The first of eight episodes of Good Food's new TV show will air on October 9 on Channel 9. Join us for a peep behind the scenes.
If you thought you didn't need a cooking show to teach you how to scramble an egg, you've never been mesmerised by Danielle Alvarez's remarkable way with heat, eggs and butter. The Sydney chef steps us through her technique in the first episode of Good Food Kitchen, a new chop-and-chat show that takes viewers behind the scenes as Good Food's recipes come to life for the page, and now for the screen as well.
Alvarez co-hosts the show with Good Food regular Adam Liaw; guests include columnists and cooks extraordinaire Jill Dupleix and Katrina Meynink plus leading chefs including Mark Best, Jacqui Challinor and Mark LaBrooy.
Stylist Hannah Meppem and photographer William Meppem, who shoot most of Good Food's recipes, are part of the show too, whisking dishes away for propping and shooting the minute they're finished.
But what about those eggs? "One of the first jobs I had in a kitchen was for Amaryll Schwertner at Boulettes Larder in San Francisco's Ferry Building," Alvarez tells me.
"People raved about her eggs and flocked there for them. She took the time to show me her technique, the art of it, and it was one of the things that made me fall in love with cooking. I would say it was life-changing."
The eggs are well whisked and "a good healthy amount of butter" is gently heated in a pan. Once the butter has coated the bottom of the pan – but is mostly still solid – the eggs are added and pushed slowly, lovingly, into velvety folds. "Just as the butter finishes melting we take it off the heat," says Alvarez.
The technique is simple but not obvious. "It's one thing to read a recipe but there's something great about seeing what a dish should look like," says Alvarez.
"I grew up watching the Food Network in the US and I found it really inspiring to have this library of visual recipes that I could tap into. Cooking is so much about intuition: you need to pay attention to what's happening and be aware of what you are trying to achieve."
In passing on knowledge, Alvarez hopes to inspire home cooks to try a few things they'd normally steer away from, perhaps frying chicken or baking a custard.
"Cooking should be an important part of all of our lives," she says. "The knock-on effects are so much greater than simply food for fuel: it keeps money in local communities and gets people sitting around a table together talking about things that matter and things that don't. A home-cooked meal is one of the greatest things we can do for ourselves."
Good Food Kitchen co-hosts Adam Liaw and Danielle Alvarez. Photo: Supplied
Author and TV regular Adam Liaw is always on a mission to get more people cooking and often takes a problem-solving angle when developing recipes.
"People have challenges," he says. "What do I do with leftover bolognese? I've got too many lemons. I want something sweet but I can't be bothered making a cake."
In the first episode he shares his birthday traycake. "I have three kids. We often have birthday parties in the park, but I've always found it stressful to transport the cake to the party," he says.
"For years, I was driving slowly to the park with the cake precariously balanced, then we switched to cupcakes and ended up with a 50-cupcake transport situation. After child number three we wanted it simpler so I came up with a tray cake, similar to a trifle with layered whipped cream, bought sponge cake and icing."
Party panic turned to park perfection. "It's super easy to transport and you can just plonk it down and scoop it out to serve," says Liaw.
As well as dessert-related life hacks, Liaw's Good Food Kitchen segments allow him to elaborate on recipes that may be quite brief in written form.
"Why do I make large meatballs?" he poses at one point. "Because it's quicker and easier to make them big than small."
For a roast chicken dish, Liaw surprises by par-cooking sliced mushrooms in the microwave. "It draws out liquid and you get mushroom jus as a bonus," he explains.
With every tip, Liaw hopes to instil more bravery in the kitchen.
"Cooking is very much a matter of confidence," he says. "It's human nature to over-complicate and assume things are harder than they are."
In a sense, he hopes to train cooks to have the confidence to leave his recipes behind.
"Recipe writing is at best an approximation," he says. "Everyone's kitchen is different, everyone's ingredients are different. How hot is your oven, what is the thickness of your pan? What you're really doing is offering ideas and a guide."
He's encouraging about substitutions. "People often ask me things like, 'Would this work if I used basil?' Are they asking if the dish would exist at all, if their kitchen would explode [if they add basil]?
"In most cases you can vary a recipe as much as you like. You might have to adjust it a bit if you use chicken rather than beef but – other than a cake – anything you do to put a spin on something is fine."
