You’d be hard pressed to find a chef more passionate about uncovering and celebrating quality Australian ingredients than Ed Halmagyi.
Perhaps best known for his role on Network 7’s lifestyle show Better Homes and Gardens, chef Ed Halmagyi has been on Australian television screens for two decades. He’s also published five cookbooks, and there are two more on the way.
Lockdown, twice, in Sydney’s Northern Beaches where he lives and works has continued to be productive. “Living so far north, it feels like we’re not really in Sydney,” he says. Ed’s Northern Beaches LGA bore the brunt of the 2020 Christmas lockdown. “I really feel for the small local businesses here. They’ve had nearly six months of lockdown, and across their busiest period last summer,” he says. “It’s been a strange, somewhat surreal time, on Boxing Day 2020 I took my kids up to Palm Beach for a swim, there were only 60 people on the beach.”
“Luckily, broadcast media has been considered an essential service,” says Ed from his commercial studio in Warriewood. He’s spent a good part of lockdown working here in what is now his main business – creating, cooking, styling, producing and shooting print and digital food content for largely food and beverage clients, in addition to a steady trade in corporate portraits.
Fennel seed and bay leaf coca with aniseed myrtle boquerones; Cabrito al pastor: slow-roasted boer goat shoulder with salsa borracha
Ed began his career in restaurants in Sydney, working in the pastry section of Rockpool, as well as spending time in the kitchens of Bennelong, Cruise, Beach Road and his own trattoria, Nove Cucina.
“First and foremost, I’m a pastry chef, that is the heart and soul of who I am, but I really love the practice of being a commercial photographer, too, so it’s a good mix,” he says. “Having a commercial kitchen in the studio also means I can bake every day, today it’s a buttermilk sourdough I’ve been developing, and because it’s Friday, I’ve been baking challah, which I do each week for the small number of Jewish families in the area.”
“My family is Jewish,” he explains, “98 per cent didn’t survive 1944. Only two stayed in Hungary, the rest fled to Canada and Australia, including my paternal grandparents, but by the time they got here, they’d decided they weren’t religious. So when I was a child, Hanukkah was used as an excuse for a baking competition between my mother and my grandmother.”
The competition would centre around Hungarian beigli, a light sweetened buttery yeast dough filled with a poppyseed paste that is rolled to create a log, baked and then sliced. The competition was fierce, and the results utterly different every year, but always fabulous. Their rivalry had its advantages for the rest of the family, we got to eat a lot of beigli.”
It’s a family tradition Ed maintains. “I make it all the time,” he says. “I’ve got eight kilos of filling in the fridge!”
a recipe for celebration
Celebrations at this time of year for Ed and his own family, also include Christmas. “We celebrate both,” he says. “My wife is mad about Christmas, mostly for the sense of togetherness it brings. On December 1 we put up the tree and decorate the house, and it always winds up in a dance party of sorts. On Christmas Day, we have the extended family for lunch, but I ensure that lunch is as low impact as possible and that means the menu is pre-prepared, made using fabulous Australian ingredients.”
Many of the ingredients Ed uses have been discovered in his role visiting producers as a Judge of The President’s Medal for the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales (RAS). In addition to taste and appearance, judging considers the producer’s overall financial, social and environmental contribution, commitment to sustainability and integrity from gate to plate.
Sweet goat’s milk coeur de la creme with twice-cooked berries, rosella and macadamias; Flat iron steak asado with radicchio, olives and picual olive oil
“I’ve used the President’s Medal-winning product, Meredith Dairy’s goats’ curd, in the recipe for the coeur de la creme,” he says. “The recipe was inspired by chef Sean Moran of Sean’s Panaroma’s hung ricotta version,” he explains. “I was keen to find a way to showcase the curd in a dessert and Sean’s version is unparalleled.”
Ed’s experience with the RAS has worked to remind, and further inspire him to look at the impact of his work
and decision-making in the kitchen and the studio.
“When I create recipes and content, I now have a checklist for myself,” he says. “Firstly, the recipes must support Australian growers and producers; secondly, they must help create jobs for small local businesses; and thirdly, they must be sustainable in terms of their economic and environmental position.”
“I think this year, as we all go about cooking for long-awaited celebrations and catch-ups with family and friends, that it’s more important than ever to be conscious of supporting fellow Australians and small, ethical and sustainable businesses.”