Danielle Alvarez studied art history, but luckily for us, she realised that it was food that monopolised her thoughts – after all, she can happily identify the “eggshell crust” on a Cuban sandwich and was always prioritising her next cooking project. So she decided to spend her life in kitchens.
Danielle’s first-ever gig was at The French Laundry, Thomas Keller‘s three-Michelin-starred Californian institution, where she was challenged by a complicated egg dish that often ended up in the bin. The head chef at the time was Corey Lee, who went on to open Benu (one of the best restaurants in the US, according to David Chang), and she got to know the “shaking in and shaking out” ritual that ruled that establishment.
Then she spent four years at another legendary restaurant in California: Alice Waters‘ Chez Panisse, where there were no official recipes and the food was produced by painters, businesspeople or creative types with no formal cooking background (“Alice really wanted that in her kitchen, she didn’t want chefs”). The restaurant is famous for presenting just a perfect peach for dessert.
A fateful trip to Australia eventually led to her being signed to Merivale and, after two long years (and gigs at other Merivale restaurants, such as Coogee Pavilion and The Paddington), Danielle finally opened Fred’s in late 2016. It’s a place unlike anything else in Sydney – it’s inspired by her time in California as well as her relationships with unique producers (like Fabrice Rolando of First Farm Organics in the Blue Mountains, who grows bronze fennel and olive herb, rocket that tastes like peanut butter and asparagus that people have fought “wars” over).
In this podcast, Danielle also talks about fighting fire to create her menu (which involves everything from mastering coals and wood and letting stringed lamb spin by the fireplace), the challenge of making the perfect bread – and what it’s like when you work in an incredibly open kitchen and there’s nowhere to hide from diners and critics.
Plus, what it was like collaborating with Nadine Levy Redzepi on a guest dinner for March Into Merivale, the Cuban food that she grew up with and her favourite places to eat and drink in Sydney.
You can listen to this episode on iTunes or download it via RSS or directly. And thanks to everyone who has sent me kind comments about this podcast or even jotted down some generous words in the iTunes store – it really makes the up-’til-dawn editing spells worth it!
Photographs courtesy of Merivale