Here’s one reason to get to know your neighbours. You might find out that a) your neighbour’s name is Emma Warren, b) she’s quite nice, and c) she’s a professional recipe tester.
That means she spends a considerable amount of her time in her home kitchen, cooking her way through other chefs’ recipes. So there’s a lot of left-over food.
“I’m very conscious about wasting. It’s probably my Spanish background,” Warren says. “I hate throwing things out. I’ve got good neighbours that I can palm all the tested food off to.”
Warren is based in Melbourne’s northern suburbs now, but lived in Barcelona for four years where she cut her teeth as a chef.
“That’s where I learned to speak Spanish – in the kitchen. And where I learned to cook,” she says. “So a lot of my language in the kitchen is Spanish. When I came back here, I had to re-learn all my cuts of meat and all my fish in English.”
Since returning to Melbourne, Warren has kept busy in an unusual field for a chef – working with other chefs and authors to test and develop their recipes. She’s worked across many cookbooks, including the now available Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook (another tester worked on the Broadsheet Melbourne Cookbook). That’s 80 recipes.
“Back-to-back, it would have taken about three weeks,” Warren says.
Warren explains that to work within different publishers’ budgets and deadlines, being organised is crucial in her job as a tester.
“You don’t want to go to the shop or market for one recipe – you want to do a whole lot of testing, and smash out eight to 10 recipes a day, depending on how sophisticated they are,” she says.
So, why do recipes need to be tested at all?
“When you’re a chef, you cook with feeling. It’s very tactile,” she explains. “For a lot of creative chefs, it’s all intuitive.”
Despite a chef’s talents behind the pans, it can be difficult for them to direct a home cook.
In a way, it’s Warren’s job to set aside her instincts as a trained chef, and think like a reader. If she spots an inconsistency or a gap in the instructions, she’ll go back to the recipe’s author and work with them to iron out the kinks.
“You’ll get testing fails and you’ll feel like a failure because you’ve wasted money, your time and the recipe hasn’t worked out. But that’s what the process of testing is there to identify. So it’s okay to have monumental failures,” Warren says.
While testing the Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook, she found that the recipes varied in skill level from chef to chef – from very simple to seriously advanced. The most difficult one took her three days to crack.
It was a Gelato Messina recipe – a complex and precise concoction of raspberry gel and caramelised white chocolate.
While only a few readers might attempt that particular challenge at home, Warren thinks that those recipes are about giving the people back their favourite dishes. Even if you don’t choose to make it yourself, you can learn exactly how your favourite dish works.
With more than 60 recipe authors throughout the Broadsheet cookbooks though, Warren faced an unusual task; she had to adapt to many chefs’ personal styles, techniques and palates.
“I loved it, though. Some recipes I got, I was like, ‘That’s not going to work’. And then I was really pleasantly surprised,” Warren says. “With the Broadsheet book – that’s 60 different personalities, 60 different senses. I got to learn a lot. It’s great when someone takes you to their ‘place’ through a recipe. It’s special.”
As for Warren’s favourite recipe to make from the book? It was a lamb-chop dish by Dan Hong, which has a crust made from water-chestnut flour. “It was like – oh my God. It was just so crispy and so good.”
Maybe one that didn’t get to the neighbours.
The Broadsheet Sydney Cookbook and The Broadsheet Melbourne Cookbook are available now.