What fun to gather friends and spend the day cooking and chatting whilst being oh-so-productive and filling up your fridge and freezer with delicious food for your family. That’s what we do when I visit The Pink Cook cooking classes. Kate Smith offers a range of classes such as Spanish, pasta-making and ‘Chop and Chat; Fill Your Freezer’ that are great fun.
With a background as a stylist for magazines such as House & Garden and Mode Brides, Kate draws on a wealth of knowledge and her cookbook collection is impressive! Arranged in themes; by regions (Asian, Australian, English, Indian, Italian, Scandanavian), food styles (Charcuterie, Street Food and Nibbles, Slow Cooked) and courses (Vegetables, Cakes and Desserts), her collection provides a ready reference.
Kate’s cookbook picks? Hugh’s Three Good Things on a Plate by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a particular favourite. ‘I was fortunate enough to spend a week with the team at River Cottage HQ in the UK,’ Kate explains, ‘They truly want people to enjoy all the pleasures that a simpler home-based life can offer. Three Good Things on a Plate is just one of the many River Cottage books I love, but this one is a reminder that we don’t need it to be complicated to cook good food.’ Another favourite is Australian Cuisine ‘written by my friend and mentor, Maureen Simpson’, says Kate. ‘I worked with Maureen for most of the ten years I was on staff at House & Garden Magazine. This was a go-to book when I was first married (and didn’t know how to cook). I had the added advantage of knowing Maureen was always at the end of the phone with a “Hello, darling” that was so warm you could wrap yourself up in it. It was one of the first books I “took to bed” with me … not such a great thing to say having just said I was newly married!’, Kate laughs.
It was Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells that put Kate on the French cooking trail. ‘During our first trip to France, where we leant that the “une formule” or set price menu for lunch meant we could afford to enjoy great food from a local bistro. I searched high and low during that trip for a cookbook that would teach me how to replicate this amazing food, but everything was in French. I then discovered Patrica Wells – she runs a cooking school in Provence and reviews restaurants in Paris. Even though she’s an American, France is her home. This book has so many family favourites including the most amazing chocolate mousse’, Kate smiles knowing that I can personally promise you that this recipe is divine!
The Perfect Setting by Peri Wolfman and Charles Gold from Kate’s husband is the book that started Kate’s love of place setting. ‘I’m a bit of a collector of all things “dinner table“’, explains Kate. ‘One of my first regular features as a stylist was about place settings – featuring new china, stunning stemware in a location that created a little visual escape. I saw this book at a trade show when I was 19, way back when books imported to Australia cost four times what you could buy them for anywhere else. I was as poor as a church mouse. My now-husband arranged for a copy to be set from Holland to the UK and have someone bring it in their suitcase. It weighs a good few kilos. I don’t think he realised that he was feeding a growing addiction that he would have to house in years to come’, she laughs.
Some of Kate’s other favourite cookbooks are the PWMU Cookbook (Presbyterian Women’s Missionary & Committee Union) which was first published in 1904. ‘My mum has a battered copy that holds fond memories of fingers in cake batter. I have a newer edition. It’s full of all those Aussie basics and goes hand in hand with the CWA cookbook’, Kate muses. Another favourite is Chin Chin the Book by Benjamin Cooper; ‘This guy is simply amazing – it’s one of my current favourite bedtime reads’ explains Kate. She’s also just ordered Mietta’s Italian Family Recipes by Mietta O’Donnelly’. ‘My parents took us to Mietta’s the last week it was open for my brother’s 21st birthday all those years ago. What an amazing Melbourne icon’, smiles Kate. Also anything by Greg Malouf is on her list; ‘He’s up there with Ottelangi when it comes to flavour. Turquoise and Arabesque are particularly good’, she reasons.
Explaining her love of vintage cookbooks, Kate says, ’These older cookbooks show how we used to eat before multiculturalism and mass marketing become part of our food system. Cookbooks are in fashion at present, along with celebrity chefs and TV food shows. Vintage books were designed to be used, not looked at. The style they are written in expects prior knowledge, which sadly most people cooking at home don’t posses any more and we have been fed the message that we are time poor through marketing (selling instant sauces and frozen meals). Vintage recipe books can give us a window into the past that we didn’t know about. I often find an “exotic” recipe that shows fifty plus years ago people were not as insular to the world as we think. The recipes are “honest” they have been tested many times before publishing and, while tastes have changed, they are often the base or inspiration for some great recipe development’.
Kate is also an ambassador for Slow Food which started 30 years ago in Italy and is now in 160 countries. It aims to protect food culture with the motto ‘good, clean and fair food for all’. Around the world Slow Food holds dinners and workshops, set up community garden programs, run markets for small producers to sell their food as well as actively campaigning governments to protect the planet. It’s all about educating people so they can make informed choices for themselves.
A fun cooking day at The Pink Cook involves lots of cooking, talking about food plus some time to enjoy Kate’s well-stocked cookbook library. Bliss!
For wonderfully culinary experiences visit; The Pink Cook.