Given she's the granddaughter of Margaret Fulton - an icon of Australia's culinary landscape - it's not surprising that Louise Keats took a break from her law degree to study at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school, which was in her words, “a game changer”...
The accomplished mother of two – Harry, 8 and Charlotte, 3 – is a food and nutrition writer, cookbook author (five books and counting), magazine columnist, public speaker and co-founder of reformer Pilates studio, Vive Active. After Cordon Bleu, Louise also added a Deakin university postgraduate degree in nutrition to her law degree.
Having recently made a tree change from Sydney to the Southern Highlands, Louise is incredibly humble about her many achievements yet unashamedly ambitious – perhaps traits inherited from her grandmother. Raised in a family surrounded by food, Louise is honouring the tradition with her own family, raising Harry and Charlotte in the country while juggling her many hats, with a passion for cooking with whole foods and optimising health for all ages.
After her first child Harry was born, Louise decided it was time for a change: “I chose to end my legal career when my son was born, so that was a dramatic shift, but I still felt as ambitious and wanted to find something challenging and fulfilling that also allowed me plenty of time with my son. Studying nutrition and then forging a career in food has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My work life now involves a constant cycle of nutrition research, recipe testing, writing and public speaking, plus I’m now in the fitness industry too with a new reformer Pilates studio. It’s totally hectic, but I still get plenty of time with my kids. I realise how unique that is and I thank my lucky stars every day.”
Refreshingly honest about the juggle that goes with being a working mother, Louise is also very aware of the balance between entirely healthy eating and enjoying delicious food. On her new cookbook Sweet Nourish, Louise says, “I’ve used less sugar and more whole foods so that we can have our cake and eat it. But it’s not all kale chia cookies… I wanted a book of recipes that are nourishing but that still taste amazing.” Yes, we have already ordered our copy!
Read on and be inspired by the gorgeous Louise, about following true passions, changing careers, and how to get the create healthy eating habits at home (some great hacks for healthy snacks and mealtime preps for busy mamas) while allowing your children some fun with food too…
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your seven-year-old self?
That you will get that pony one day (as a horse-mad city girl, the prospects were never good)! I was pretty serious at school – a bit of a nerd actually. I would tell my younger self to just have fun instead. The schoolwork doesn’t matter terribly much in the end.
As mothers, we’re always rushing. Do you ever sit back and feel proud of yourself?
Probably not enough. It’s something I’m conscious of – jumping on to the next project instead of really enjoying the final wave of the last. But occasionally I do look back over the last decade and think ‘wow, I’ve had some truly incredible experiences’ and that certainly makes me grateful.
How does the #metoo movement effect raising boys and girls today?
I was raised in a strong female family and have always been a feminist so, at a personal level, it hasn’t brought about a huge shift for me or my parenting. But I absolutely love that it will help protect both my children and their entire generation from sexual assault and discrimination and, in turn, raise the bar on gender equality.
What are your thoughts on social media with mums posting only the happy parts?
I’d like to think that we all know the score when it comes to social media. Of course, we’re only seeing a carefully curated corner of someone’s life, which should be taken with a truckload of salt. But, even so, that constant stream of perfection can be exhausting and demoralising, which is why screen-free time is so crucial.
Is motherhood harder or easier than you thought it would be?
The highs are higher, but the lows are lower. Some days I want a third, other days I think I have two too many!
How did your approach to body image change after you had kids? And how do you approach self-love?
For a start, I have a whole new respect for my body as a baby maker – and a milk factory (wowzer, I was like a Jersey cow, my poor breasts!). But for me, the journey has been less about my kids and more about my own headspace as I age. There’s a lot of pressure on women to look incredible at every life stage and you just have to start letting that go. Our identity is often so tightly interwoven with our appearance and, at a personal level, I’ve consciously been trying to unravel that because it will only make you miserable. My focus is now on health and, as I approach my forties, being the strongest, most energetic, pain-free, gorgeous-on-the-inside person I can.
You grew up surrounded by food but when did you decide it would be the career path you went down?
I took a break in the middle of my law degree to study at the Cordon Bleu and that was a game changer. I didn’t make me want to be a chef – the hours are too insane – but I was sure I would eventually like to take the leap and work in food. After returning to the law and staying there for seven years, I went on maternity leave and the time felt right.
Take us back to the days at Le Cordon Bleu…
I studied at the Cordon Bleu in Sydney but I was the only Australian in the program. People come from all over the world to study food here. It’s a tough program – it made my law degree feel like a walk in the park – the standards are very exacting. There are tears! But you learn so much and form incredibly close friendships. I actually studied with the son of the CEO, Charles Cointreau, who is like French royalty (his family still makes the famed liqueur) and a lot of fun.
How do you feel each time you publish a new book and do you have a favourite?
Each book takes countless hours of work – late nights, early starts, no time off – it’s not for the faint-hearted. I mainly just feel relieved when it’s over, I get my life back for a while – and incredibly grateful to the dedicated team supporting me. But that moment when the final printed copy arrives in the mail… it’s certainly one you never forget.
