Published on 30 July 2020
Food writer and events host Dani Valent is the mastermind behind the latest entrant to Melbourne’s takeaway game. And, as you might expect, she’s thinking outside the box. We asked Valent to tell us how it works and what’s in store for the first drop, which goes out next week.
Hey Dani, what’s this new thing you’ve created?
I’m all about connecting people through food so my Cooks and Chefs Series is a new way to do that. It’s something I dreamed up for the iso age and beyond. I team up with some of my favourite cooks and chefs, and together we create menus plucked from their cookbooks. We make the dishes, then deliver them to people to heat up and enjoy at home.
Our launch event is with the delightful Julia Busuttil Nishimura. Julia has selected beautiful, comforting winter dishes from her beloved Ostro book and put them together into a flexible menu. You can order enough for one feast or stock up for a few days of Ostro amazingness. Plus there are signed copies of Ostro available to order so you can recreate the dishes later if you want.
Tell us how it works. What do we need to do to get a piece of the action?
It’s pretty simple. We have a menu online that you can browse before you place your order. The order cut-off is Sunday 2 August at 8pm (or when it sells out) and then the food will be available for pick-up and delivery next Thursday 6 and Friday 7 August. The food is delivered cold and ready to heat and eat.
All the orders are handled by Cookaborough, an online platform that I got to know really well when we collaborated to help Italian chef Andrea Vignali set up a pasta business and get through lockdown as a stood-down visa worker. Cookaborough works on a batch model, which means the food is only cooked when you know how many orders you have – efficient and no-waste!
We know you can’t give everything away, but who have you got coming up?
Well, obviously Julia – and I couldn’t think of anyone better to launch the series. Julia has a new book coming out soon, so I would love to get that food to people in the future, too. I can also tell you that I’ve got Alice Zaslavsky lined up when her book In Praise of Veg comes out in spring and I know that will be vibrant and zingy and exciting.
The whole idea is to give people a new way to access cookbooks. You know how you flick through a book and think “ooh, yum” or “ooh, too tricky” or “maybe one day” or “get me the ingredients right now”? Well, this experience is an adjunct to that, perfect for keen cooks as well as those with less experience or time. I am so excited because there are so many directions I can take the concept.
How often does it happen?
I want to do it at least once a month but let’s make this one a smashing success first.
How many order slots are there?
In this first menu, some dishes are limited to 200 or so, such as the greens pie and the tortelloni, simply because we only have a limited amount of tortelloni-rolling fingers. If you’ve got your eye on those, get in quick.
Where do you deliver?
Within a 20-kilometre radius of Melbourne.
What happens if I miss out? Will you run dishes from a particular book again?
The idea is that each menu is a one-off event. Restaurant events were a big part of my business pre-COVID and I am really missing them, so this is a bit of a replacement for that one-off experience. Having said that, I don’t want to rule out repeating menus or dishes at some point. We want to give people what they want (yes, I am thinking of Julia’s tiramisù).
I want to get a little closer to my food heroes. Is there any interaction with the guest chefs planned?
Yes, for sure. Julia and I will do some Instagram Lives in advance of the food arriving and to coincide with people eating it. We definitely want to give people an insight into how cooks and chefs think about building dishes, layering flavour and using particular techniques. This event is one way to really get inside a dish and understand it, exactly as the cook or chef intended it to be. Of course, it’s also just a yummy dinner, so you can approach it on whatever level you want.
How do I know that my money’s going to local businesses and hospitality folk?
Supporting Victorian food businesses is something I am incredibly passionate about so this definitely ticks that box. Julia is currently unable to do book events or her usual roster of classes at Ostro cooking school so it’s great to give her another way of getting her beautiful recipes in front of people. To create the dishes, we’ve partnered with Cookes Food, a St Kilda catering company owned by the dynamic Sophie Storen. Cookes have lost all their catering business due to the pandemic so it’s great to support them. Julia isn’t a production chef so she isn’t actually stirring the pot but she’s overseeing every step of the process and giving everything her stamp of approval. Also assisting with the cooking is Emma Warren, a gun chef and Ostro food prepper who works alongside Julia. Baker Bleu is also part of the collab; they’ve created an exclusive grape and rosemary focaccia to match Julia’s menu. Finally, the ordering and back-end tech guys, Cookaborough, are based in Cremorne. They’re a dynamic, ambitious and super-helpful bunch that are just starting out. I honestly reckon they will be a brand that everyone will know about one day.
Is there anything else we should know?
Having tasted the menu, I think everyone should jump in and order the greens pie and tiramisù before they’re snapped up. Oh, and the Baker Bleu focaccia. And everything, really!
Times are tough in Melbourne right now but it’s been so energising and fun to collaborate with nice, skilled, passionate people who have all brought their particular talents to a fun new project. My brain is crackling with ideas about where this series can go.
Cooks and Chefs Series is now taking orders for Julia Busuttil Nishimura's Ostro menu. Orders close 8pm Sunday 2 August. Delivery and pick-up available Thursday 6 August and Friday 7 August.
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