A Menu for Celebration
When you’re related to a chef, it must be tempting to let them take care of all the cooking for family celebrations. That’s how it is when chef Steve Flood’s family and friends get together, but they’re occasions he quietly relishes.
“There’s always an expectation that I’ll be the one to cook,” he says. “I play it down, claim that I’m not interested, but I’ll have ordered the lamb shoulder a week ago and it will have been cooking low and slow behind the scenes for 12 hours already!”
You might recognise Steve as one half of the duo dubbed ‘The Gourmet Pommies’ who won My Kitchen Rules in 2015. Will Stewart is the other half and together they now run Sydney’s popular Butcher and Farmer restaurants.
For Will, there’s no expectation from his family that he’ll cook, but, he says, “If I’m hosting, I’m definitely ‘on the tools’! And there’s nothing I enjoy more than cooking for the people I love.”
But, he adds, that doesn’t mean he’s the star of the family celebrations. “My wife is a far better cook than I am,” he says, “and she loves to get stuck in, too.”
Fellow chef Will Cowper from OTTO Brisbane comes from a European family, which means, he says, “Food is always at the heart of every family gathering or celebration.”
That doesn’t translate to a 5-star menu, however. “For my family, when we are celebrating, the food doesn’t need to be fancy to be amazing,” he describes. “One of my favourite dishes to have when we get together is my mum’s spanakopita – I love coming home to her cooking and have her look after me!”
While Will C’s family has no expectations that he’ll man the pans at their celebrations – “(they) always want me to put my feet up, relax and enjoy the family time with my nieces and nephews,” he says – they have a certain favourite.
“The one dish they do love me to make is a kingfish crudo served with a crusty loaf of bread and a glass of Champagne,” he describes. “It’s simple but so tasty.”
Pictured above (from left to right): Fresh and colourful at OTTO Brisbane; Seasonal vegetables star on Steve and Will’s menus
Steve and the two Wills cite Christmas as a highlight of the celebration calendar, as does chef Melissa Palinkas of Young George in Fremantle. Like Will C, Melissa’s European heritage strongly influences her family’s celebratory menu.
“My grandmother was German,” she explains. “So we grew up celebrating on Christmas Eve with our entire extended family. When she passed, as grandchildren we took over the tradition to keep it alive.”
For the past two years, this has seen Melissa in charge. “I pre-order, two weeks in advance, five kilograms of weiners and some good German mustard from Elmars in Myaree,” she describes. “The main feature on our Christmas Eve table is a fleischsalat made with ham, dill pickles and apple bound in thick mayonnaise, sauerkraut plus some salads. For dessert, my aunty or my mum make my grandmother’s amazing German apple cake.”
But when it comes to Christmas day, Melissa’s wife’s Irish traditions get a look in. “She always likes a loaf of Irish brown bread with some smoked salmon,” Melissa says. “We go to Paul McLoughlin’s butcher in Malaga and buy Irish pork sausages and black pudding for breakfast.”
Speaking of festive fare, Steve introduced diners at this year’s Secret Foodies Christmas in July celebration to a taste of his childhood. This event saw 200 festive foodies descend on Butcher and Farmer’s Tramshed restaurant for a hearty feast amid a wonderland of twinkling fairy lights, tea light candles and a Christmas tree.
“It was an opportunity to showcase food that my mum served me as a kid,” Steve explains. “Fun things like pigs-in-blanket, brussel sprouts and going all out by making a traditional gravy from scratch. Homely, honest and indulgent will always win over a crowd.”
a showcase on the plate
Pictured above (from left to right): chef Melissa Palinkas of Young George; chefs Will Stewart and Steve Flood of the Farmer and the Butcher
As well as occasions, these chefs celebrate the beautiful ingredients that feature on their menu. Will Cowper has two particular favourites. “The first is Rangers Valley,” he says. “We use their incredible beef product from head to toe, across many parts of the menu at OTTO. The second is Noosa red tomatoes, they are the best in the country and take me straight back to Italy whenever I eat them – I particularly love them in a simple Caprese salad.”
Melissa is equally effusive about her ingredients and producers. “I am loving the fresh mushrooms from The Mushroom Guys in Kardinya,” she says. “They grow shiitake, oysters, lions mare, chestnut mushrooms and they are beautiful. The sensational heritage corn fed chicken as well as Peking ducks from Marc and Leonie at Wagin Duck and Game. Hall’s Family Dairy do a beautiful Pont L’Eveque cheese made with pure bred Normandy cows milk and Nullaki cheese from Dellendale creamery in Denmark which is washed in roasted wattleseed. I could go on, I am very lucky to have this all at my reach!”
For Steve, the celebratory focus is on seasonal vegetables. “When we took over the Butcher and the Farmer brand, we put seven standalone dishes on the menu that celebrated a different seasonal vegetable. I wanted to treat the vegetables with the same importance as our premium cuts of meat.”
Through their varied celebrations, these chefs show that food is at the heart of their lives beyond the restaurant kitchen.