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Chefs have for a while contributed to the genre of life writing as well as cookbooks. Julia Child, for example, wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking and My Life in France.
Books combining the two genres have always been popular, but lately, more have appeared. Culinary historian Barbara Santich says what we’re seeing with increasingly personal cookbooks is “a continuation and intensification of an earlier trend” combined with broader fashions in the culinary sphere of emphasis on chefs as individuals, and in publishing of personal non-fiction narratives.
Santich says the trend of more personal cookbooks can also be attributed to the abundance of cooking resources available on the internet - cookbooks must now be able to offer something more than recipes.
But for Gregory, publishing “something in between cookbook and memoir” made sense as a debut. After spending years working in top restaurants around the world, the chef published her first book, How Wild Things Are.
The book tells the story of how Gregory, who grew up in New Zealand, stepped back from the kitchen burners to live off the land in the wilds of Tasmania.
Gregory said she wanted to write a cookbook about the slower way of living and cooking she’d found since leaving acclaimed Hobart restaurant Franklin in 2019.
Gregory was raised on a dairy farm at Matamata, a real country girl with ‘‘21 pets’’.
Keen to do ‘‘something with her hands’’, she left school at 15 and headed to TAFE in Auckland for a two-year professional cookery course.
After working at a couple of kitchens in Wellington, she did what many Kiwis do and headed overseas for her OE. After a few years working and travelling in Europe, she headed to Australia to take advantage of the emerging fine dining scene.
For Gregory, cooking has “always been personal but in different ways. In the beginning I was so passionate and worked so many hours. I felt like I didn’t know who I was outside the kitchen. It was the be-all and end-all.” Then there’s the personal nature of “making a dish of your own. You’re really putting yourself on the plate. What if people don’t like it?”.
Gregory, who now lives in a 1910 weatherboard farmhouse on a former pig farm outside a small town 40 minutes from Hobart, was inspired by Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones and Butter, because despite being “constantly surrounded by people in hospitality ... you don’t talk about stress and anxiety”.
Since Marco Pierre White’s White Heat in 1990, high-stress kitchen confessionals (recipes optional) have become their own trope. But in How Wild Things Are, Gregory proposes food as the cure, as well as the disease. Her embrace of foraging, hunting and growing her own ingredients is served as an antidote to the stresses described in the narrative section of the book.
This story of slowing down played out just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which also closed her former workplace. Gregory says her cooking now reflects “what I wanted out of my life”.
“I wanted things to be a bit slower, get back to nature, go hiking, plant vegetables,” she says, but it just “happened to be at a time right before Covid”.
How Wild Things Are features wonderful photographs of Gregory’s life in Tasmania, foraging and cooking in the wild. The recipes follow her story and are broken into chapters on New Zealand (possum sausages anyone?), her travels, Tasmania and finishes with a chapter on ferments.
— Guardian News and Media and Otago Daily Times
Abalone and XO butter egg noodles
This dish is something I throw together a lot at home for friends and family. It’s exceptionally easy, and the feedback you get seems to drastically outweigh the actual time spent in the kitchen. It was inspired by the noodle dishes my mum used to make for us growing up, but I’ve added things I normally have in my fridge and that she would never have put in.
300-400g live abalone*
400g fresh Chinese egg noodles (you
can use fresh pasta as a substitute)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 baby bok choy
80g XO sauce
60g spring onions (scallions),
juice of 1 lemon
crispy fried shallots
Heat a steamer, either stovetop or electric. Place the abalone shell-side down and steam for 50 minutes, or until it can be pierced easily with a skewer. Remove the abalone, take it out of the shell and clean out the guts. Thinly slice it with a sharp knife.
Boil a saucepan of salted water and blanch the noodles for 30 seconds, then drain, reserving some of the water if you like a slightly wetter sauce.
In a large saute pan, melt half the butter. Add the garlic and fry it out gently on a low heat, making sure it doesn’t colour, about 3 minutes. Add the sliced abalone, fry it in the butter for 12 minutes, then add the bok choy, XO sauce and the rest of the butter.
Stir as the bok choy wilts and the sauce emulsifies, 1-2 minutes. Add the spring onions and still-warm noodles and toss everything together.
