Many chefs survived isolation by teaching us how to cook. Here are our favourite recipes and key lessons we observed along the way.
Several weeks into isolation in late March, a strange phenomenon occurred. With darkened kitchens and dining rooms shrouded, chefs around the world, housebound and bored, with no apprentices to teach or people to feed, dusted off their aprons and took to filming home cooking lessons.
They've been a daily highlight for many people – not just for the food we've learned to cook by watching them (Neil Perry's sandwich feed was a daily celebration of the joys of a simple lunch), but for a glimpse into their interior lives. Watch Sydney chef Dan Hong show his Instagram followers how to make Hong Kong-style noodles as his kids jump in front of the camera and interrupt him constantly. Beautiful chaos aside, it's proof that chefs can't help but nurture, teach and share in any way they can.
As Perry says: "It's been an incredible shock for people who love nurturing and whose nature it is to give every day." Showing people how to cook helped. Here are the dishes we loved most.
Neil Perry's perfect deli sandwich
"Iso might have done everybody a bit of good on the home cooking front," says Perry, whose regular sandwich tutorials were the inspiration behind this entire story. "And [through chefs' Instagram videos] we've seen into people's lives a bit more. I love Dan Hong. He's such a funny bastard. And Guillaume Brahimi with all his gorgeous French stuff. And I love Thomas Keller doing his apron tying masterclasses. Wonderful classic things that a lot of people wouldn't have the chance to see."
The chef behind Rockpool Group, Rosetta and Spice Temple is a big fan of keeping it simple and fresh with his home cooking. It could be shucking an oyster, making a Chinese-style wonton noodle soup or an epic-looking deli sandwich with all the trimmings. Here are his deli sandwich commandments:
It's got to be fresh bread – that's one of the most important things – and it's got to be the right type of bread for the sandwich you're making. For an Asian-style sandwich like a banh mi, for instance, you need a crusty French roll. For a chicken finger sandwich, you need the fluffy, store-bought white stuff. But for a deli sandwich, I like Iggy's sourdough or I might use a nice Italian-style roll.
I like thick butter. I think you need to have that barrier between the bread and everything else that's going on and the butter lays a really nice foundation. Also, my father got me addicted to it when I was younger.
I love the layers of flavours. I'll quite often do prosciutto and spicy salami and chorizo and maybe some ham. And then you get that completely over-the-top American deli-style sandwich where all the parts add together to make the sum amazing.
I like provolone, or gruyere, or nostrani cheese – something a little bit soft and delicate – and you layer those up and then you get different textures and tastes.
You have to add crunch. Absolutely lettuce and cucumber. I'm not a mad fan of a tomato on a deli sandwich. Because a really beautiful ripe tomato is sweet enough and quite often overpowers and takes the flavour away from the meat.
You need sharpness. It could be pickled cucumbers or a dill pickle, or pickled onions.
I love hot sauce on top so it's spicy. Lately I've also been sticking the harissa from Room 10 cafe on my deli sandwiches.
Smash it in half with a bread knife and go for it.
Hong's prawn toast and dipping sauce. Photo: Edwina Pickles
Dan Hong's (kind of) easy prawn toast
"Teaching is pretty much my bread and butter these days," says the executive chef behind Ms.Gs, Mr. Wong and Establishment. "Because I'm not really on the line cooking any more, my job in the kitchen is to develop chefs. I hope to think that the way I explain the dishes on my Instagram videos is very similar to the way I would explain how to cook a dish to one of my chefs or apprentices."
His prawn toast video was most popular, Hong thinks, because he uses garlic bread from the supermarket. "I learned this hack from one of my dim sum chefs. People thought it was a game changer."
- 500g prawns, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 egg white
- one loaf of supermarket garlic bread
- Japanese breadcrumbs (panko)
- Neutral oil for frying (I like rice bran oil; it's a little healthier and great for frying)
- 4 tbsp white sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp Japanese kombu extract
- handful of green onions, chopped
- handful of capers, chopped
- handful of cornichons, chopped
- squirt of sriracha sauce
- squirt of Japanese mayo
- Mix all ingredients for seasoning, pour half over 250 grams of the chopped prawns, making sure it is evenly distributed, and set aside.
- Put the other 250 grams of prawns into a blender or food processor with the other half of the seasoning and the egg white and blend until it is a smooth, pale paste with a moussey consistency.
- Add the prawn mousse to the chopped prawn. You'll need to use your hands to make sure the chopped prawns are incorporated into the prawn mousse and to make sure the proteins are being worked. The end result should be quite thick.
- Optional: pan-fry a little portion, to check the seasoning.
- Adjust seasoning if necessary and then place in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up the prawn mix. That will make the mousse really easy to spread on the bread.
- Take the loaf of garlic bread, and you'll see the slits where it has been pre-cut and filled with garlic butter. These are usually thickly cut. You want to cut the existing slices of bread in half again, all the way through to the bottom. Cut existing slices to the bottom as well.
- To assemble, place each slice of bread with the butter facing up. Spread each piece with a generous amount of prawn mousse, making sure to cover the whole piece of bread. As a guide, the thickness of the prawn mousse should be about the same as the thickness of the bread.
