Kitchen spy: Hayley Smorgon

Have cookbook, will travel: that's the credo of Hayley Smorgon, whose book Cooking from the Heart took her to New York last November for its US release, then to Paris for the Gourmand Food and Wine Awards, where it was a finalist for best foreign book. She has her 87-year-old Hungarian grandmother to thank for these latest frequent-flyer points, as it was the family matriarch whose dishes she first wanted to chronicle. Cooking from the Heart - recipes and stories from Jewish Australians, who hailed from such far-flung places as Zambia and Burma - grew from there. Smorgon has ample recipe-testing opportunities: she is the mother of four children, aged 8 to 16.

The staples

My pantry You could live in there for six months without stepping out; I have every single ingredient you could possible want to make something. I always have Di Cecco extra virgin olive oil. And lots of condiments. I've got six different chutneys in there right now.

On my bench At the moment, I'm obsessed with figs. I have two bowls in my home. I put them in salads, eat them with Jalna greek yoghurt and honey, or just eat as is. I've grown a fig tree at home; this is the first year we've got figs.

My fridge We always have Dodoni feta cheese.

Last dinner at home

Rene Nathan's braised brisket with prunes, from my book. It sits in the oven for ages, so you don't need to mind it. I love that sweet-savoury combination. It's a beautiful, comforting meal. She's from Zambia, so her background is cooking this eastern European fare against an African backdrop. That contrast is quite amazing.

I'm drinking

There's always fresh coconut water in the fridge. On Saturday afternoons, I have lychee juice with vodka, mint and lime juice.

Favourites

I love things that have a history and a past. I've got all my grandmother's dinner sets, and some of [husband] Michael's grandfather's dinner sets, as well as his engraved silver cutlery. I use my mother's old crockery set every day. Luckily, there's a place in Brisbane called China Finders that sources discontinued ranges for when they break. I've got a brass wok that I schlepped back from Thailand. Whenever we travel, I like to buy plates or bowls as a souvenir. Once, we were in Hungary on a roots tour. I said, ''Michael, do you mind if I buy glasses?'' He said, ''Of course not, why do you need to ask?'' I came out of a shop with two huge boxes of jewel-coloured wine glasses. He thought I wanted to buy sunglasses! I use my old scales all the time. I bought them 12 years ago in a second-hand shop. I don't use digital scales. I love the look of these, and the fact that someone else has used them before.

My tool kit

My orange plastic V-slicer is really old and really ugly, but I use it daily. I've had it since I was 12 years old. I love gadgets. I have a gadget to peel cucumbers so that they look like flowers when cut, as well as apple corers and special graters. I've got an amazing Japanese knife that sushi chefs use. You have to be attentive otherwise you'll chop your finger off, it's so sharp.

Most memorable meal

One of the cooks in the book, Mrs [Helen] Schon, survived World War II, came here, became a successful businesswoman, ran a household and still nothing's ever too much trouble for her. When Gaye [Weeden, the cookbook's co-author] and I went there, she couldn't feed us enough. She specialises in cakes and she'd say, ''Try my chocolate cake.'' It's so beautiful being nourished by someone's home cooking.

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Secret vice

Meringues with fresh cream and berries. The cream melts the meringue. I love things that are sickly sweet, such as baklava.

Inspiration

If I travel anywhere, I do cooking courses. I love unusual ingredients and new flavours. I never go for the safe option at restaurants. With cookbooks, I love Ottolenghi. He's always looking to the past and trying to re-create it. And I love Claudia Roden, the guru of Jewish cooking.