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Madame's magic ingredient

PAULA Scholes studied drama, worked front-of-house upstairs at the Stokehouse and was a cook and deckhand on private yachts around the world before she became Miss Pearls at the behest of Melbourne bar magnate Vernon Chalker. She says her role as hostess at one of Melbourne's quirkier bars, Madame Brussels, is to make people ''feel extra-special''.

For the past few years she has co-hosted the ''How Not to Drink Wine Like a Wanker'' sessions at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, and will soon run etiquette classes at Madame Brussels.

What was your last meal?

Breakfast in bed with a strong cup of Earl Grey, one Weet-Bix and a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich - on Dench bread, of course - served by a beautiful man.

Favourite kitchen gadget?

My pie lifter. It hoists the pie out [of the tin] in one smooth and extravagant gesture. My favourite homemade pie is chicken and leek.


What is it that you do?

My job is not like work; it is more exotic than that. It kind of involves a little bit of magic … I have always enjoyed big personalities and shy ones alike and love bringing them together. Everyone should be made to feel extra-special. That's work. Then I can go home to my sanctuary with some kind of satisfaction that I have [brought] happiness to my customers.

Favourite cookbook?

The Australian Hostess Cookbook [edited by Hanna Pan, 1969]. It has a specially crafted menu for every important occasion. For example, a ''relaxed hostess'' by Mrs Marjorie Bradley, Sydney. Menu: grilled grapefruit, duck Montmorency, Parisienne potatoes, minted green peas, almond Bavarian cream, apricot sauce. Other proposed [themes] include a tropical dinner party and a simplicity and confidence dinner party.

Who is your biggest career inspiration?

My [drama] teacher at La Trobe University, Bruce Williams. He said about 20 years ago: ''Miss Scholes, you can be anything you want to be.'' So I tried many things.

Favourite wine?

I love chablis, I love pinot noir and when you put them together with bubbles it is champagne. Taittinger Comtes 1999 would be my favourite at the moment … it's so last century.

How does one drink wine like - or not like - a wanker?

It doesn't matter where you are or whom you are with, if someone gives you wine, accept it with graciousness. If you're buying wine, know what you like. No wanking permitted.

Explain the naked photo (above).

That was taken before the Food and Wine Festival [2008]. I just remember thinking: ''I have to take my clothes off. It's more fun.'' I'm comfortable in my birthday suit; it's about feeling free and happy, although you don't want to see all the bits and pieces.

Favourite cocktail?

A Sidecar at The Hemingway Bar in Paris. It is a little tough and makes me feel like Marlene Dietrich with the boys out the back room. Cognac, Cointreau and freshly squeezed lemon juice according to taste. Heavy on the cognac.

Your first memory of food?

Chasing the headless chook around the backyard, then it was my job to pluck the smelly thing and hand it over to Mum for Sunday lunch. Then it was on, the mad Sunday lunch that brought the whole family together. That is the sweetest memory.

Where did you grow up?

I don't do suburbs.

Fat. Love it or loathe it?

Love good fat [duck]. Loathe bad fat [McDonald's].

Furthest you have travelled for a meal?

Haggerstone Island, in the Coral Sea, for line-caught coral trout cooked over an open fire with [Haggerstone Island retreat owner] Roy Turner.

Favourite time of day?

Five pm, when I have my first glass of chablis - chablis o'clock.

Most disappointing meal experience?

Finally getting to the front of the queue at the South Melbourne Market only to find they had run out of dim sims.

Favourite off-the-radar bar?

A tiny island off the coast of Hvar, Croatia, for a white wine and a grilled fish. The island has no name. The island has many rock sea baths and no people.

Who needs etiquette classes the most?

People who can't use an electric knife to elegantly carve a ham.

What is the most important thing you teach?

Obviously, out to in! Now think about it.

One thing you must do before you die.