Stephanie Alexander is, it’s fair to say, a household name. The Melbourne-based chef has authored 15 cookbooks, many of which can be found in the kitchens of serious home cooks across the country. She has an Order of Australia for her contribution to education with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, and she ran Stephanie's Restaurant for 21 years, first in Fitzroy, then in her birthplace Hawthorn. It was through her restaurant that she first came to befriend the stalwart purveyors of quality produce in this town.
Our new book, Broadsheet Melbourne Food, gives you inside knowledge on the city's incredible array of diverse producers, so we asked Alexander to share some of her insights from decades at the heart of the city’s food culture.
“One of the things that’s significant about Melbourne today is people don’t have to travel large distances to access quality ingredients,” she tells us. “Whether you live in Footscray, Oakleigh, Carlton or Bayside you have access to really great quality produce now. That’s a very lovely thing about Melbourne.”
Based in Abbotsford, Alexander says she’s been visiting the same markets and retailers within a small patchwork of suburbs for two decades. “I think it makes a lot of sense to patronise businesses and make friends with people that are close to where you live,” she says. “I try to make relationships with my purveyors and have done for many years.”
Fruit and veggies
For fruit and vegetables, that means visiting the Toscano’s Richmond location. “Not only do they have absolutely first-class produce, they are lovely people,” says Alexander. “The family has a long-held tradition of really caring about quality. They have unusual things, but also a good range of everything I could possibly need.”
A stint of convenient grocery shopping also means catching up with life-long friends. “Something very important to me is the Camberwell Market, which I’ve been going to for 20 years,” says Alexander. “Tom Cooper has his stall for smoked and cured fish there, and I find that wonderfully convenient to be able to pick up sliced-to-order gravlax or smoked salmon to take home. I know it’s free of packaging and I get to have a chat to Tom; we’ve known each other for 30 years. Those sorts of things really make my day. You come home smiling.”
Kingfisher Seafood’s “daily catch” is another of Alexander’s staple Camberwell Market visits, as is Nick and Sue’s Gourmet Deli, which stocks a selection of artisan breads from the likes of Phillippa’s Bakery and Dench. “I enjoy trying one new loaf a week,” says Alexander. “They also have a very good cheese selection.”
Sticking to seasonality
Alexander’s expert eye for produce is directed by seasonality. “Seasonality drives my decision making,” she says. “I only want to buy seasonal food.” It makes her a regular patron of the Collingwood Children’s Farm’s Farmers’ Market on the second Saturday of the month. “I love going there because it means that I can have a chat to Ann-Marie and Carla from Holy Goat Cheese. I can’t get up to Sutton Grange to visit them, but I can meet them at the farmers’ market and that’s always a great pleasure.”
She also likes Mark Ryan and his Eureka Coffee stall. “I always buy his coffee. It’s grown in Byron Bay. He roasts it fresh each week and I really like supporting him.”
It’s that idea of finding great local suppliers and getting to know them that really resonates, alongside Alexander’s wonderfully broad idea of what good food can be. “I think we live in an extraordinary city for food and we can eat at every level – from beautiful street food to beautiful ‘grand’ food, and I like both,” she says. “The diversity that we have is enviable and is what Australia is all about. That diversity is what gives us our special character.”
Broadsheet Melbourne Food is a guide to more than 100 of the city’s best bakeries, delis, markets, butchers, bottle shops, grocers and much more, revealing a diverse array of Melbourne’s greatest food experiences. Order online now or find it at all good book stores, and make sure you enter our "12 Trays of Christmas" competition to win a selection from some of the absolute best producers and stores featured in Broadsheet Melbourne Food.