It’s lucky Cate Taylor loves to cook: she’s a mother of nine and her Port Pirie home is a constant hub for family and friends to gather for fantastic food and wine.
Guess who’s coming to dinner: Cate Taylor
The bright pink front door is the first clue that Cate Taylor is a colourful character with a unique eye for style and creativity.
The door opens to a huge hallway, white walls and whitewashed floorboards leading into a warm, inviting home with interiors that pop. There are bright pink lamps and eclectic artworks, lime green ornaments and blue and white geometric wallpaper — all set against a palette of white. It’s stylish and striking, much like our hostess Cate, who also pops in her blue Gorman top and multi-coloured Obus skirt.
This enormous Port Pirie home sits on an acre block that includes a massive vegetable garden, parking for 10-plus cars, a pool and a separate granny flat.
Cate and husband Phil moved to the region 15 years ago after Phil bought the local veterinary practice. Life in the country had another appeal for the couple — more space and an easier lifestyle in which to raise their nine children.
Black and white photos of each child line the walls of the long hallway. It’s hard to believe most are now grown up and have left home, except the two youngest who attend boarding school in Adelaide.
There’s Ned, 29, Gertie, 28, who is a journalist and currently presenting the weather on Seven News, Frank, 27, Joe, 24, who’s here tonight, Martha, 23, Winnie, 21, Ursula, 19, Leo 17 and Alphie, 15.
No wonder Cate is relaxed about cooking for 10 guests at tonight’s dinner party, given all those years of feeding 11 people every day.
“It was pretty easy really,” she says. “I used to do two meal times, the younger ones first, then the older ones would eat with us when Phil got home.
“Most weekends we would have a roast but as they got older and their taste buds developed I got a bit more adventurous and we all ate together. I used to do a lot of casseroles, stews and soups in the winter, and we’d often have pasta, rice or stir-fries, although stir fry when cooking for 11 people is slightly ridiculous because the wok is chock-a-block.”
This dynamic 55-year-old has only ever known big families. She is number four of seven children, growing up on a farm at Warooka on the Yorke Peninsula as one of the Taheny clan. Her sisters include well-known comedian and winner of 2018’s I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here Fiona O’Loughlin, and Mad As Hell actress Emily Taheny.
Cate has clearly also inherited the family funny bone, keeping guests laughing as they gather on the deck and tuck into the starters of Asian crab with fried wonton wrappers, and sesame-crusted tuna with pickled ginger.
“I’m the middle kid so I was the sensible one, more like Jan Brady with all the hang-ups,” she jokes. “Fiona was older and was more like ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia’.
“She was always taking the floor right from a young age, and so was Emily, who was very funny as a little kid and got a lot of encouragement from her elder siblings. The younger ones always get away with a lot more.
“I think there is definitely an outgoing streak in the family. Probably from Mum but Dad is pretty funny, too, and a great storyteller. Mum just loves being around fun.”
Growing up, Cate would often gravitate to the kitchen alongside mum Deirdre, helping prepare the family meals. She watched and learnt.
“I remember when I was about 14, Mum went away and we took over in the kitchen and got out all the cookbooks and were really adventurous,” she says. “We were trying to impress Dad and he loved it.
“I went to boarding school at Cabra College, and you got slop there, it was terrible. So, it was always nice to go home to mum’s cooking. We basically had a lot of meat and three veg, farm fare, because we had lamb and beef and eggs, so it was fairly standard to start with. Then Mum got into Margaret Fulton who I love to this day.
“Mum got very adventurous with cooking and still is. She will go out for dinner in Adelaide and will go home and replicate what she just had. My dad Denis has been very spoilt all his life with mum’s cooking. She’s a great cook, doesn’t need a recipe and can just wing it every time. She’s also a great baker, too, even though she doesn’t eat cakes or biscuits, she always has them on hand for other people.”
There’s a country feel to tonight’s dinner, with some guests driving for hours to be there; Miriam and Bruce Ross have come from Spalding, where they run the General Store, Miriam’s brother Peter Ward has come from Port Broughton, as have Sophie and Iain Tod, while Esther Boylan is a Pirie local and found time to design tonight’s menus despite her husband being away and having one-year-old twin boys.
Sadly, there is one important guest missing; Miriam and Peter’s sister Genevieve Richter. She was one of Cate’s closest friends in Port Pirie, but passed away suddenly three years ago. She remains hugely loved and missed.
“Genevieve took me under her wing when I first moved to Port Pirie and we became great friends,” Cate says. “We had a routine of Thursday night dinners and Sunday long lunches. She was always there lending a hand for every big occasion. We miss her every day but I know that she would want the party to go on. Whenever I’m entertaining a large crowd, I feel that she’s there, watching on.”
It was in honour of Genevieve that Cate and another of tonight’s guests, Lyn Ellbourn, decided to audition for My Kitchen Rules. As Lyn enters the kitchen to lend a hand, it’s clear from their funny banter and effortless preparation that the duo work well together. Little wonder they were actually chosen to be on the show, but Cate decided to pull out for family reasons.
“I was very disappointed we couldn’t do MKR together, but it was still a great experience,” says Lyn, who ended up appearing on the show with Port Pirie local Sal Caputo.
“Cate cooks better than I do. She’s not too scared to try the unconventional and now, thanks to Cate, neither am I. You know when you come to Cate’s you’re getting something different and it’s a party in your mouth!”