For Liaw, the TV show is an obvious adjunct to Good Food's print and online content. "It takes you behind the scenes in the most realistic way possible," he says. "It's a natural extension but brought to life in a new medium. And if we get more people cooking, we've done our job."
Behind the scenes: How to make dishes look their absolute best
Ever wondered what it's like to style and shoot recipes?
"Hannah and William Meppem are the husband-and-wife team who cook, style and photograph most of the recipes you see in print and on the Good Food website, and now in our eight-part Good Food Kitchen program," says Ardyn Bernoth, editor of Good Food.
Here are some tips from the professionals involved in Good Food's recipe shoots.
Top 5 food styling tips
"It's our job to be fresh and innovative without following every trend that lasts for a minute," says Hannah. "Just like fashion, you're going to have regrets if you're too daring."
- Start collecting props. If you see something special, buy it! I regret the pieces I have decided not to lug home in a suitcase. You may not get the chance again and one-off special pieces will pay you back tenfold. Having said that, I'm not a huge fan of colourful plates and dishes. They can be too loud and they date quickly. I've always been a believer that the food should be the colour and vibrancy in the shot.
- For me, styling is very intuitive and I don't like to back myself into a corner creatively. I will be organised with my props but I need to see the [finished] dish in front of me before I can make final decisions about what I will use to bring out the best in the recipe. Once you see all the components it's as though the props ask you to pick them. Sounds funny, I know, but it's true.
- Use the very best fresh ingredients and treat them like your children. If food is delicious, it tends to look delicious: you can keep everything simple and you don't have to do too much to it.
- Don't overmix or fiddle too much with food. It always looks the best when you first put it down.
- Always think of the extra items you can bring to the table that not only add flavour but also elevate a composition and bring a bit of pretty. If it's a curry or stir-fry, I might put a beautiful bowl of roasted nuts, fresh Asian herbs, crispy shallots, limes wedges, maybe chilli sauce. If it's oysters, perhaps lemon zest and salt. If it's pasta, you could have a bowl of cherry tomatoes, a basil plant, a jar of pangrattato, a whole slab of parmesan. All those things add to the flavour and the final look.
Top 5 food photography tips
"My aim is for the food to look approachable and for people to get the inspiration to cook," says William Meppem. "I can see the skills and craft in high-end restaurant food but for me, I love shooting something that people will want to cook and actually can cook."
- Choose the best angle for the shot based on the dish. High dishes can be shot from a lower angle to show off the height, and lower dishes can be shot from a higher angle or over-the-top so they fill more of the frame.
- A large, soft single light source is best. Daylight is fantastic. Our studio faces south, which is perfect because the light is soft and even all day.
- Keep darker elements of the dish closer to the light, and have lighter elements in shadow for a more even shot.
- Gloss the dish just before shooting to bring out the highlights. This can be done with a spray of water or a brush of sauce.
- Keep coins on hand to adjust perspective. You may have noticed when looking through your camera or phone that objects on the edge of your frame tend to lean outwards, especially tall things like glasses. The wider your lens – and especially with phones – the more distortion you get. If you wedge coins underneath the base of the "tilting" objects, you can tip them back into frame and they'll look straight. It gives you a more professional image.
Adam Liaw's guide to using recipes
- Find a friend. Like musicians, recipe writers have individual styles. Some will resonate more than others and you'll probably find that the same authors work for you again and again. If you like someone, stick with them and let them bring you the variety.
- Mix it up. You can vary a recipe as much as you like, unless you're baking a cake. Just about anything you do to a recipe will only make it taste different. Whether it works or doesn't work is a matter of degree not zero sum. If you want to switch coriander for basil, go for it. It'll just taste like basil instead of coriander. Whether that "works" is your call.
- Go deep. Find a dish you like and build confidence by cooking it over and over again. The first time I ever made laksa from scratch it took an entire day of effort making the paste and stock and all the toppings. Now I can do all that in an hour without even looking at a recipe or raising a sweat. Practice may not make perfect, but it does make easy.
- Avoid waste. Look for recipes that work for you, whether that's using leftovers and turning them into the next meal or seeing what you have in the fridge rather than going to the shops so much. Before COVID, sustainability was more something people wanted from an ethical perspective; now I think it's moving from ideology to necessity.
Good Food Kitchen premieres this Saturday at 1pm on Channel 9 and will be available to catch-up on 9Now.