Fascinating Folk | Page 3 of 5 | Dani Valent

Fascinating Folk

How good are people? I love interviewing people from all different walks of life and trying to understand what makes them tick. Here is where I’ve shared stories about actors, politicians, scientists, chef and even an astronaut. Most of these stories have been published in Fairfax newspapers, magazines and websites.

How does a Michelin-starred chef think about food?

How does a Michelin-starred chef think about food? I had a long time to ponder this question over lunch at El Coq, the restaurant owned by the talented and dashing Michelin-starred chef Lorenzo Cogo. El Coq is in Vicenza, an hour or so from Venice, where I stayed for a week.

Eva Orner

February 2005 and Eva Orner was doing it tough. She’d endured a long New York winter marked by blizzards and heavy snows, new in town, out of work, low on friends and short on cash. But one of her few buddies, someone she’d met back home in Melbourne, invited her to an Oscars party at his apartment in Tribeca. There, with Ground Zero out the window and A-list glamour on the TV, a dozen thirtysomethings sat on the floor with Indian takeaway on their laps and watched Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank and Cate Blanchett scoop the pool. “We all had to put in $50 for an Oscars sweep,” says Orner. “I was like, ‘My God, 50 bucks!’ ” But she won, and walked out with $600 to put towards the rent of her studio apartment eight blocks away. “I was so happy,” she says. “It was really handy.”

Jessi Singh

“Jessi loves to feed people and he can do it anywhere,” says his wife Jennifer. He did it as a boy in his Punjab village, getting up at 4am to water the fields, milk the buffalo and make yoghurt lassi for breakfast before heading to school. He did it in Jennifer’s miniature apartment in San Francisco. “He invited people over, I told him it was impossible, but amazing food kept appearing from my tiny kitchen,” she says. Even today, he’s known for rummaging in friends’ fridges and creating feasts, turning his hosts into honoured guests in their own homes. He’s tapping into a Sikh sense of hospitality. “It’s a natural part of my culture,” he says. “Everyone must sit down and eat together and the guest is considered God.” It also, simply, makes him feel good. “After a long day in the kitchen, cooking is a therapy for me,” he says. “It gives me huge satisfaction to know I made my meal from scratch.”

Curtis Stone

“Steak’s up guys,” says Curtis Stone, slicing into a hunk of beef, appraising it keenly, chewing on a morsel with faraway eyes, then passing slivers around for feedback. He’s not at Maude, his feted Beverly Hills restaurant. He’s not at home in the Hollywood Hills, feeding his actor wife Lindsay Price and sons Hudson and Emerson. He’s not even filming for a television show – All-Star Academy (like The Voice, but with cooking) and Kitchen Inferno (a game show, like a speedy MasterChef with more fire balls) are two US series he’s hosted recently.

Ruth Rogers profile. The Age

Kitchen royalty doesn’t come more august and influential nor, as it turns out, more down to earth than River Cafe co-founder Ruth Rogers. Rogers and the late Rose Gray opened their produce-driven Italian restaurant in London, on the northern bank of the Thames, in 1987. The motivation, at least partly, was to feed Ruth’s ‘‘starchitect’’ husband Richard Rogers, whose offices are next door. But Rogers and Gray always cooked with rigour and a sense of abundance and the River Cafe was never just a staff canteen. Its alumni include April Bloomfield, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and, closer to home, Jesse Gerner, Tobie Puttock and many more. I nabbed ‘‘Ruthie’’ Rogers during the recent Melbourne Food and Wine Festival to ask her about her cooking musts and must-nots.

Cook like Ottolenghi

He is the culinary equivalent of Beyonce. He’s an author, a TV host, and if you cook, you’ve tried one of his recipes. Yotam Ottolenghi is in his test kitchen, a series of low-tech spice-scented rooms under a railway arch in central London. I’m on the phone in Melbourne and this call is making me late for my kids’ school concert but I’ve decided that soaking up kitchen wisdom is as honourable a pathway to good motherhood as watching my girls twirl.

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© Dani Valent 2019