Season with lemon juice and test to see if it requires salt. Add a little of the noodle-blanching water to thin out the sauce, if desired. Top with crispy fried shallots for texture. Often, I eat this with a chilli and Sichuan pepper sauce, such as Lao Gan Ma, as a condiment.
*You can reserve and dehydrate the abalone liver and stomach, then grind them to a powder to make an abalone salt for seasoning fish and vegetables.
Manuka honey madeleines
I’ve been experimenting with taking processed sugar out of some of my recipes and replacing it with more natural alternatives, such as honey and malt syrups.
This is one of the recipes that adapted exceptionally well to honey, and I love the flavour the madeleines get from intense ones such as manuka and leatherwood. For me, these cakes are best served straight from the oven.
They don’t benefit from being kept for too long!
170g butter, plus some for brushing
the metal mould
185g manuka or leatherwood honey,
or other honey as preferred
160g plain flour
Œ tsp salt
Œ tsp baking powder
2œ Tbsp water
Heat the oven to 180degC. Melt the butter and let cool to room temperature.
In a stand mixer, whisk the eggs and honey until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, sift the dry ingredients, then add them to the egg mix and fold by hand. Once the dry ingredients are incorporated, gently fold in the cooled melted butter. Chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
To make the jam
Take the seeds out of the apricots, then roughly dice them. Combine with the water and honey in a saucepan and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until a jammy consistency is reached.
Butter a madeleine mould with a pastry brush. I use a 12-cake non-stick metal one; the old copper madeleine moulds are amazing, but I would grease and flour them first. Fill each indentation half full and bake for 10 minutes. They should be set and golden, with minimal colour on top and light brown underneath.
Serve immediately with soured cream and jam.
Mussel butter tagliatelle
Imagine a roasted mussel butter, redolent of wild fennel and seaweed, tossed through a super yolky, silky pasta, with fresh mussels and fried breadcrumbs. It took me a while to discover my love for mussels after being scarred in my youth by large, overcooked, rubbery bivalves. Now that I have, all I want is to pickle, steam, roast, grill them, make sauces with them and toss them through pasta.
1 quantity pasta
100g mussel meat (around 500g in their shells), plus 20 extra mussels
35g wakame jam (seaweed jam)
juice of 2 lemons
2g yuzu kosho (a Japanese condiment made from fermented yuzu peel, chillies and salt), or any fermented chilli paste
200g butter, cut into cubes
50g panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp olive oil
wild fennel fronds or dill, if unavailable
240g egg yolks (about 15)
2 tsp olive oil
500g 00 flour
To make the pasta dough
Lightly whisk the egg yolks, whole egg and olive oil in a bowl. In a food processor or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and egg mixture and mix on the lowest speed until it resembles large crumbs. This is a very dry dough, so it may feel like it will never come together, but it will.
Knead for an extra 2 minutes after the dough comes together, then continue to knead lightly by hand. Shape the dough into a flat brick, cover tightly and rest overnight in the fridge.
Roll out the pasta. Because this is a very yolk-heavy dough, it has a high amount of fat, making it harder to roll when cold. Remove it from the fridge and bring to room temperature before rolling it out and cutting to tagliatelle thickness.
To cook the mussels
If you have a steamer, steam all the mussels with a tray underneath to catch the juices. Alternatively, bring 250ml (1 cup) water to the boil in a wide-based saucepan, then throw in your mussels, stir them around, put the lid on and steam until they just open, 2-3 minutes. Deshell and debeard them. Reserve the mussel juice.
Set aside 20 mussels for serving. In a blender, combine the rest of the mussels, 100ml of the reserved hot mussel juice, wakame jam, lemon juice and yuzu kosho and blend until smooth. Add the butter slowly, a little at a time, until the sauce is fully emulsified. Check the seasoning, then pass it through a fine chinois (conical sieve/strainer) or sieve.
Toss the breadcrumbs and oil in a frying pan and cook out over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden all over, about 5 minutes. Season with flaky sea salt.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop in the pasta, cooking for about 2 minutes. Check for doneness by biting into one of the strands: it should be fairly firm. Drain.
In a large pan, warm the sauce. Toss through the hot pasta and remaining mussels, then divide between plates. Garnish with the fresh herbs and breadcrumbs.