Busy kitchens full of chefs prepping, cooking and plating under Cuban-American chef Danielle Alvarez have the phrase, ‘did you add the lemon’, echoing around the room. It should be inscribed on my tombstone, says Danielle. “Sometimes a few drops is all a dish really needs to sing,’ she writes. And I have to agree.
There are four lines on the cover of Danielle’s first book, the enticingly named Always Add Lemons. Along with her name embossed in gold two other lines catch the casual glance. ‘Recipes you want to cook’ and ‘Food you want to eat’, two activities many of us like to do. If you’re not a keen cook then maybe you would be attracted by the second tag line and might wrap it up as a present.
There really isn’t anything more beautiful or satisfying than a whole roasted fishDanielle Alvarez, Whole Roasted John Dory with Brown Butter, Lemon, Capers and Nori
Why buy a cookbook from a chef you’ve only recently become aware of? Or perhaps never even heard about. Thus, it’s only recently that I have become aware of Danielle Alvarez who is currently head chef at the increasingly fêted Fred’s restaurant in the Paddington district of Sydney, Australia. From early 2020, Fred’s became one only five restaurants with a female-led kitchen to wear two hats by Australia’s Good Food Guide.
This book is not a repeat of what you might run your finger past on the restaurant’s menu, although many are inspired by Fred’s, rather it’s what Danielle might cook at home using ingredients fresh from the farmer’s market and shared with friends and family.
Can we all agree to abandon the sad side salad and learn to expect more from our saladsDanielle Alvarez, Always Add Lemons
With an Art History degree tucked under her arm, Danielle’s professional life in food began in two of two iconic California kitchens, The French Laundry and Chez Panisse, taking a love of seasonality, local foods and the transformative power of food to Sydney.
Lockdowns, style and dinners
Although I am currently stuck in the UK under COVID lockdown and thousands of miles away from the Fred’s, a online search suggests the place is an airy, light, stylish restaurant with the kitchen stripped of walls and surrounded on three sides by diners.
For this style of place to work, the cooks and brigade must be relaxed, confident in their roles and have respect for the Chef. In this case for Danielle.
Fred’s has been described as having a ‘warmth, rusticity and conviviality, textured with timber, copper and abundant flowers, and anchored in the centre by an open kitchen’. It’s seasonal cooking built upon relationships Danielle and her team has nurtured with farmers, growers, fishermen and women, self identifying as offering farm-to-table cooking that centres around an intimate open kitchen with a welcoming sense of theatre.
Always Add Lemon effortlessly reflects Danielle’s training and interests, that is the Mediterranean cuisine of Italy, France and Spain, with a heavy seasonal sprinkling of Asian flavours. Ingredients sourced from Japan, China and Thailand are signalled throughout the book and in the restaurants daily changing menu.
Split into three sections of Kitchen Staples (equipment, seasonings for example), Recipes (salads, seafoods, desserts) and Projects (pastry, dairy, pickles) the book ends with a handy couple of pages headlined ‘What to Cook’, full of prompts for meal planning. Everyday cooking is cheered by gentle pointers and when we can get back to hosting friends and family at home these will take the stress out of menu planning.
A good crumble should be on every cook’s repertoireDanielle Alvarez, Strawberry & Rhubarb Crumble
Cooking in Spring, then how about Asparagus with brown butter, egg yolk, lemon and young pecorino; or in winter when Radicchio with bagna cauda and walnut oil may tempt you.
Creating in chapters
If you have time, try a Fougasse or Cape Gooseberry claufoutis. If you’re struggling for inspiration, try Everyday roasted chicken and broth, followed by Almond and cherry custard ice cream.
Always Add Lemons starts with a list of eight ideas (rules is too strong a word) around which to frame using this book. Some are familiar – cook with the seasons and support your local farmers’, others should become familiar – read the full recipe before you start, indeed, reading through twice is recommended; taste, taste, taste at every step of the the way and of course, a little bit of lemon will change everything.
Sprinkled throughout the book are short pieces of Danielle’s thoughts such as ‘Women in the kitchen’; ‘Cooking like my Cuban grandma Aida’, and ‘Farmers’ markets and what to know before you start cooking’. These pages offer an insight into Danielle’s journey into becoming one of Australia’s leading chefs and the issues she faces as she moves through the tough world of hospitality.
As often with first cookbooks, it’s part memoir and part guide around the kitchen and recipes. She introduces cultural details such as the surprise on arriving in California and shelling fresh beans, something she hadn’t experienced in her childhood, where dried beans rule in Cuban-American traditions.
Always Add Lemons, by Danielle Alvarez
Published by Hardie Grant Books
To buy the book click HERE.