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May 3, 2023 - Gastronomy, Lifestyle

The Art of Entertaining – Menuscape – with Danielle Alvarez

Danielle Alvarez was the head chef of Sydney institution, Fred’s. Since then she’s been pursuing some new projects around the culinary world, but we were fortunate to have her come and create and cook our Wonderscape menu. Her simple and seasonal philosophy is a perfect match with Cloudy Bay wines and we loved her laid back style, and delicious dishes.

What kind of produce have you sourced or harvested for the Wonderscape lunch here in Sydney?

For the lunch I really wanted to focus on natural beauty. So lots of vegetables like late summer peaches, and fig leaves to wrap fish in as well as organic vegetables from Moonacres Farm including leeks, fennel, lettuces, capsicum and eggplants

When it comes to the Art of Entertaining, how do you pair Cloudy Bay wines back with seasonal menus?

I think simple seasonal foods really can’t go wrong with Cloudy Bay wines. I love to start (or end!) with a glass of bubbles, so the Pelorus sparkling is my pick. Its crisp and elegant and also pairs well with things you might start a meal with oysters, shellfish, crudités and fresh cheeses. Next, I might choose the Sauvignon Blanc which is really fresh and aromatic and a beautiful wine to have with lighter vegetable salads which highlight seasonality. As the meal naturally progresses to main course, I like to serve wines with a little bit more body like chardonnay or Pinot Noir. This doesn’t mean that you need to stick to white wine with fish or white meat and red wine with red meat. Depending on the preparation and sauces/sides, chicken or some fish could work just as well with a chardonnay or a pinot noir. Especially if it involves fire smoke and grilling which is a way I love to cook when entertaining because it immediately adds a sense of wonder. Great produce on a grill with beautiful wines is the best way to entertain for me. And as I already mentioned, I like to finish how I start, with a little glass of bubbles with dessert, but maybe this time a little Pelorus Rosé which to me smells like strawberries and marzipan, a perfect way to end a meal.

Where in the world do you envision yourself having (or hosting) the perfect Wonderscape long lunch?

Outside, somewhere near the ocean. I’ve been to Marlborough, where the Cloudy Bay vineyard is and it is truly a stunning part of the world. The way the hills collide with the oceans makes for a really inspiring landscape. It reminds me so much of California where I started my career as a chef. I’ve always lived near the ocean, and we are so lucky here in Sydney to have so much gorgeous waterfront property so anywhere that I can cook while looking at the sea, I would be a happy girl.

What's the secret behind the perfect long lunch? What are the key ingredients?

Firstly, plan a meal that is achievable for you. I find that buying really good ingredients and preparing them simply in ways that are tried and tested for me, means that I am not worried about the food, and I can enjoy myself. I always like to have a few snacks ready before people arrive and promptly try to get a beverage into people’s hands as soon as they get there. I think knowing everything is under control makes everyone relax a little. Who comes to your lunch is another key ingredient. The right mix of friends and loved ones and even strangers who like good food and wine means you’re going to have a good time. When thinking about a long lunch I’m usually thinking about extending the meal a bit so I might serve cheese and dessert just to make it last that little bit longer.

What’s a destination you feel the most inspired to cook and create?

It’s probably a cliché, but Italy and France, especially the countryside, always inspire me. I sometimes think people don’t value simple food like I do, so when I visit these places, I am reminded again that you really don’t need all the bells and whistles we want to put on dining experiences these days. Simple and confident food prepared by skilled hands using local produce is my idea of perfection and they do that so well. In fact, my favourite meal on a trip in France last summer was a plate of locally made cheeses, a slice of terrine, wine from the region and a baguette from the local Boulanger. We dined at all sorts of restaurants on this trip, but that meal was so memorable.

What journey do you most often take and why?

Probably the long journey home to Miami. It’s a trip I have taken many times since I moved to this part of the world. It’s a strange feeling to long for that feeling of home so much but to have made a home somewhere else. Despite the distance, family is extremely important to me and I miss my parents and siblings all the time. Going home and being cooked for by my mother who is the best cook I know is the greatest comfort. The familiarity of everything and everyone, despite the fact we all look a bit older every time, is something I am so grateful for. It’s always about love and there is no better reason to travel than that.

What destination is next on your list?

Miami! Of course! I am going in July. This trip though, we are all, as a family. Going to the Caribbean to St. John. It’s my parents wedding anniversary and that’s where they honeymooned so this trip they are bringing all of us along to help celebrate. We won’t go out to restaurants, we will go to the beaches during the day and cook for ourselves at night. I love cooking with my mom and sister, we have a great time together. I am really looking forward to it.

Can you name a restaurant or dining experience while you’ve been travelling that has stuck with you?

La Merenda in Nice. It’s a tiny 20 seat restaurant in the centre of town. The chef Dominic Le Stanc is a former 2 Michelin starred chef who gave them up to open this gorgeous tiny restaurant serving the food of his family. Classic Niçoise food with a chalkboard menu that changes every day consisting of two entrées, two mains and two desserts. Again, I love watching people cook food from the heart, especially when its done in such a skilled way. I can still taste the Beef daube, onion tart and strawberries in rosé for dessert. I left that lunch feeling high on life and so grateful that I get to experience such wonderful places.

What items do you always pack when you travel?

If I know I am going to be cooking while travelling (ideally) I pack an abbreviated knife kit which also includes a microplane zester. Nothing worse than staying in a rental and only having dull knives at your disposal. The zester is for lemon zest and parmesan cheese. I find I can’t really live without it anymore.

How far have you travelled to find the perfect produce or ingredients?

Well, being in Australia, everything is far! However, Australia actually has it all. Yes, I’ve travelled outside of the country to experience different cultures and take a holiday but when looking for produce and ingredients in Australia, I look to some excellent farmers I have developed relationships with over the years. I once travelled two hours outside of town to pick up some Meyer lemons for a dinner I was cooking. Typically, I organise delivery but for some reason because of the timing of this meal it wasn’t going to work. It’s important to me to always start with the best ingredients, otherwise I’m never happy with what I make.

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