Tell us about your new book Sweet Nourish…
It’s a book of sweet treats – cakes, biscuits, ice creams, muffins, desserts, puddings, pies – but with a healthy twist on every recipe. I’ve tried to find that ‘sweet spot’ with recipes that are much healthier than traditional, but that you’re still proud to bake for your friends and that you actually want to eat. And as with my other books, the first chapter takes a nutrition deep dive. This one sets out the latest research around the healthiest fats to cook with, which sugars are best and how to clean up your overall eating.
How torn do you feel between building your career and raising your children?
I’m constantly torn. I think it’s just the non-stop demands on you from every direction – I feel like I’ve always got one too many balls in the air and that I could drop one (or all) of them at any time. I’m conscious that every hour I’m working, I’m missing something in my children’s life and every hour with them, my to-do list is getting longer. It’s the downside of working for yourself, you can never clock off. But strangely, despite the pressure and chaos, I’m happier now than ever. I think it’s the freedom I have to choose exactly how my day looks. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
What are your mum hacks?
Being organised with food shopping changes the complexion of my week entirely. If I have a fridge full of ingredients, including some made-ahead meals, everything runs smoothly. One simple hack – my kids insist on pancakes every weekend so I make a big stack of crepes on Saturday so I have plenty leftover for Sunday. Having that cup of tea in bed on Sunday knowing that their favourite breakfast is already made… oh I just love that.
What do you do when it all gets too much - what are your coping strategies for when you feel overwhelmed?
I turn to my husband first – he’s my rock and such a good dad. We both work from home a few days a week so he’s usually around to help pick up the pieces. But I’ve also got some seriously good girlfriends who love me unconditionally and are always there in my hour of need. Then there are the usual daily pick-me-ups… coffee, Pilates, cuddles!
What are some vivid memories of being in the kitchen with your grandmother Margaret Fulton growing up?
It was such a treat. My Grandma lived in the same street as us growing up and my sister and I used to come and go from her house whenever we pleased. We would squeeze through her dog door and plonk ourselves down at her kitchen table and join in with whatever she might be creating. Whether it was shelling some peas or stirring a custard, there was always a job to be done and something delicious to poke a finger into!
One thing I love is that she has always insisted on using the best produce, grown ethically and sustainably. Her own mother (my great-grandmother), Isabella Fulton, used to boast that her family had the highest grocery bills but the lowest doctor’s bills. Even then, back in the 1920s, she understood the power of food as medicine and that eating well was the secret to health. Grandma has never tried to skimp on food – she sees it as an investment in creating a joyful life.
What do you love about raising your family in the country?
The green space – I love that my kids can roam outside and climb fences and roll down hills without me having to watch over them constantly. And I also love that they can see where food comes from. We have cattle and we grow our own fruit and vegetables, and we’re surrounded by farmers, so they get to see food straight from the earth instead of a supermarket bag. We also have a pretty special community here. People are very earthy and focused on raising great kids and helping other families, so that’s pretty special to be a part of.
How will you be spending Mother’s Day?
It’ll start with a terrible cup of tea made by my kids and an awful homemade gift that I will absolutely love to bits. Then we’ll have a family lunch with the four generations in my family, including my sister and her baby son. Lots of food, a day of chatting… plus my husband usually arranges a massage for me, so I’ll probably sneak off and have that in the afternoon. Perfect day basically… better than Christmas!
Did you appreciate your mum more after having children?
Absolutely. My mum has been an incredible support to me always, but even more so after my children were born. She’s an especially terrific grandma – my kids adore her – and I’m now appreciative not just for the support she gives me, but also for how much she enriches their lives. I think my kids like baking with her more than with me because she’s far more relaxed about sugar and chocolate and jam and all the things I crack down on!
Mums often suffer from lack of energy. Three tips to get back on track?
Number one for me is sleep. Step away from the screens in the evening and go to bed earlier. I also find that I function so much better with exercise. I was never a sporty kid, but I really enjoy it now. Three or four Pilates workouts a week, plus a weights sessions, and I’m on top of the world. Lastly, nourish yourself as carefully as you do your children. We’re all busy but you truly don’t have time not to eat well. All those microdecisions you make each day about what goes in your mouth – it ends up being the sum total of your health.
What is your go-to kids' dinner when you’re in a rush?
We always have homemade organic chicken bone broth in the fridge. I add some noodles and peas to it for the world’s quickest soup.
Do you ever give your kids junk food?
I never buy them processed sweets – but I’m relaxed about it outside our home. They certainly have them at parties. Instead, I bake with them at home. But it’s really important not to be too obsessive about it – there’s plenty of evidence that when it comes to kids and sweets, the forbidden fruit does taste better. So I don’t ban sweets, but I do keep them out of the house.
If you were to order dessert, what would you have?
My mum’s Chocolate Roulade. It’s like a chocolate soufflé filled with freshly whipped cream and raspberries and rolled into a log. It’s just so insanely good.