- Dip each one in the Japanese breadcrumbs to lightly coat.
- Fill a wok or deep, heavy-based saucepan three-quarters full with neutral oil and heat to 200C.
- Carefully place each prawn toast into the oil, mousse side down for about three minutes. Flip the toasts over and cook on the toast side for about two minutes. Do not overcrowd the pan, about four or five toasts at a time.
- Combine all sauce ingredients together, then place a small amount on the prawn toast and serve.
Serves up to 6 as a snack
Spaghetti carbonara by Mitch Orr. Photo: Steven Siewert
Mitch Orr's textbook carbonara
Fans of Mitch Orr will be well aware of his excellent pasta work over at the recently opened CicciaBella in Bondi. Since being in captivity he's been forced to cook for himself, something he rarely does because he's either cooking for other people or enjoying the work of his chef mates in their restaurants. It was not having that creative outlet that got him conducting his social media pasta tutorials.
"I'm so addicted to Instagram that I was missing that dopamine hit of likes and engagement. Plus, I knew everyone was sitting at home in the same boat, with massive amounts of pasta and tinned tomatoes and mince meat," says Orr. "Everyone now has the time, so why not do it properly?"
Orr says the two most popular recipes were the carbonara and tiramisu, but all the recipes hit different spots for different people, depending on their knowledge and experience. He says he didn't really put any measurements with any of the dishes because he wanted people to use their common sense and taste as they cooked. "Because that's how you learn to cook. You don't learn by measuring things out and blindly putting them in a pot – you learn by getting to know your palate. Doing it that way resulted in a lot of people messaging me for exact measurements but it allowed me to talk through the process of why things are done a certain way. If you have that understanding, you can apply that to the next thing you cook."
- 100g pasta of your choice
- 1 egg yolk
- handful of grated pecorino (we can accept parmigiano Reggiano)
- handful of guanciale, chopped into batons (we can accept pancetta)
- slug of olive oil
- black pepper to taste
- In a heavy-base pan, place a little olive oil and the batons of guanciale. Cook them over a low-medium heat, allowing the fat to render and the guanciale to become golden and crunchy.
- Place the egg yolk in a large bowl with plenty of finely grated pecorino. Grind a heap of pepper into the bowl. Mix everything together. Add the guanciale, and maybe a little of the rendered fat as well.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until it's al dente.
- Remove the pasta from the pasta water and place it straight into the bowl of the egg yolk. Mix everything together quickly. The idea is that the heat from the pasta will melt the cheese and cook the egg yolk just enough. Everything will emulsify together and form a silky, shiny sauce. If it all becomes too tight, add a spoon of the pasta cooking water and mix everything again. You need to work quickly so the pasta stays hot.
- Check the seasoning, you may or may not need salt (guanciale and pecorino provide salt content). You want to feel the heat of the pepper, it needs to cut through the richness of the egg yolks and cheese. Serve it up and cover it in more cheese if you like!
Alvarez's okonomyaki topped with bonito flakes and aonori Photo: Edwina Pickles
Danielle Alvarez's okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake)
"As chefs, we have a need to create and feed others and it felt like I was feeding people through Instagram." Danielle Alvarez is the head chef of Fred's, the woodfired two-hat restaurant that's been warming Paddington silvertails since 2016. She was particularly heartened to see her apple cake – the first recipe she posted – being made around the world and it encouraged her to make more videos. "I simply felt like comfort baking and I wanted to share what I was up to. The response was incredible and so it encouraged me and made me feel useful."
A regular recipe writer for Good Food, Alvarez is no stranger to cooking at home and is a strong believer in reading broadly and trying new things. "Cooking should be fun and not stressful, so if something doesn't work out perfectly or you burn it, or you drop it on the floor (yes, I've done that too!) it's OK, it happens. Find the people whose recipes you trust which will allow you to cook more confidently."
- 150g plain flour
- 2½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp fine salt
- 1½ tsp sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp neutral oil (rice bran, grapeseed, canola) plus more for cooking
- 220ml water
- 300-350g thinly sliced cabbage with any thick stems removed (approximately ¼ of a medium-large head of cabbage)
- 1 large carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 3 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 12 thin slices of pork belly or cured bacon (I partially freeze the pork belly so it is easy to cut into thin strips)
- Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
- Aonori (green powder)/ or shredded nori
- Kewpie mayonnaise
- Bulldog sauce
Other protein options
- Peeled prawns, sliced squid or octopus
- Mix together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder and set aside.
- Mix together water, egg and oil and whisk that into the dry ingredients.
- Mix in the carrot, green onion and shredded cabbage and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium/high heat. Add a drizzle of neutral oil and lay 3 slices of pork belly or bacon on the pan, slightly overlapping. Scoop out one third or one quarter of the batter (depending on how large you want them to be) and drop it directly onto the pork and spread it out evenly over the top. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 5-7 minutes on one side, then use a spatula to flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. If it doesn't flip in one perfect piece it's OK, you can push it back together. Keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.
- When ready to serve, drizzle with bulldog sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, a sprinkle of seaweed and katsuobushi.
Makes 3-4 pancakes and serves 4