WOMEN OF NOTE:
Ellie Bouhadana | Cook
Tomatoes and soft cheese glisten under rivers of olive oil, chunks of freshly baked focaccia act as vehicles for anchovies and sardines, forks twist into seemingly endless plates of spaghetti, cherries nestle into folds of whipped cream atop various sponges and sweets. Such edible delights are what Ellie Bouhadana and her enchanting Instagram page have become known for.
With her simple, produce-driven approach to Italo-Mediterranean food informed by her Jewish heritage, there is a refreshing sense of optimism and pleasure about the way Ellie cooks, which you can’t help but gravitate towards.
Here, dressed in The 03 Set in Old Blue, Ease Trouser and Double Tie Shirt in Cognac Stripe, Ellie shares with us her introduction to food and how this continues to inform her days in the kitchen as the chef at Hope St Radio, Melbourne.
Location: My front porch
Date: Thur 16/Dec
Where are you from and where are you now?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia. Right now I am sitting on my front porch, it is warm outside and I am eating an apricot. I have a plate beside me with some fresh baguette and cheese as well as a tomato, crunchy cucumber and dill salad with lots of extra virgin olive oil and flakey salt.
Are you a morning or evening person?
I am more of an evening person. I don’t mind the mornings, but my day truly starts in the evening when dinner service starts and I am running the kitchen.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up?
I take my time waking up, I stretch around the bed, open the curtains and then have a shower. My morning shower is integral to me starting my day and feeling fresh. I usually go for a walk with my partner and sit outside our local cafe for a cappuccino (with extra chocolate on top) or we make coffees at home.
Can you describe where you live and the view from your bedroom?
I live in Balaclava, it's a small neighbourhood close to the beach. I often walk to the beachside on a sunday morning, the streets along the way are very beautiful. My bedroom has a very big window that opens up to a beautiful native bottle brush plant. So the view is quite green. Beyond those plants is my long driveway where I like to put tables together to host cute dinner and lunch parties for friends and family.
You are a cook who has dreamed up numerous pop-ups, a very successful lockdown food delivery service, and most recently, has been appointed chef at Hope St Radio. What are your first memories of food?
I have always loved food and eating. Growing up (and still today) every Friday night my family would create beautiful Shabbat dinner feasts for our extended family and friends and my mum and grandmother would weave through the kitchen cooking all the things we loved. I was always excited to hear what my mum had planned for the meal and for the house to be full with family and plates of food. Watching my grandmother layer flavours together for a dish like meatballs sandwiched between seared eggplant was always something I was excited to see in the making. I was brought up around these family meals and could feel the generosity in my mum's food. In that sense cooking feels like a natural extension of my upbringing- I learnt to spice and taste food through watching the people in my family put these meals together. I would say these first memories of family meals were my introduction to intimate dinner parties and are a reason why I get excited to cook and create dining experiences for others.
How would you describe the dishes you put together for the menu at Hope St Radio?
At Hope St Radio I cook stuff I want to eat and that I am excited about — I want people to feel like they are eating at my own intimate dinner party so I always try to have that in mind when creating the menu. The dishes are fresh, garlicky and salty in a good way. I would describe most of the plates as Mediterranean in spirit, warm and homey. Food that you want to pass around and share with your best friends. As an example, at the moment we have charred and marinated peppers on the menu with fresh sardines from the bay that we cure ourselves. This dish is something that I make at home when people come over for dinner — I learnt to make the marinated peppers from my grandmother. Parts of the menu change every couple of weeks depending on what we feel like cooking and what our fruit and vegetable supplier recommends is most seasonal. I bake fresh focaccia every day to eat with whipped confit garlic and tarragon butter, this has become a staple on the menu.
In contrast, what is your approach to catering for pop-up events? And what has been the most memorable one you have worked?
The food I made at my pop-ups were created in much the same way as how I cook at Hope St Radio. My approach is always about generosity and creating food that isn’t intimidating (for me or the diners) that people can share. During peak summer time the pop-ups were always the most fun. My partner Rapha and I would line the street with tables covered in butcher paper and together with my sisters we would stamp the table coverings ourselves with drawings of prawns and bowls of pasta (my friend Gem, designed the stamps). I wrote the menus on a big piece of paper and taped it onto the wall for people to read. The Pop-Up Trattoria was so much fun and in a sense they were kind of romantic, messy and loud. We would run around serving plates of focaccia that I had baked in my kitchen at home earlier that morning while Italo-disco music played and people drank wine. I think the most memorable pop-up was when I made fresh tagliatelle with grilled prawns and summer tomatoes - together with a couple of friends who helped me out we cooked hundreds of plates of this pasta out of the tiniest kitchen.
Accompanying your food is often personal stories, which you share via a digital newsletter and in your cookbook zine. Writing is such a beautiful way to share lessons about food and introduce readers to the people who influence how and why you create, how did this first cookbook come about?