Cate admits she, too, was disappointed she couldn’t take up the MKR opportunity.
“I would have been able to get out of Pirie for six months and I thought we might get a cookbook or something out of it,” she jokes. “Mum would have been in her element.”
Another of tonight’s guests, Mary-Anne O’Leary, says Cate would have been perfect on the popular cooking series. Mary-Anne grew up with Cate and says she is “one of the funniest people I know”.
“She’s a great entertainer, generous, smart, capable, creative and gorgeous,” Mary-Anne says. “We both grew up in large Catholic farming families on Yorke Peninsula, we met as kids, attended boarding school together in the big smoke and are Godmother to each other’s eldest child.
“Food, fun and family are Cate’s loves; of course she over-achieved in the family stakes with nine beautiful children, and she’s the happiest when bringing those things together at home, a home that exudes colour, life, love and style. I’m not sure how she does it, except for lots of practice in dishing up gourmet meals for her large family.
“The setting and the food are always stunning when Cate hosts, but it all seems so effortless. Maybe she’s like the duck on water — seemingly calm on the surface while madly paddling away underneath. She’s happiest when amongst all the fun, holding court.”
Mary-Anne’s husband Matt is the chief winemaker at Savitas Wines and has wine matched some of his favourite drops to tonight’s menu.
There’s a 2018 Alainn Fion Adelaide Hills Chardonnay to accompany the baked Asian salmon, while Matt has chosen a 2016 Incygnes Green’s Vineyard Barossa Valley Shiraz for the fillet of beef with ponzu.
However, as the guests take their seats for the main event, it seems there is a slight problem: the beef is undercooked. Cate’s husband Phil looks sheepish as he reveals he may not have allowed enough time on the barbecue. Cool in a crisis, Cate flings it into the oven as she pulls the other main elements together; crispy potatoes, a zucchini and mint salad and a green salad.
“It will be fine,” she says. “It won’t take long.”
The things Cate misses most about living in Adelaide are shopping at the Central Market and dining out, adding that entertaining at home was “just easier” with so many kids.
“Also, moving to Port Pirie 15 years ago means my circle of friends are fellow expat Adelaide people who I had some connection with back in my youth,” she says. “Pirie also has a fairly transient population, so friends have come and gone while we’ve been here. So, our home has just become the hub for friends and family and I love that.”
With lots of visitors to feed, Cate’s go-to is usually pork or lamb on the barbecue, served with salad, or a roast. Her tips for entertaining include prepare as much as possible the day before and work with what you’ve got.
“I love following a recipe but you have to learn to wing it a bit when you’re in Port Pirie, as you can’t always get hold of ingredients like galangal or duck breasts. But there is a great butcher, Alex’s Meats, and Caputo Seafood.”
When looking for inspiration, Cate says she goes through phases. At the moment she’s into Ottolenghi, as well as the Ostro book by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, a present from Emily. Other favourites include Nigella Lawson, Jamie Olivier and Margaret Fulton.
“Margaret remains one of my favourites,” she says. “I love her Thai barbecue chicken that I’ve done so many times.”
Cate says she wasn’t even daunted when she single-handedly catered for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary 10 years ago. It was a sit-down, four-course meal for 80 people in a barn with no electricity – while a storm raged outside.
“That was interesting,” she laughs. “I did everything beforehand and we had big barbecues and gas cooktops, it was beautiful. We had a cauliflower soup with walnuts and blue vein cheese, then tommy ruff fillets with currants and pine nuts, with a skordalia on the side, then lamb with mint and chilli salsa, or chicken and prosciutto with hollandaise, plus veggies with the mains. Then I did individual mud cakes for dessert.
“Emily came over from Melbourne and helped me. I probably wasn’t as worried as I should have been, looking back. The next day I thought, ‘I’m lucky I pulled that off’. It was freezing cold and pouring with rain, so very tough conditions. But it was great fun.”
Cate says her older children are all confident in the kitchen, but still regularly call to ask for tips and advice.
“I think I get two calls a day, asking how do you do this or that,” she says. “They did a lot of baking with me as kids, but they were more generally on clean up. Phil is not really into cooking, he can do sausages and that’s about it. He tries and I have to pretend that I really love his green chicken curry.”
Cate says her only real food disasters have been when they drove to Adelaide for Christmas one year and realised, at Gepps Cross, they had forgotten the only thing they needed to bring: the prawns.
“I also forgot to make my son Frank a birthday cake three years in a row as, sadly for him, his birthday falls on Christmas Day,” she says.
As dessert is served, a raspberry nougat frozen parfait with berry compote matched with a 2011 Wolf Blass Barossa Valley Botrytis Semillon, there is an impromptu rendition of happy birthday for Miriam’s recent birthday. Cate passes around the chocolate layer cake she baked especially, and she looks thrilled as guests settle in, some even staying the night to avoid a long, late drive home.
“Our next big gathering here will probably be Easter,” Cate says. “It’s usually a long lunch on Easter Sunday with whoever is around that weekend.”
Rest assured, no matter how many turn up on the day, Cate will have it covered.
To see Cate’s recipe for smoked roast duck salad with hot and sour dressing, click here.
This story first appeared in the February 2020 issue of SALIFE magazine.