Basmah Qazi

Food & Wine

The toughest decision Maggie Beer has ever made: "I have had many tears"

The toughest decision Maggie Beer has ever made: "I have had many tears"

She made a cool $10 million after selling her enormous food empire in late February, but Maggie Beer describes the moment as bittersweet, as she struggles to hang up her apron for good.

The master of comfort food said she likes to think of the move as a way of passing on the baton to a future generation of cooks.

“I have been a workaholic for 40 years,” Maggie tells A Current Affair.

“As small business people you need some time in the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been one to complain about working hard. But work can take over you and you don’t stop and reflect.”

She’s been in the business for decades, and after working close to 70 hours per week, the 74-year-old made a promise to her husband that she will eventually slow down.

“Oh, gosh. It’s the biggest decision of my life. I mean, it’s like letting your child go,” said Maggie.

“I always promised Colin by the time I’m 75 and I’m sort of 9 months away from that, that I would start to slow down.”

Starting her company from the ground up in 1979, Maggie and her husband Colin began the expanding empire on their pheasant farm – now a major tourist hot spot located in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

“I am proud of what we have done. And it’s not I, it’s Colin and I,” she said.

“The culture is so strong. It’s not going to dissipate. And having such a strong management team, that makes me feel as good as it possibly could.”

And now that the queen of home cooking has parted ways with her beloved business, it creates more time on her hands, which she intends to fill with her love of music.

“I sing because I love it, and I have a choir, and there is 17 of us, and we have the most amazing woman, Charmaine Jones, who leads it. But we sing for joy.”

“I have never been bored in my life and I guess I’m in a very lucky position in that I still get asked to do really great things that can use my creativity, and excitement for food, that I can balance it. And I’m going to balance it. I’m determined.”

She also plans on working with aged care institutions to help provide affordable, fresh and healthy food for all residents.

“De-institutionalising food is what I’m trying to do, and the royal commission, in effect, I think is right at the right time for us to show what’s possible.

“You have to get them to the point where they can see the difference it makes to have food that smells like real food. Food that you are going, it’s going to delight somebody, it’s going to make them feel good. I feel you can change the culture through food,” Maggie says.

But despite her willingness to let go, she hasn’t taken the decision lightly.

“I have had many tears about letting go,” says Maggie.

“I’m most proud of the Barossa, the Barossa gave me so much. Coming to live as a Sydney girl, here in the Barossa, surrounded by this beautiful landscape, this fantastic climate that we can grow almost everything that I’m interested in cooking,” she said.

“I think we’ve left a stamp.”