Dave Verheul, the chef-owner of Embla – one of Melbourne’s most unswerving, and unswervingly busy, wine bars – grew up far removed from the hustle of city life.

His hometown is the tiny Mosgiel, just outside Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island. “It had a Hollywood-style sign on the hill to try and entice people to come ... they didn’t,” Verheul tells Broadsheet. Yet his memories – particularly of Sundays – are fond ones.

“It was always a very active day,” he says. “Us kids played sport or went waterskiing. We grew up hunting and snowboarding.” (Verheul was sponsored as snowboarder and skateboarder from 14 to 22.) But there was one constant: his mum’s Sunday roast.

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“I grew up very meat-and-three-veg as a young ’un – I don’t think I had pasta till I was a teenager,” he says. “It’s one of those beautiful meals that sets you up for the week.”

Decades on, Verheul’s debut cookbook On Sundays harks back to his childhood – and countless Sundays since – compiling nine years of Embla recipes to help you make meat and three veg better, channelling the chef’s signature brand of restrained refinement.

Verheul’s food learnings began with a couple of years working under celebrity chefs Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing at London’s Savoy Grill before making off for Melbourne in the early 2010s to helm the kitchen at The Town Mouse. The now-closed Carlton wine bar is where he first started making magic alongside fellow Kiwi Christian McCabe, who co-owns Embla.

A rare staying power has come to define their Russell Street spot, where Verheul puts vegetables on a pedestal alongside protein. Pure deliciousness incites carelessness to the fact its flaming heart – a woodfired grill and oven – emits a smokiness that might go home with you. Now in its ninth year, many consider Embla better than ever: all hits, no misses.

“When you have a team that are all really great in their own right, then it self-perpetuates,” Verheul says. It’s a level of excellence that could daunt a home cook.

“A lot of what we do at Embla might seem unachievable,” he says. “It’s actually not.”

That isn’t to say his cookbook is full of recipes you can bang out in 30 minutes. While some are suited to a quick Tuesday-night dinner, Verheul says, most are labours of love – ideal for setting aside a Sunday morning and working your way towards a long lunch.

“We live in an age of convenience,” he says. “Does everything have to be easy? Does everything have to be adapted to cook at home in a 200-degree convection oven?”

Most notably, the book wills you to make friends with fire-powered cooking. “Ninety-five per cent of what we do at Embla goes over the fire or under the wood oven. Removing that aspect from a book like this just doesn’t make any sense.

“The real beauty of cooking with fire is the simplicity that it affords. That’s one thing we really learned in the early, early days of Embla. You can take a lot of things away and still have something shine.”

For home cooks, the ever-popular portable pizza ovens from Ooni or Gozney will do the job diligently, Verheul says. As will a good barbeque or, of course, a wood-burning grill or oven, if you’re lucky enough to have one.

Cooking over fire is intuitive, Verheul explains, and the sweet spot is “when you get past the just-burn-the-crap-out-of-everything stage, and you figure out how to get gentleness”.

“Go a little lighter than you think you should in the first instance. You want to be cooking over a bed of coals, not necessarily a yellow flame.”

And if fire is a total no-go? “For some of the [recipes] you can definitely turn your oven up as hot as you can get it and … get fairly close [to the same result].”

As much as On Sundays will empower you to upskill, it’s also a walk down memory lane for Embla enthusiasts. “It has my name on it,” Verheul says, “but it’s also a book on the story of Embla and the way it evolved through the years [and] the people who were inside it.”

Four things have been at Embla since day one, he says: “Me, Christian, our kitchenhand Tej and the cucumbers”. That’s a reference to a verdant signature dish of soured cukes, feta and dill that’s surprisingly straightforward to make at home – with a little forethought.

Another OG recipe is the golden-glazed roast chicken for “any given Sunday”. It’s far from plain Jane but there’s nothing revolutionary about it. “We don’t brine it, we don’t marinate it, it just comes down to getting a nice piece of meat and cooking it really well.”

And then there’s the thick-crusted, flame-licked sourdough, hunks of which land on every table with sense at Embla (accompanied by butter churned and flavoured in-house). It’s bread too intimidatingly good to attempt to bake at home, right? Wrong. It’s “very” doable, Verheul says emphatically. “It’s exactly the same way I taught my mum.” Getting your head around all a recipe requires – ahead of time – will temper its complexity.

For ease of planning, the 80 recipes are grouped by season and occasion. The former is a reminder that “you can’t polish a turd” when it comes to produce, so emulate Embla’s “micro-seasonal” approach and take a trip to your local farmer’s market. The latter lets you match food to your mood: comfort is key to winter’s “Sunday after a tough week” menu, while autumn’s “Sunday with strangers” is all about conversation-starting dishes.

Ferment recipes are dotted throughout, too, encouraging readers to capture seasonal abundance and make it work year-round. “We’ve always tried to keep the vegetable dishes vegetarian,” Verheul says. “It’s easy to lean on things like chicken stock to add the savouriness.” Apparent in the book is his obsession with fermented fennel juice, an unexpected flavour-enhancer that introduces more complex acidity to a dish.

Above all else, Verheul insists On Sundays has a life beyond your coffee table.

“You look at books by Julia [Busuttil Nishimura], like the Ostro book, and people cook from them. I’m very visual. I wanted to create – with the help of all the incredible people who have been part of the project – something that was stunning to look at. But underneath all that, I wanted to make something that actually works.”

Dave Verheul’s Sunday Must-Haves

Though the chef has worked many frenetic Sundays in his career, the day looks very different now. As boss, he normally has Sundays off. Some are spent bottling vermouth and amari for his small-batch aperitif side hustle Saison. Once business is done, here’s what a dream Sunday looks like:

First things first: “I’ll always exercise in the morning,” he says. “I go to a high-intensity training place close to my house.”

Then: “Coffee and a super-healthy smoothie. To be honest, I make them both myself ... full service! I’ve got a Moccamaster and I make a long black at home and it’s great. I use a coffee from the guys at Ona in Brunswick.”

His ideal Sunday-lunch restaurant? “I like Pipi’s,” a reimagined kiosk on the Albert Park foreshore. “It’s super chill, the food’s great, the owners are cool.”

And if he’s cooking for mates at home? “I like to have a theme,” Verheul says, though “not dress up like you’re in the 1920s”. A theme for the menu. “The last one I did ... I actually cooked the whole lunch from Joseph [Abboud] from Rumi’s cookbook and it was sick ... We try to have people over every five or six weeks.”

The go-to for produce? “South Melbourne Market can get pretty intense on the weekend; if you can shop there on a Friday, great ... Prahran Market is more manageable. You can get in, smash it, have a [Maker & Monger] cheese toastie and you’re out.”

And to end the day? “Probably a Negroni on the couch with my wife and watch a movie.”

On Sundays: Long Lunches Through The Seasons by Dave Verheul

$55 On Sundays Long Lunches Through The Seasons by Dave Verheul

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

Want a look at more local cookbooks? Check out our interview with Rumi’s Joseph Abboud here.