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Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson

Gay Bilson was, for twenty-five years (1973–1998), a restaurateur and cook in Sydney. She has created and directed several events centred on food and community, often for the Adelaide Festival, and was an associate director under Peter Sellars for the 2002 festival, producing programs such as Nourish (feeding patients in a large public hospital) and The Edible Library. In 2004 she directed Eating the City, a large community project created by the Spanish food artist and psychologist Alicia Rios, for the City of Melbourne. As an extension of this project, she recorded oral histories with the communities who took part. She is the author of Plenty (2004) and On Digestion (2008).

Gay Bilson reviews 'Muck' by Craig Sherborne

October 2007, no. 295 01 October 2007
Singing is easy. It is exaggerated talking. I try to do it under my breath which keeps the melody vibrating in my throat, around my teeth, cheekbones, gums, rather than be emptied straight out of me by singing loudly. It used to be my secret, this singing, but the very act of singing lets the secret out. Someone overhears you. Feet overhears you and then you might as well shout.   If th ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Edith Wharton' by Hermione Lee

June 2007, no. 292 01 June 2007
I took to Edith Wharton in the late 1970s but don’t remember why. I have never forgotten the name of the heroine of the first of her books that I read: Undine Spragg, all soft promise dashed by that biting surname. This was The Custom of the Country (1913), and I read on: Ethan Frome (1912), Summer (1917), and The Children (1928), for instance. Someone offered me R.W.B. Lewis’s Edith Wharton: ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Best American Essays 2008' edited by Adam Gopnik and 'The Best Australian Essays 2008' edited by David Marr

February 2009, no. 308 01 February 2009
In 1977, in three consecutive issues, the New Yorker published Hannah Arendt’s ‘Thinking’. Each part was called an ‘article’, a strangely modest, journalistic word in the face of the length of each part of the essay and the profound subject. Thirty-two years ago, the magazine showed curmudgeonly modesty: writers were named in small print at the foot of each ‘piece’, there was never, ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Women in Dark Times' by Jacqueline Rose

March 2015, no. 369 02 March 2015
In a review of several books on motherhood (LRB, 14 June 2014), Jacqueline Rose – feminist, writer on psychoanalysis, English professor, ‘public intellectual’ – interprets Adrienne Rich’s belief that to give birth is to testify to the possibilities of humanity, as a variation on Hannah Arendt’s formulation, in an essay on totalitarianism, that ‘freedom is identical with the capacity ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Bloomsbury Cookbook: Recipes for life, love and art' by Jans Ondaatje Rolls

June–July 2014, no. 362 01 June 2014
In the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary (1915–19), an entry in June 1919 mentions England’s possibly ruined strawberry crop. ‘This is a serious matter for us as we have just bought 60 lbs. of sugar, & had arranged a great jam making. Strawberries are 2/ a lb. at this moment. Asparagus 6d & 7d, & yesterday at Ray’s I ate my first green peas.’ I have always wondered wh ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'One Soufflé at a Time: A memoir of food and France' by Anne Willan

December 2013–January 2014, no. 357 01 December 2013
Not everyone’s father sends his daughter a brace of pheasants while she is studying economics at Cambridge. With a choice of two gas rings on which to cook them, Anne Willan eviscerated and plucked the birds, then used one gas ring to cook a pheasant casserole and the other to make a caramel custard that she ‘steamed over a galvanised tin laundry bucket’. She was, I’d guess, nineteen. ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Cooked: A natural history of transformation' by Michael Pollan

October 2013, no. 355 30 September 2013
If Michael Pollan were a terminal illness, I’d be in the fourth stage of grieving. He has had a brilliant and successful run until now, producing seven books in just over twenty years, taking up a university teaching position (yes, food-related), writing long articles, mostly for the New York Times, and all the while cooking and thinking his way to self-fulfilment. I reviewed The Botany of Des ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'The Art of the Restaurateur' by Nicholas Lander

April 2013, no. 350 25 March 2013
‘Hello, my name is Tony. I’m your waiter, and I’ll be dining with you tonight.’ One subspecies of cartoon in the New Yorker addresses the balance of power between diners and waiters. The caption above, from a cartoon by P.C. Vey, accompanies a drawing of a bemused couple holding menus, and looking at a waiter who is sitting at their table with a glass of wine. Absurd as this hypothetical ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'Nest: The Art of Birds' by Janine Burke

May 2012, no. 341 23 April 2012
Fernando Nottebohm has been interested in birdsong since early childhood. By 2001 he had spent thirty years at Rockefeller University in New York studying how birds learn to sing, concentrating on canaries who are capable of learning new songs each year. His interest has been to study birdsong as ‘a model for the brain’. He studied the brains of caged birds and birds in the wild. The birds tha ... (read more)

Gay Bilson reviews 'A Cook's Life' by Stephanie Alexander

April 2012, no. 340 01 April 2012
Most present-day Australian chefs (that is to say, cooks who earn a living through their training, practice, and culinary skills) who have written cookbooks are at the same time telling us about themselves. Is it not curious that, in general, cooks repeatedly praise the table for its central role in hospitality, conviviality, generosity, and equality, yet seem so needful of, so greedy for, praise? ... (read more)
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