Kitchen spy: Stephanie Alexander

Stephanie Alexander rose to prominence as a cook and restaurateur in Melbourne in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, but she now has a presence in hundreds of thousands of home kitchens around Australia, courtesy of her best-selling cookbooks.

Sales of her ground-breaking The Cook's Companion (more than 500,000 copies sold nationwide) helped Alexander establish the Kitchen Garden Foundation, which educates children about growing, harvesting and cooking fruit and vegetables.

This week Alexander goes to Turin in Italy for the annual Slow Food event Terra Madre.

A home kitchen ...

Should be a place you enjoy being in. For me that means that many of my treasured plates, cups and odd bits and pieces are on display, rather than buried in cupboards.  Most have a story to tell. I love a colourful world, so there is no white in my kitchen. 

Inspiration

Person My mother who showed me by example that feeding a family every day could be a labour of love and interesting and satisfying. Cooking was never a chore for her, and her interest in the raw materials was infectious.  Books I use my own books a lot. But I do have a collection of cookbooks with several hundred titles that I enjoy browsing through with no particular thought in mind, or to check various versions of something I want to try. The works of Elizabeth David, Patience Gray, Richard Olney and Alice Waters have given me pleasure and inspiration over the years.

The staples

My pantry Romanella butter beans and chickpeas, Maggie Beer’s vino cotto, Nolans Road extra-virgin olive oil, Vegemite, canned tomatoes. My fridge Full-cream milk,  Green Eggs, Meredith Dairy marinated goat’s cheese, Greek-style yoghurt, unsalted butter. To drink English breakfast tea in the morning. Then one extra-strong long coffee with   full-cream milk. Two glasses of wine with dinner (aromatic whites, medium-bodied  reds). No cabernet or Barossa shiraz (known as ‘‘ice-pick reds’’ for the headaches they give me).

I’m cooking

Last home meal you cooked?  Sauteed prawns with mint from the garden, sliced garlic and a little chilli, tossed with asparagus and blanched English spinach from the garden, stirred through cavatelli pasta. The dish was drizzled with a little Rose Creek extra virgin olive oil. In my garden now I’m harvesting Tuscan kale, silverbeet, leaf chicory and the last of the sprouting broccoli.

Sentimental

My mother’s Spode English bone china. She saved up for this and purchased it at the Primrose Pottery Shop. Anyone over the age of 60 would remember it. Whenever I have lots of people over the Spode comes out. My beautiful tablecloths; they are a great thing to bring back from travels. Many of them are from France and seem to be made from an amazing cotton. They’ve been washed hundreds of times and never seem to shrink or fade. They say ‘‘France’’ to me.

My local

Fruit and veg My favourite haunts are the  farmers’ markets nearest to my home (Collingwood Children’s Farm, and the Abbotsford Convent). Meat Local Hawthorn butcher, Hawthorn Meats. Bread Many places. I love good bread. My breakfast toast is Irrewarra seeded loaf, I love Phillippa’s boule  and D. Chirico’s epi, and I loved my first taste of the spelt sourdough loaf from StKilda’s Woodfrog Bakery. Seafood Kingfisher Seafoods at the Camberwell Market.
Ideal neighbourhood eatery? Gertrude Street Enoteca (Fitzroy). Takeaway? The very occasional chicken pho from Victoria Street (Richmond).

My tool kit

I have a KitchenAid blender and two KitchenAid stand mixers, which is a bit extravagant. When we were writing Kitchen Garden Companion we had two of us going full-time testing the recipes. Other favourites Magimix food processor with attachments, De’Longhi espresso machine. My couscoussier and my copper jam pot. My alabaster mortar, which I found in a second-hand store in the south-west of France. I had a woodturner make the pestle when I returned home.

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