With KSP's Big Quiz fundraiser night coming up at the end of this month, I just had to have a chat with Douglas Sutherland-Bruce, KSP's Quizmaster for 2015 and 2016. Douglas talked about his passion for volunteering his time for KSP, and how his love of food turned into a professional writing career.
KSP Quizmaster, Douglas Sutherland-Bruce
We’d like to thank you for volunteering your time once again to act as the eminent quizmaster for the KSP Big Quiz Night this October. What satisfaction do you receive from assisting with this fundraiser?
‘I’m more than happy to help in any way I can. I’m a big supporter of KSP and what it does for the writing community. Doing something I enjoy and getting the satisfaction of helping is really a double-dip of pleasure.’
What do you think is it about quiz nights that holds such appeal for people?
‘I think it’s the opportunity to show off one’s knowledge, sometimes esoteric knowledge, in a social setting to work towards a common goal. The KSP Quiz prizes are pretty substantial and well worth winning.’
You are a long-time supporter of the KSP Writers’ Centre. How and when did your affiliation with KSP begin? What is it about this organisation that appeals to you?
‘I think it dates waaaay back to when I first began a freelancing career in 1981. I looked for support, opportunities, and assistance. There was less then than now but KSP were one of the few organisations that supported, encouraged, and gave active assistance to aspiring writers. I’ve never lost the feeling of gratitude KSP earned. When I founded Swan Magazine in 2000, we were able to offer an avenue for writers and poets to publication and in some way to repay the substantial debt of gratitude I owe.’
Douglas at the helm of the KSP Big Quiz Night 2015
We note that you were a former Gold Plate judge and are currently employed as a food writer. Where did this interest begin? Did this lead to your career at Swan Magazine?
‘I’ve always been passionate about food. I spent a lot of my early childhood and youth with my grandparents, who were hoteliers so I saw the hospitality business from the other side. In my late teens I saw my first forays into cooking and the techniques of good food.
In 1987, I was asked to fill in and write a restaurant review as the existing reviewer had been fired for asking for payment. As a regular reader of reviews and a regular book reviewer, I simply adapted and the editor was happy with the result and the restaurant were ecstatic. Fortunately it was an excellent restaurant and I was able to wax lyrical so I got the job. After several years I was making a small impression and writing reviews and articles for Destinations (the in-flight magazine for SkyWest Airlines), the Hills Gazette, the Albany Weekender and The Echo.
'I was then asked to be a Gold Plate Judge, which I did for several years (and loved every minute of it). In a way this led to my founding Swan Magazine. New management and editorial changes meant that I was asked to make sure that all reviews were positive. As I’ve always seen my primary duty to the reader rather than the restaurants or publishers; this made me unhappy. Eventually I became my own editor and far more accommodating. Having said that, most of my reviews are favourable since hospitality in WA is a cut-throat business, and bad restaurants seldom last long enough to be reviewed. Also WA’s libel laws are excessively severe.’
Do you like to cook as well? What would be your ‘signature dish’?
‘I love to cook. Some years ago my wife said “I’ve cooked for the last twenty-nine years, you can do the next twenty-nine.” So I started to do the day-to-day cooking as well as dinner parties (what I call research cooking) and the odd special meal. In fourteen years my wife, Angela will have to again take up the daily cooking. I have several dishes that are favourites. For example Bobotie is a South African dish of curried mince in custard - it tastes rather better than it sounds. The only dish I can fairly say I’ve invented is a dish of duck with cherries, which I egotistically call Duck a la Douglas.’
We have read that people always ask you for restaurant and eatery recommendations. Do you mind when they do this? And – can we ask as well? What’s hot in the hills right now?
‘I never mind if readers ask for recommendations - I enjoy talking about food and restaurants. The first question I always ask is “What’s your budget?” because no-one is comfortable if they’re worrying about the prices while eating. Having said that, price is seldom a good guide to quality. What is far more important is value for money. I’ve walked out of restaurants having spent more than $500 for two thinking “Terrific meal, great value.” I’ve also walked out of a burger joint mentally weeping for my $20 wasted on bad food. And vice versa.
'The other question that comes up is “What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?” I have two. Firstly, a seven course meal by Alain Fabregues at The Loose Box (Ed. note: this restaurant is now closed) built around truffles that he had flown in from France. Secondly, a bowl of bean and bacon soup prepared by an army cook when I was serving in the South African Army. It was waiting for us at the end of a twenty-five mile route march in a full field marching kit. Those two stand out in my mind like no others.’
Aside from food writing, what other writing and/or publishing experience have you had?
‘I started life as an academic so most of my early writing was academic. Then I delved into the area of Family History as I developed a second career as a Senior Genealogist and Research Agent: A Simple Guide to Heraldry, A Simple Guide to Onomastics, and Handbook for Australian Genealogists and so on. I’ve also written a number of specific family histories: the Fleay family, the Pelhams and quite a lot more. I also have an abiding love of detective fiction and wrote From Poe to Bond: A History of Detective Fiction. As a freelancer I wrote articles on anything I thought editors might buy. I’ve written articles for the Australasian Post on interesting graves, on model soldiers for the English girlie mag Mayfair, I was also a drama critic for Arts West for several years. These days I write pretty much exclusively for Swan Magazine and Weekend Notes, a what-to-see, where-to-go, what’s-on website.’
(Ed. note: Check out Douglas' Weekend Notes page here.)
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What books to do you enjoy reading? Apart from cookbooks or other food-based publications.
‘Oddly enough, I’m not that keen on cookbooks as reading - books on cooks, yes (Ramsey, David, Child, Bourdain and so on); and the history and development of food and dining as well as wine.
'But I read both widely and deeply. Detective fiction, thrillers, biographies, history (general as well as the late Middle Ages), historical fiction, and poetry. I read perhaps two or three books a week - mostly all at the same time.’
When you’re not writing about food, editing Swan Magazine or volunteering your time with KSP, what is your favourite way to spend your free time?
‘I spend a good deal of time acting and directing in Community Theatre. I’m directing Pirates of Penzance for the Darlington Theatre Players next year and was Adjudicator for the Hills Festival of Theatre this year. I am Patron of the Sherlock Holmes Society of Western Australia, which I founded in 1983. Otherwise reading, playing World of Warcraft (I’m a 110 level hunter), cooking, and baking.’
Book a table or find out more about the 2016 KSP Big Quiz via the website.