean first started commercially making margarine models in the mid seventies. She started because I used to privately produce margarine and ice sculptures to supplement the inadequate income of a young teacher trying to make ends meet the requirements for a growing family. One day in 1972 in my “enthusiasm” and during the busy November and pre Christmas banquet season I took upon too much. Realising that unless I had assistance I would not deliver Jean asked if she could assist me.
I made the frame for an eagle and during each day Jean would form the basic shape. When I returned at night, I would advise and indicate the next step. When it was completed a week later, it was a better model than I could have ever produced. From this simple margarine eagle, very quickly and with a sprinkling of determination she would show a natural talent for sculpturing in food mediums with an incredible eye for food presentation Jean soon began developing her own techniques and concepts.
From this initial experience, a small business grew. Making centrepieces for the hospitality Industry. This was an ideal extension to her talents, as she could concentrate on her first love of being a mother for three beautiful children, yet working at her “hobby” from home and developing her own business to grow.
This page shows a small example of her incredible creations and attention to detail. The example of detail that can be identified in just the face of a model (above right) made from margarine for our daughters wedding.
Jean’s concepts, skills and techniques eventually embraced being able to advise on the presentation of food on a single plate to the visual experience of a full buffet. Jeans skills in reaching the pinnacle of food presentations needs to be shown to all who are dedicated to the highest ideals in the visual presentation of food. Be though from a past era.
If for no other reason, other than to show what amazing presentations can be achieved with food.
Jean and I used to regularly compete with each other at salon culinaires, while I mainly concentrated on sugar work and fruit and vegetable carvings . When it came to margarine she was always the gold and I always the silver. In 1985 we decided to write a book on the subject of modelling in margarine.
In 1986, we were very fortunate to meet a publisher in David Cunningham. If it were not for David’s help and invaluable editorial advice combined with his consent to print the world first book on the subject of “Margarine Modelling” the book would probably still be unpublished. I am delighted, just as I know that Jean would have been, that David’s Publishing Firm “Hospitality Press Pty Ltd” continued to grow and became recognized as a premier publisher of hospitality books in Australia before David retired.
Thank you David.
The first and only edition of Margarine Modelling sold out and was never reprinted for a variety of reasons, including the changing nature of the Australian eating style. Food presentation culture and health regulations also changed to dampen the popularity of buffets. Consequently the demand for “show pieces” declined and we do not see anymore a lot of the old visual culinary food arts.
Unfortunately, we rarely see in commercial kitchens, pulled sugar, ice or margarine carvings or many of the other food arts in the commercial operation. The last remaining arena where these arts appear, is a sprinkling of presentations at the major Salon Culinaires.
Because also, there appears to be a lot less buffet / smorgasbord presentations in the industry, there is less emphasis placed on these arts in the commercial kitchen and in Tafe training. As a consequence, apprentices and trainee cooks do not learn the techniques to prepare them.
Chefs seems to have neither the time nor the motivation to learn these skills. and as a consequence the pool of cooks and chefs who are able to add these talents to their bag of skills has become less and less.
Unfortunately, because many chefs do not have the skills to prepare them, these arts are branded by some as “old fashioned” and often state that the “modern emphasis in food presentation” is now on the plate”.
But that was never otherwise. I can never remember any food style era in the last 50 years where plate presentation was not paramount.
What the contemporary chef really misses is the added challenge, joy and sense of satisfaction gained from of being a specialist in one of the many food derived mediums used to create visual food art displays. Many chefs were adept at using salt, sugar cubes, boiled sugar, spaghetti, potato, pastillage, margarine, bee wax, marzipan, shells, fruit, vegetables, and numerous other mediums that were often used in displays in the foyer or entrance of the hotel or restaurant just to demonstrate the artistic skills in the kitchen.
Most good chefs have an hidden artistic nature in them and have a need to satisfy this artistic urge, especially in the boredom of many commercial kitchens. In the past this urge was is satisfied by specializing in some form of artistic skill many times preparing models using food derived products.
Now and again, someone raises up to the absolute pinnacle of food art presentation as Jean did, to demonstrate what can be achieved with determination and practice in the artistic presentation of food.
I am now happily married again to a lovely lady, Catherine who rescued me from incredible despair. I learnt that one can love two equally, as I will always adore my first love with a marriage that was made in heaven and also happy to have met a lovely understanding lady whom our children also greatly adore, never to replace Jean but just as cherished by all.