Annabel Langbein's front door is virtually hidden behind a pile of boxes packed with cookbooks ready for shipping. I have to ring several times until someone hears me. Once inside, I find myself in a huge, noisy kitchen full of people buzzing around, chopping, mixing and tasting. On the central island, I spot a mound of cellophane noodles neatly laid out next to piles of mint and coriander, ready to be used in the spicy shrimp salad Langbein is preparing to cook. The smells are making me wish I hadn't eaten a hotel breakfast.
I'm with Langbein at her house in Auckland, New Zealand, where she's spending the afternoon cooking for her family, testing recipes for her upcoming Healthy Grills cookbook for Williams-Sonoma and hatching plans for future projects, including a cooking show. One project she's especially excited about is the cooking school she wants to open near her cabin on Lake Wanaka—a short drive from the Central Otago wine region—where she frequently spends time with her husband, Ted Hewetson, and their kids, Sean, 14, and Rose, 12.
Langbein's exceptional energy, charisma and cooking talent are part of the reason why she has become New Zealand's best-known food personality, selling more than a million copies of her 12 cookbooks. Another huge part of her success has to do with her ability to help even novice cooks prepare dazzling, difficult-sounding Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired dishes. In all her cookbooks, including Cooking to Impress—Without Stress (available in the United States) and Assemble—Sensational Food Made Simple (arriving here soon), Langbein demystifies the act of cooking, showing how specific techniques can be mastered quickly, then used to create a range of delicious and attention-getting dishes.