"At Gourmet we try to be respectful of the food, we don't push it a certain way just for the sake of it."
Welcome to the first installment of a new feature here on Stove Top Revolution, where myself and my star of a photographer, Sophie Roberts, invite ourselves around to interesting people's houses, watch them cook something delicious and ask them a few questions about how they ended up doing what they do. Some will be from the food industry, others spend their time on various creative things. What will tie this whole shebang together, though, is a love of cooking, food, and eating. We hope they inspire you as much as they do us.
To kick things off, I thought it fitting to profile one of my all-time favourite people in the food industry and the world, Alice Storey, with whom I have the pleasure of sitting within waving distance in the Gourmet Traveller/WINE editorial offices. Alice is one half of the duo behind Pure Pops, and we caught up with her at the beautiful (dream) home of her business partner and also super-cook, Georgi Larby, at Georgi's new place on top of a cliff on Sydney's northern beaches. Look at that view! And that mint green mixer! And those vintage chairs! Alice showed us a few things about rough-puff pastry, which I can tell you, is worth the effort.
One of the first things that stands out after meeting this gal is her smile, and her smarts. After starting off studying law/psychology in her home state of Tassie, Alice figured out pretty quickly that a life at a desk didn't really suit her, and after waitressing for a time, she noticed that the kitchen looked way more fun, and "decided I wanted to be a chef, a good one," she says. Next up was a four-year apprenticeship at The Bathers' Pavilion at Balmoral in Sydney, but after a while she was ready for the next challenge, and she started to look around for other things. Soon after, she met Emma Knowles (Gourmet Traveller's food and style director) and Rodney Dunn, and helped them out for a few weeks work experience before moving to London to work behind the scenes on Great British Menu and Market Kitchen in London (which involved "a LOT of chopping"). In between takes Alice and her boyfriend travelled around Europe with a little cooking kit and not much else. "We didn't eat out much", she remembers, "we had seriously no money and the produce is just so good over there. We shopped at the local markets and it was so great. We loved the gyros, fried mussels and all that amazing melon."
After heading back home, the job at Gourmet cropped up, and Alice has been there for the last four years. "We do a lot of research, a lot of reading, we get to learn so many different things. I used to get nervous about cooking a few dishes, but I've learnt that you have to trust yourself. We work with such amazing people, such an incredible team. In magazines it's very different to cheffing - where everything is so quick and filled with adrenalin. With food styling you have the time to get things completely perfect down to the last crumb, but it was working in the restaurant kitchen that really taught me the fundamentals of working as part of a team. I think Em (Knowles) has taught me a lot about that too, so has Ant (Anthea Loucas, GT Editor), the whole group has. Everyone is so supportive of each other, and everyone loves food, of course." Alice started Pure Pops, a bespoke, seasonal and all-natural icicle company which is growing by the minute, in September last year with Georgi at markets around Sydney. Initially thought up as a project to "fuel our serious addiction to chairs", say the girls, the business has grown faster than they both anticipated, and they are preparing big things for next summer.
The roll call of chefs Alice admires is large and varied. Nigel Slater, Alice Waters, Paul Bertolli, Matt Wilkinson and Heidi Swanson (of 101 Cookbooks) all score a look-in, especially Slater; "his writing is so casual, it's like he's telling you how to cook over the phone, I love the simplicity. At Gourmet we try to be respectful of the food, we don't push it a certain way just for the sake of it, although we do try to cover all angles - the trend pieces like what's going on and what's hot, but also what's seasonal, simple and fresh. We try to satisfy everyone, like the whole gastronomy thing, but also the people who love the farmer's market and just want to make a beautiful heirloom carrot salad."
At this point in the afternoon the smell of the baking tart is buttery, nutty and sweet, and we got onto the business of puff pastry making. "Em taught me a lot about pastry. It's all about patience, confidence, and waiting until it's ready. You can really adapt this recipe to be anything, just keep it in the freezer and put anything on it. I have a really good one you can do with rhubarb, amaretti biscuits and almond meal to soak up the juices." But this one is filled with soft, roasted pumpkin, the edges dark and caramelized, topped with salty dollops of goat's cheese and a sweet smudge of garlic underneath it all. The pastry is puffed, golden and perfect. It's easy to slice, without the greasiness that store-bought puff pastry sometimes leaves on your fingers. What a place to eat it, too, overlooking the beach in the afternoon.
Pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme tart
This recipe is adapted from a recipe originally developed for Australian Gourmet Traveller.
Rough Puff Pastry
225g plain flour
40g grated Parmesan
225g cold butter, coarsely chopped
50ml olive oil
750g pumpkin, cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, whole and unpeeled
150g goat's curd, crumbled
6 thyme sprigs, plus extra to serve
For rough puff pastry, sift flour and a pinch of salt onto a work surface, add Parmesan and mix to combine. Add butter, cutting it through the flour mixture with a pastry scraper until roughly mixed. Make a well in the centre, add 100ml iced water, mix with pastry scraper until a dough just forms. Bring together with the heel of your hand to form a disc. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate to rest (20 mins). Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a 1.5cm thick rectangle, fold shortest end together to meet in the centre, then fold in half again to form a book fold. Wrap in plastic wrap, refrigerate to rest again (20 minutes), repeat twice. Wrap in plastic wrap until required.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Scatter pumpkin and garlic cloves over trays lined with baking paper, drizzle with oil, scatter over thyme, season to taste and roast, rotating trays halfway through until cooked through (30-35 minutes). Set aside to cool.
Roll out pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick. Cut out a 25cm-diameter circle. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate to rest (30 mins). Score a 1cm border partway through pastry, prick inside border with a fork, squeeze out the roasted garlic, which will be soft, and spread on the base of the pastry. Scatter over pumpkin, then crumble over goat's curd, season to taste, roll edges to contain, brush with egg wash and bake until golden and cooked through (25-30 minutes). Cool slightly and serve scattered with extra thyme and with a bitter green leaf salad if desired.
(All photographs copyright to Sophie Roberts)