Who were Australia’s first cooks? How did their backgrounds, social standing and cultures affect the commentary on the food they prepared and, as a result, our accepted food history? These are some of the questions addressed by Charmaine O’Brien in this year’s winning UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize proposal The Devil at Work? Australia’s First Celebrity Cooks.
The highly original proposal challenges preconceived ideas about Australian food history and Australian history more generally. It works to rewrite a history dictated by the privileged and powerful, and in doing so creates an innovative narrative focused on previously overlooked characters who informed Australia’s early food and cooking culture.
The Devil at Work? re-imagines Australian food history through taking the reader into the kitchens, dining rooms and public spaces—material and cerebral—created and/or occupied by nineteenth and early twentieth century Australian food personalities. The personal stories of Australia’s largely forgotten and underappreciated culinary pioneers show how social, political and cultural circumstances influenced their work, and how their work in turn influenced the shape of a nation"
In addition to the original and highly innovative treatment of O’Brien’s subject, the judges also commended her beautiful writing and storytelling abilities said her writing sample was ‘immediately captivating’.
The UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize was established in partnership with UNSW Press to continue to develop relationships with talented academics at UNSW, from all backgrounds and disciplines. The prize offers manuscript development for the winning entry with the editorial team at UNSW Press and the publisher retains first option to publish the winning manuscript.
The judging panel for the 2023 prize included Fiona Inglis, Managing Director of Curtis Brown Australia and member of the UNSW Press Board; Roanna Gonsalves, award-winning author and lecturer in Creative Writing at UNSW Sydney; Harriet McInerney, Publisher at UNSW Press; and Paul O’Beirne, Senior Project Editor at UNSW Press.
Submissions for the 2024 UNSW Book Idea of the Year Prize will be announced early next year.