For two years Jade O’Donahoo cooked in what might have once been a storeroom cupboard. Remember Switchboard? It was one of the original Melbourne CBD laneway cafes, and is still located in the ground floor arcade of the Manchester Unity building.
In 2005 O’Donahoo opened the slender coffee spot with a friend, serving Supreme coffee, and housemade cakes and toasties on charming mismatched crockery.
When O’Donahoo sold the cafe two years later, friends and regulars begged her for her recipes. She started compiling the dishes on her blog, Eat This My Friend, with colour pencil drawings to accompany each dish.
“I drew pictures ‘cos I wanted it to be cute. I’d give instructions like ‘cut the broccoli this size’, and I drew the broccoli to size,” she says.
O’Donahoo planned to print and photocopy the recipes, stapling them together like a zine, but when she showed a few friends – and they all wanted one – they suggested she turn it into a real book.
Eat This My Friend (Hardie Grant) is O’Donahoo’s illustrated cookbook 10 years in the making. It features simple, everyday vegetarian meals including a labneh and beetroot bagel, lentil shepherd’s pie, mustard-maple baked beans with goat cheese and a raw peanut-caramel chocolate bar (aka “raw Snickers”).
“My message is that food is easy and accessible and healthy and delicious,” says O’Donahoo, “and anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a professional chef to make a cookbook. You don’t have to have fancy photographs. You can just do it your way.”
Some old favourites from the Switchboard days include the Switchboard Special (sourdough toast topped with hatcho miso, avocado and tomato) and The Heartbreaker (cannellini bean paste with red capsicum pesto and olives on toast). Both appear in the breakfast section of the book, which also has recipes for lunch, dinner, sides and sweets.
“Everything is really basic because we had to be able to make them in that tiny space,” she says. “All we had was an electric fry pan and a sandwich press.”
Eat This My Friend is available from February 1, in all major bookstores and gift stores for $25.