Margaret McHugh has a full menu of job descriptions she could use on a curriculum vitae – chef, caterer, world traveller, district councillor, deputy mayor – and she recently added author to the mix.
Mostly though, Ms McHugh is a raconteur, a skill that has stood her in good stead in a fascinating life that took her from small-town Winton around the world and now, to semi-retirement in Picton, where she and her husband, Bill Brown, provide boutique accommodation and have a popular food truck at the local market.
That life makes for fascinating reading in her book, The Real McHugh, neither cookbook nor true autobiography, but rather a rollicking collection of anecdotes alongside 700 recipes that range from those in her childhood on a Southland farm to those learned on her world travels.
Mrs McHugh was in Central Otago late last month for conversations with interested parties at libraries and other venues in the region, serving “gin and gems” as she felt “wine and cheese are boring”.
Asked how she would describe herself, Ms McHugh offered up “modest” before laughing loudly and changing that to “an absolute neurotic, strong”.
“Bill always says you’ll never die wondering with Margaret,” she said.
She definitely has strong opinions, describing her time as a Queenstown Lakes District councillor and deputy mayor as being “honest, upfront, saying what they didn’t say”.
She is also a believer in good honest food, the type of country cooking she grew up with and similar dishes she experienced from home chefs around the world in her travels.
In her do-it-yourself manner, she self-published her book and is marketing it herself. She said she refused to go into bookshops that took 50% commission.
“Why should they get the same amount that I do,” she asked.
Although her public persona appears larger than life, or “probably bolshie” as she describes herself, one suspects that the Real McHugh seen by her husband and closest friends has a far gentler side.
“I’m a very generous person but I come across sometimes as being too ferocious,” she confided.
“Although I might be stern and a wee bit too vocal , there’s a soft side that only those who know me well see.”