What Allyson Gofton's kids have taught her about 'staying relevant'

From food to Fortnite, she’s embracing modern life.

By Kelly Bertrand
Standing behind an impressive four-tiered feijoa and coconut sponge cake, Allyson Gofton frowns as she holds aloft a buttercream-laden spatula.
"Do I cover the whole thing or should I leave it a bit naked?" she ponders aloud.
"I'll leave it. It's the modern way, isn't it? But I will cover the thing in chocolate. It's a real Carole Middleton cake, I think – elegant, but just the right side of rustic, just like her!"
Clean, minimalistic modernity isn't usually Allyson's strong point.
A love for all things French and rustic permeates her new Cambridge home – think big timber dining tables, carved wooden spoons hanging on the kitchen wall (which were left to her by her mentor and former Weekly food editor Tui Flower) and photo frames on every surface proudly showing off cherished family memories.
She covers the newly named Carole Middleton Cake with drizzles of dark chocolate.
"Not as fancy as that Meghan Markle, you see."
Allyson in her new home in Cambridge, with a little something she whipped up for afternoon tea.
As she swishes and flicks the chocolate over the plate, Allyson (57) admits she has been in a reflective mood of late.
Staying modern and "relevant", as she puts it, has been her priority.
As an older mother – she has son Jean-Luc (16) and daughter Olive-Rose (11) – she reckons she has no choice but to try to keep up with her kids, so much so that she's taken up playing the hugely popular Fortnite video game with Jean-Luc!
"I don't like it, but I do it," she says with a laugh.
"If he says, 'Come and watch me,' why would you not? If you want to be relevant to your children, you have to understand their world. It's not easy raising kids in this computer-filled technical world. But I adore my children, so needs must!"
Allyson has also taken a 21st century approach to her new edition of The Baker's Companion.
It's the third incantation of her wildly popular book, and the former face of Food in a Minute made some big changes for the sake of the younger generation. The reason for this is close to her heart.
"After 30 years of food writing, there's a couple of areas where I'm passionate and baking is one of them. I realised that we're not passing baking skills on like we used to – mums and grandmas are working, all of that stuff – so that was something I thought I'd really like to do."
The result is a delectable contemporary collection of decades-old recipes, but with Allyson handing over the reins of the decorating and styling to a younger team.
"I wanted the pictures to reflect the young people of today," she says. "The things I like are French and rustic, not clean and pretty, and I wanted it clean and pretty! So the gorgeous young women who put it together – they were both 30 – just came in and took my food and went, 'Okay, we're putting it on this,' and I'd go, 'Really? Okay!'
"It would be silly to put my personality on the plate. This book wasn't for me."
Relaxing at home is one of Allyson's greatest pleasures.
Her generation, she thinks, has much to learn from younger people, and she admits to a growing frustration at those who lament the differences between millennials and baby boomers, and every bracket in between.
"I'm realising that we're not believing in the young people. I have great belief that they're going to find the answers for everything. That phrase 'back in my day' really irritates me.
'My father would tell me, 'I'm pleased I'm not growing up in your world,' and it used to really upset me. Why would I have wanted to live in his world, with no telephones or fast cars? I wish I was a millennial – then at least I could play video games without a sideways glance!"
With pony-mad daughter Olive-Rose.
But if there's one thing she wishes she could impart to those younger, it would be the joy of keeping a home.
"It would be lovely if they knew the peace, the joy and the happiness that you find in being in a home.
"One of the hardest things in life is to be comfortable in your own skin, and the next is to be comfortable at home. Your home is your sanctuary, regardless of whether it's a flat, apartment or house. It's your safe zone, where you can be you. The happiness of being in that home, cooking, baking and relaxing with a glass of wine, is one of life's greatest little pleasures."
Indeed, Allyson's own home is as welcoming as it can be.
It's a fairly recent purchase, which meant she, husband Warwick and the kids relocated from their Auckland base to the picturesque Waikato town.
"It's been a fantastic move," she says. "The kids love it down here."
Almost on cue, Olive-Rose appears outside the open kitchen window, sitting on a white pony while asking her mum to hand her a snack.
"It's not her pony," Allyson says. "We're pony-sitting. But there have been a few not-so-subtle hints, let me tell you."
Olive-Rose had a hand in the creation of The Baker's Companion – she likes to think of her job title as Chief Tasting Officer.
"I tried every recipe," she says proudly. "My favourite was the one with the blueberries in it. What was that one, Mum?"
"The Upside Down Blueberry and Almond Cake," replies Allyson from the depths of her pantry.
With the late Tui Flower, a mentor and dear friend.
It's fitting that Olive-Rose had a hand in the book.
The influence from Allyson's own mum Ivy is evident in its pages, as well as that of Tui, who passed away in 2017.
"Tui was the grandmother I never had," Allyson says warmly. "When she died, I was left all of her kitchen things, so I use them all the time and think of her.
"I remember when I turned up for my first day of work at the Weekly test kitchen, sight unseen. I didn't have any money, so she loaned me some to get all set up in a flat. And the first thing she asked me to do was, '12 things with luncheon sausage'. I mean, it was 1983!"
She says she always wanted to be the Weekly's food editor, like the "gorgeous" Nici Wickes, but it wasn't to be.
"I was always disappointed that the opportunity, when it was presented a couple of times, was always at the wrong time. It would have
been a joy. I loved my time in the test kitchen."
Allyson's mother was also a whizz in the kitchen.
Living in a far-flung corner of Tasmania, the family didn't have a lot of money, so Ivy learned to bake the basics, and bake them well – and she passed those skills on to Allyson.
"A butter cake is a butter cake is a butter cake," Allyson says, nodding. "It's what you do with the butter cake that's the modern part."
As our interview comes to a close, Allyson puts the finishing touches on Carole before her afternoon tea guests arrive.
She smiles as she looks out to see her daughter cantering around the back lawn.
"The book really is a bit of Mum, a bit of me, a bit of her and a bit of the future," she muses.
"I'm lucky that the thing that gives me the greatest joy is something that I can do at home with my family, and for my job. And you should always work to live, not live to work!"

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