Ellie Bouhadana is a generous host. But not because she wants to show off. The self-taught chef is simply inspired by the intimacy that sharing a meal creates. “I like to get people involved. I think it creates a real warmth that sets up the meal.”

Her love for gathering around a table with good food and great people stems from Friday-night Shabbat dinners growing up. “It’d be something I’d look forward to at the end of school on a Friday, getting home and my mum and grandmother cooking. My aunties would come over and help and we’d be in charge of setting the table,” Bouhadana tells Broadsheet. “As I got older and had my own space, I still wanted to curate that energy.”

You might know Bouhadana from her current tenure as head chef at Hope St Radio in Collingwood Yards. Her pillowy piles of focaccia and handmade pasta have become synonymous with the restaurant’s laid-back Mediterranean vibes. But Bouhadana first rose to (Instagram) fame documenting luscious spreads on her account @ellies.table, offering Doorstep Deliveries during Melbourne’s lockdowns and hosting pop-up dinners on the street outside her house.

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Bouhadana’s soon-to-be released cookbook Ellie’s Table: Food From Memory and Food From Home is filled with dinner party-ready recipes. The book is broken down by plate type: cold, snacking, big, vegetable, pasta and sweet. There’s a whole chapter on bread and butter, including four pages on glossy mountains of whipped butter and field notes on perfecting her famous focaccia. An outro on fridge and pantry staples – what Bouhadana refers to as the heartbeat of the kitchen – as well as how-tos for homemade labneh, stocks and pickles, reflects her belief that flavour is everywhere, you just have to know how to use it.

Bouhadana’s key to being the host with the most is actually to do less. “You don’t need to have a million dishes to make a meal exciting. I like to focus on a ‘main event’, something that feels really abundant.” A roast chicken slathered in anchovy butter or a whole sea bream with crispy skin are two of her favourite centrepieces. “A good drink needs to be part of the meal too,” she enthuses. A Martini is her cocktail of choice.

The book outlines “cute ways to start a meal”. Small snacky plates that are produce-driven and don’t take much to come together are key – a plate of crisp crudité (whatever is in season) with a zingy dressing or salty fish, tinned or otherwise. The most aesthetic version of “girl dinner”, if you please.

With a mixed Jewish background (North African on one side and Ashkenazi on the other), food has always been a fixture in Bouhadana’s life. Lessons and recipes from her safta (grandmother), mum and aunty are peppered throughout the book. But writing things down doesn’t necessarily come naturally. “I keep a lot in my head and my heart. So it was very much learning to write everything down and take spoons and measure things out properly and weigh things out. That’s not how I cook. I cook a lot more based on intuition and the taste of things for my own palate,” she says.

This sixth sense is part of Bouhadana’s magic. Her food is approachable and homely but never boring. “I never trained as a chef at school, but through working in restaurants. That’s how I learned the pace of the kitchen.” And she doesn’t want food to be intimidating. “I want people to feel it themselves. I hope I can make people more excited to cook, knowing that they can play with it a bit.”

A trip to Rome was a key part of the book coming together: spending time in local markets, chatting with vendors about produce, gathering stories and soaking in the energy of the city.

“When I look for a cookbook I love to feel like I’m being taken to that place. But I didn’t want things to be too curated. I wanted to create things in the moment and for people to feel like they were there [in Rome]. It felt like the right place to explore carbohydrates and fresh produce.”

The parts of the book that weren’t shot in Rome by photographer and friend Lucia Bell-Epstein came together at home in Melbourne in Bouhadana’s kitchen, with her friends and family. The result is somewhere between an intimate visual diary and an editorial fashion shoot – a happy medium that suits the chef’s personal aesthetic.

You might have spotted Bouhadana in a crisp white button-up from local brand E Nolan in the kitchen at Hope St Radio. “I like to feel nice in the kitchen, that’s why I wear a version of chef’s whites,” she says. At home, this uniform is often translated into sleepwear-as-daywear from Finnish brand Tekla. “I like to match comfy shirts and shorts with a pair of high boots to dress them up. But I also love a good pair of jeans.”

Bouhadana prefers quiet when she cooks at home. “I’m around so much noise in the restaurant that sometimes it’s nice to have a moment of silence when I’m just chopping and prepping,” she says. Once guests arrive, she’ll switch on a playlist curated by her and her sister. But otherwise it’s just the sound of excited conversation that fills the space.

One thing Bouhadana hopes people make from the book is a recipe titled, “My aunty’s couscous with vegetables, chickpeas and vegetable broth”.

“I think it could almost be skipped over by certain eyes. I would love people to read through the recipe and understand that my family would make couscous by hand. My grandmother would do it once a week – she’d get semolina grain and roll between her palms and steam it herself.”

The dish is all about vegetables being caramelised in their own juices and served with a hearty broth. “It’s a really nice way to eat a vegetarian meal with a lot of depth.” It should be prepared slowly and eaten slower, she advises.

There’s almost always a story to match the recipes in Bouhadana’s life. She believes that you should always bring yourself to what you’re cooking. And things don’t have to be perfect. “My family has always moved together through food. There’s a feeling of fullness and warmth that you can only have after a good meal shared with good people.”

Ellie Bouhadana’s Dinner Party Cheat Sheet:

Prep is the first step: “Write out a menu that makes sense to the night and stay in that lane. I like to keep things simple and make one dish that feels exciting and dramatic.”
Get guests involved: “I’m always still cooking a little bit when people come over. I think it helps people feel relaxed and like part of the meal. Sometimes they might help too or just pour themselves a glass of wine and watch.”
Take a deep breath: “Try not to get too stressed. If you’re stressed, people will feel it and it can ruin the meal.”
Produce matters: “I like to get challah bread and baked goods from Zelda Bakery. Prahran Market is a good one-stop shop for produce – there’s a really great fishmonger. And if you’re looking for chicken stock powder or matzo meal, Kraus Foods is a good kosher shop.”
Delegate dessert: “If I don’t have time to make dessert but I want something exciting for the table I get a chocolate kooglhoupf from Monarch Cakes in St Kilda.”
Set the mood: “Romantic lighting and good conversation are so important to a great night.”

Ellie’s Table: Food From Memory and Food From Home

$55 Ellie’s Table: Food From Memory and Food From HomeEllie’s Table: Food From Memory and Food From Home

Ellie’s Table is available for pre-order now. It’s published May 1 through Hardie Grant.

This article first appeared in Domain Review, in partnership with Broadsheet.