I have always enjoyed writing but have recently been exploring it more as another creative outlet for myself. Writing about food first came about for me as a way to write down my recipe ideas and food stories via short notes to myself. Turning some of these stories into a small cookbook zine came about during one of the lockdowns we were in this year (2021). Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) was coming up and I wanted to put out some recipes that were personal to myself and my family at this time of year. We were in a period where not much was going on due to the lockdown but I still wanted to be able to interact with people through food and to explore the foods I was brought up on as a Jewish person. The idea of a cookbook in the form of a zine came about with the help of some really beautiful and talented friends who were excited about the idea of creating this book with me. It all had to come together within a few weeks which seems wild now. Becca Crawford took photos of my food, Steph Stamatis styled all the shots and did some art direction and Fred and Lauren of Long Prawn had the most interesting ideas for the layout and they designed and edited the whole book. There were a lot of emails and calls to work out exactly how we would get it all done so quickly while still maintaining a really personal and intimate fluency throughout the pages and I am very proud that I got to share a bit of mine and my family's background through these stories and recipes.
What are the essential ingredients and kitchen gadgets you can’t be without?
Ingredients I love having in the kitchen at all times are: a jar of good anchovies in olive oil, a wedge of parmigiano or pecorino (or both), white wine, garlic, anything marinated like peppers or salty like olives, some good butter, tiny black lentils or beans, tomatoes if they are in season and a hunk of bread lying around would be essential too. With those ingredients at home you should be able to make a couple of very delicious meals. I love my red cast iron pot that was a hand-me-down from my mother in law - I don’t think I ever cook a meal without using it.
Would you like to share a favourite recipe of yours with us here?
I love artichokes a lot. I grew up eating them with my dad and grandparents. When I was in Italy I ate the traditional Roman-Jewish fried artichokes in the old Jewish quarter in Rome - this way they are fried into crispy open roses. Now I make them for my family and friends at home. Eaten hot with a wedge of lemon is simple and so delicious. This is my recipe for them:
2 lemons, plus extra for serving
Clean the artichokes
Chop the lemons in half, then into quarters and squeeze them into a big bowl full with cold water. Artichokes oxidise and brown very easily, don’t worry about the colour change, once cooked it all tastes beautiful.
Trim the artichokes by removing layer after layer of the dark green outer leaves to eventually expose the very fine, light-green and yellow leaves within. These are the edible leaves.
Using a paring knife, cut off the top half of the artichoke. The idea is to leave the tender, edible lower portion of the artichoke leaves intact, while removing the tough, thorny tops.
Now cut off most of the artichoke stem, leaving about 6cm of stem attached.
Carefully cut away the exterior and stem of the artichoke heart – you want to remove any remaining green exterior parts of the artichoke as it is tough and won’t soften once cooked. Go slowly and carefully, enjoying the process of exposing the delicate heart.
As you trim, take a quarter of lemon and rub it over the artichoke, this will help retain its colour.
Transfer the peeled and trimmed artichokes to the bowl of lemon water as you work.
Fry into crisp little flowers
Pull the artichokes out of the lemon water and dry them. In a large saucepan, heat 3cm of olive oil over a medium-high heat. Once the oil is quite hot, add the artichokes – you should see a steady yet not intense stream of bubbles all around the artichokes. Cook until they are tender enough to pierce the thickest part with a skewer. Adjust the heat to maintain a steady bubble around the artichokes. If the oil doesn’t completely cover the artichoke, turn them frequently with a skewer so that all sides touch the oil. They should take about 10 minutes to cook properly.
Using a slotted spoon, pull the artichokes out of the oil and drain on a paper towel.
When cool enough to handle, gently pull open each artichoke leaf. It should begin looking like an open flower.
If you didn’t remove the choke before, now is the time to do that. Discard the choke.
Finally, pull them out of the hot oil, and drain on a fresh paper towel. Season with flakey salt and serve straight away – hot off the kitchen bench alongside a wedge of lemon for friends and family to squeeze liberally.
If you could host a dinner for any three people in the public eye, who would you invite and what would you cook for them?
Haha this is a cute question. I would invite Samin Nosrat, Ilana Glazer and Troye Sivan. It’s hard to decide what to cook! I think to start I would serve a couple of big artichokes boiled with lemon and salt for us to peel and eat together with a drink on the porch or standing in the kitchen. Next I would char some peppers and serve them with a fudgy potato and onion tortilla. After that I think we would sit down and have clams and gently cooked borlotti beans steamed with a splash of vermouth. And then we would share a big tray of prawn and nduja bucatini pasta. I think for sweets we would eat big meringues with cream, lemon curd and macerated cherries.
During your down time at home, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend so much time at the restaurant prepping and cooking that I am actually hardly home. I leave the house around 9.30am and get back around midnight four-five days a week so on my days off I really enjoy spending time around the house. I wake up slowly, go for walks around the neighbourhood and have coffee with my friends in the morning. I like to have my sisters and parents over and cook for them during my downtime. I also like to eat at my favourite restaurants and drink nice wine in the front yard with my partner when I am not cooking.
Before you go to bed, how do you unwind?
I usually get home quite late after a big dinner service that was full of energy and excitement. To unwind I have a really hot shower and a glass of water. Sometimes I have a small snack but not often. I won’t lie and say I don’t scroll for a few moments before bed but I usually put my phone away pretty quickly and fall asleep almost immediately these days, exhausted from the long days in my little kitchen at work.
What do you dream of while you sleep?
It is weird to say but honestly lately I have been dreaming of my busy days in the kitchen at Hope St where I spend most of my time. I think it probably has something to do with how energised I just was while doing the dinner service only moments earlier and the pressure of running a kitchen. In my dreams I might be prepping in the lead up to a busy dinner service, sometimes my dreams can be quite chaotic.