She laughs that gutsy laugh and plays along with the idea – but don’t consider it out of the question.
“The collective community is approximately 6.5 million subscribers and followers, but our content reaches upwards of 30 million a month,” says Hinshelwood. “It’s a truly engaged audience and community.”
“We were in Italy just before lockdown, and we walked into our hotel in Rome and everyone knew Marion,” Althaus adds. “We thought we were flying incognito, but everywhere we go, someone knows her. People just love her.”
Grasby was born in Darwin and moved to Papua New Guinea at the age of four – her father worked as a construction project manager for Australian embassies. Cooking is in her genes: her mother, Noi, who appears regularly on Grasby’s social media channels, is a trained chef.
However, Grasby went on to study law and journalism in Brisbane, before becoming a journalist with the ABC. It was during this time that she met Althaus, who also studied law at QUT.
It was a friend who suggested she meet Althaus, who at the time was working for the wine and olive oil company Primo Estate.
“It was one of those peculiar, fateful moments,” says Grasby. “I think I turned up with two bottles of Yellow Tail.” “Yellowglen,” Althaus corrects her.
That was 17 years ago. Althaus’ entrepreneurial spirit and marketer’s mind complement Grasby’s creativity and drive. They speak as one – constantly finishing each other’s sentences without ever interrupting one another.
Their mutual love of food was an immediate attraction. So much so that Grasby quit her ABC job and started a master’s degree in gastronomy. Food and big ideas are the couple’s common ground.
“Australians love big flavours, such as Thai, Malaysian and Singaporean flavours,” says Althaus.
“That’s where Tim’s really good,” says Grasby, “because I just think of delicious things whereas he can always see opportunities – where there’s not an existing product, for example. I’m just like, that’s a delicious green curry.”
In 2010, Grasby took a break from her studies to become a contestant on MasterChef. A viewer favorite, she was voted off – ironically over a satay sauce – to widespread viewer chagrin. But the couple decided to take that 15 minutes of fame and run with it.
In quick succession, Grasby produced a cookbook, Marion: Recipes and Stories from a Hungry Cookhoofed it to Bangkok, where the couple knocked on factory doors to find a manufacturer who could produce curry pastes and bases exactly like Noi’s, found a distributor and got Coles and Woolworths on board – all within a nine-month timeframe.
“I wanted these recipes to be made large-scale and legitimately good and to taste like my mum’s cooking. The base ingredients available here just don’t taste like they do in Thailand,” explains Grasby.
Inspired by Maggie Beer, Marion’s Kitchen was breaking new ground with high quality, cook-at-home meals that challenged the supermarket price point. It worked, big time. So big that five years on, the couple decided to try the US market.
Failures? There have been many, they say. But none as big as the United States, despite managing to get their products into 15,000 stores.
For five years, they tried to conquer America. “We were in every single at-the-intersection shop, and we kept thinking we could do it. But we could never quite get enough people to eat green curry or pad Thai,” says Grasby.
“After five years of losing money, we were like, either we pull out or it’s going to break us.”
But serendipity prevailed in 2016, and pointed them in quite another direction: social media videocasts.
They started with a simple ‘camera-over-hands’ how-to-cook routine but soon realized that Grasby, and not her hands, was their best asset.
Control, again, was central to the strategy. They brought the video production business in-house, hiring a couple of videographers to shoot Grasby doing her hugely likeable and personal schtick to the camera.
The timing was perfect. They were ahead of the pack when Facebook started prioritizing video on its platform. They threw $30,000 or so at creating a studio in their office in Bangkok, where they were based, bought some camera lenses and some lights and started posting regularly on Facebook.
“We would go back the next day, and a million people would have watched,” says Althaus.
As the world went into lockdown in 2020 and millions of people decided to brush up on their culinary skills, the show really took off. “We have more than six million people subscribed across our platforms,” says Althaus. “They tell us what they are interested in, what sort of products they like, and we go away and make them.”
A panicked decision to return to Australia when COVID-19 struck meant they caught the last available flight from Bangkok to Australia. It landed in Brisbane. With state borders shut, and unable to reach Melbourne as planned, they mooched their way north to Noosa and found an idyllic Airbnb located on the Noosa River.
They bought it. Life, and business, couldn’t be sweeter.
Marion Grasby’s Vietnamese-style Roast Chicken
From her new cookbook, Just as delicious
My technique here makes roasting a bird quicker, juicier and less messy (win!). Serves 4
1 x 1.2kg whole chicken
vegetable oil, for brushing
cucumber, cut into chunks, to serve
steamed rice, to serve
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised and
pale part finely sliced
2 coriander roots
4 garlic cloves
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sweet dark soy sauce
1 tbsp brown flame
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp white vinegar
3 tbsp flame
2 tbsp lime juice
1 long red chili, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
❶ To prepare the chicken, place it breast-side down on a chopping board. Use scissors to cut down either side of the backbone and remove it. Flip the chicken over and press down on the breastplate so that the breastbone cracks and the chicken sits quite flat.
❷For the marinade, use a mortar and pestle (or a food processor) to pound the lemongrass, coriander roots and garlic to a fine paste. Stir through the soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet dark soy sauce and brown sugar.
❸ In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the marinade. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes (or up to an hour).
❹ Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Meanwhile, for the nuoc cham, whisk
together the ingredients. Set aside.
❺ Prepare a baking tray by lining it with foil and placing a baking rack on top. Place the chicken on the rack, breast-side up. Pour over the marinade. Add 2 cups of water into the base of the baking tray, making sure the water doesn’t touch the chicken.
❻ Roast for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (you can test by slicing into the leg joint and if the juices run clear, the chicken is cooked). I like to baste my chicken with a little oil to keep the skin from drying out too much as it cooks. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
❼ Cut the chicken into pieces and serve with cucumber, nuoc cham and
TIP: Pouring water into your baking tray helps to stop your marinade from burning and making a mess, plus the steam helps to keep your chicken juicy.