IF YOU’RE lucky enough to get invited to Karen Collins’ house for a barbecue some day, don’t expect half-cooked burgers and defrosting bread rolls.
Because, while the Aussie-born, adopted Scot loves the taste of the great outdoors, her cooking is a little more sophisticated than your average Scottish sausage sizzle.
“At our last dinner party we started with three different types of pork belly,” she says. “One was a sweet pork bun, a braised pork and some pulled pork that was stuffed into a wonton – so it was like a little dim sum of everything.
“The main was sea bream with shitake mushrooms in a miso sauce served on rice. And we have quite a lot of dessert fans so we did mini shot glasses with chocolate mousse, a mini lemon tart and a sorbet.”
Clearly, then, Collins is someone who likes to make life difficult for herself. She laughs. “I actually had to work to tone it down a little and not do too much. We’re both major foodies and do a huge amount of cooking. Rather than sitting down at a dinner party, I like to please people with what we’ve created. I actually think I should have been a chef. Maybe I should just go and do it.”
What the 40-year-old from Victoria has done in the meantime is create a range of sauces, called S’Aussie, that are inspired by her homeland and her love of good food.
Growing up in the small farming community of Yarram, 45 minutes’ drive to the nearest town and two and a half hours to Melbourne, she spent much of her childhood outside. “We just used to ride bikes and walk everywhere. We had a small farm about 7km out of town so if you wanted to do something that was your choice – you had to get on your bike.”
She trained to be a nurse so she could travel, and came to the UK in 1999. “The intention was to work for a year, travel for a year then head home, but I fell in love with London,” she says.
When nursing wasn’t paying enough, she moved into medical sales and progressed to become regional sales manager for the south-east, selling surgical equipment. In the process she met her partner David, who is originally from Gourock, and the pair settled in Scotland, in Kilmacolm, in 2008.
“I love my lifestyle here – it’s very relaxed and we do a huge amount of walking. Scotland has such a lushness. I look out the window today, it’s beautiful blue skies, it’s crisp, it’s not windy and that’s perfect.”
But there are things she misses about Australia – and perhaps not the type of things you’d expect. “We’re just back from a visit and it was lovely – I forgot how nice it is,” she says. “You look at it through different eyes when you go back. From a foodie perspective, fruit tastes like fruit, the freshness of food – that’s the one thing I really noticed. And it’s a relaxed way of life. There isn’t a massive class system there – everybody’s treated on face value.”
S’Aussie officially launched in January at the Speciality Fine Food Show in Glasgow, with its Spicy Smoked Outback Barbecue and Sizzling Sweet Chilli sauces, and they plan to add some curry flavours to the range as time goes on. “They are basically what I used to make in Australia for personal use,” says Collins. “We were doing a barbecue one day and using a ready-made sauce on our salmon then roasting it in the barbecue to get the smokey flavour. I just thought, ‘I could make a nicer one than that,’ and that was it.”
But she’s not just aiming at the barbecue market. Which is just as well really. “If we do the school lunches for the week, we roast chicken and add the sauces after – one of David’s daughter’s is a barbecue sauce fiend and the other likes chilli sauce.
“We use the barbecue sauce with ribs, and there’s a twist on Asian meatballs. With the sweet chilli sauce we would add fish sauce and coriander and that’s great as a salad dressing. If we’re making a stir fry and we don’t have a chilli, I’ll just use two tablespoons of the sauce instead to add that bit of heat and sweetness.”
Everything is gluten-free and suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and they recently celebrated winning a Great Taste Award for the sweet chilli sauce – testament to the love and effort that goes into every bottle.
“Everything’s marinated the night before,” explains Collins. “We use sultanas as the natural thickening agent and sweetening. It sits the night before to get the sultanas nice and plump then it’s cooked the next day and bottled up. It adds to the cost but we also think it adds to the flavour.”
And it’s the next best thing to a personal invitation to dinner at Kilmacolm.
Sauces from £2.90 (www.saussie.co.uk)