With most of the country now in some form of lockdown or isolation, a good way to stave off the imprisonment blues involves dusting off your spatula and getting back into home cooking.
But complex, longwinded recipes that dictate how much a tablespoon of olive oil should weigh aren’t for everyone. And there’s something freeing about recipes (baking aside) that assume some basic knowledge and let you to fill in the gaps.
Now, as chefs around the country – and some big-name internationals – turn to Instagram to connect with fans who’d otherwise be dining at their restaurants, many are teaching followers to cook using this approachable freehand style.
Most involve little more than a list of ingredients, a rough idea of quantities, and some kind of video or imagery of the cooking itself. And we’re into it.
These are the chefs we’re cooking along with at home.
Cooking on the ‘gram is nothing new for Shannon Martinez, chef-owner of Melbourne’s vegan-dining darlings Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli. Before coronavirus hit, Martinez was regularly shooting and sharing recipes.
She posts them as stories, so they’re fleeting – except for the handful that are saved on her profile, which right now includes kung pao tofu, xiao mian (a spicy noodle dish from Chongqing, China) and kimchi pancakes. Each one is shot from the chef’s point of view, and there’s no voiceover, but you’ll hear anything from the Smashing Pumpkins to Ella Fitzgerald to Fear Factory playing in the background.
Martinez takes you through each step in minute detail, from soaking mung beans to chopping celery to dusting tofu. And because they’re uploaded as stories, it’s easy to skip a stage you already understand without ending up 10 steps ahead by accident because of Instagram’s clunky video player.
Mitch Orr made a name for himself cooking at his pasta-pioneering Sydney eatery Acme, where dishes borrowed as much from Asia as they did from Italy. After Acme closed last year, he moved on to head up the kitchen at the decidedly Italian Cicciabella, but the Asian influence – a dash of sesame oil here, some dashi there – is still evident.
You’ll see it on his Insta now, too, in step-by-step posts (usually a series of stills) that detail mostly classic Italian recipes in a more comprehensive format than most of the other chefs on this list.
Arrabiata, a traditional fiery red sauce, gets a hit of Lao Gan Ma, a Chinese condiment made from dried, crushed and fried red chillies and fermented soybeans. Spaghetti aglio e olio gets extra depth from salted dried kombu and fried garlic. (“We’re going to let the garlic get a little colour to it, nice and golden brown,” writes Orr. “Like you at the beach covered in coconut oil”.)
Other recipes include classic tiramisu, spaghetti carbonara and a “you got fired on your day off and you ain’t got shit to do” bolognaise, made with soy sauce and fish sauce for extra umami.
Julia Busuttil Nishimura
Cookbook author and food writer Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s comforting, home-style cooking was made for indoors-y days like these. And with publication of her new cookbook A Year of Simple Family Food delayed (it’ll now be in stores on August 25), Busuttil Nishimura is sharing some of her family-friendly recipes over Instagram.
The first two videos co-star her son Haruki, and cover off double-chocolate cookies (you can freeze the dough, then cook from frozen for freshly-baked treats at short notice), and buttery, two-layer oat biscuits with a schmear of melted chocolate sandwiched in the middle.
The rest of her account is filled with vibrant, colourful images of seasonal salads, simple pastas and rustic cakes, so expect more of those when it comes to future how-tos.
Jerry Mai, chef-owner of Melbourne Vietnamese diners Annam and Pho Nom, is posting recipes in the form of a photo of most of the ingredients you’ll need, and maybe a short video of part of the method. If you’re lucky.
There’s some guesswork involved – these are recipes for those already comfortable in the kitchen – and there’s an assumption you already have some Asian staples (fish sauce, soy sauce, coconut milk) on hand.
You’ll likely be able to work it all out. If not, there’s always Google. If Mai’s little son Harry can get involved (he was last seen bashing out a green curry paste), you should be fine.
Expect dishes such as stir-fried minced beef with chilli, beans and holy basil, and fried rice with lap cheong (Chinese sausage).
Danielle Alvarez, head chef at Sydney eatery Fred’s, is known for her unfussy, seasonally driven food.
Check out her saved Insta stories right now for a simple, quick-fix dressing of anchovy, lemon and oil that’ll turn whatever vegetables you have in the fridge into a vibrant last-minute salad. There are also recipes for a rich ragu bolognaise; butternut pumpkin and coconut soup; whole snapper with ginger and shallots; and desserts such as cinnamon rolls and apple cake.
All of Alvarez’s recipes take the form of image sequences in her stories, listing ingredients and techniques and demonstrating some of the methods, with little checkpoints to help you follow along (such as “it should look like this when you’re done”).
As at the restaurants he oversees as executive chef of Sydney restaurant group Merivale (including Mr Wong, Lotus 2.0, Ms G’s and Queen Chow), Dan Hong’s home cooking combines big Asian flavours with clever techniques.
Easy, unpretentious dishes include grilled cheese and confit-garlic toasties; “super-crispy” gyoza; fried chicken; prawn toast; and lobster “ma goreng” (a take on mi goreng). A 10-minute how-to for linguine with XO sauce and king prawns uses packet pasta and pre-made sauce, but will teach you how to make a quick ginger oil using shallot tops and ginger rind (“garlic, ginger and shallots are like the … Asian mirepoix,” explains Hong).
Charlie Carrington is used to changing tack. The chef switches cuisines every three months at his Melbourne restaurant Atlas Dining, where he’s explored the flavours of Lebanon, Thailand, Brazil, France, China and America’s Deep South. Carrington was concerned the Atlas dining experience would be difficult to translate to takeaway, so he’s shut up shop and is channelling his energy into weekly paid masterclasses instead.
Every week, you can sign up to receive a produce box (or if you’re not in Melbourne, organise your own ingredients) and learn a different cuisine. Last week was Vietnamese, this week is Israeli, and next up is Korean, followed by Mexican. Carrington will teach you three dishes from each cuisine – this week, that means lamb shawarma pita pockets with hummus and pickles; chicken schnitzel with sage butter; and roasted eggplant with matbukha (a Moroccan dish of tomatoes and red capsicum) chickpeas.
If you can’t cook along with Carrington in real-time, videos are uploaded to YouTube and Instagram later. There’s no paywall, so anyone can watch, and ingredients are listed in the descriptions.
The cut-off for Melburnians to order produce is 5pm every Sunday. You can then pick your box up from Atlas, or have it delivered, on Tuesday. The three classes – one for each dish – go live on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5.30pm. The produce boxes serve one ($49), two ($79), four ($99) or six ($139) people. Delivery costs $9 extra. More information here.
National treasure Maggie Beer has been cooking on-screen for years, but now she’s moving from our television screens to our laptops and phones. The chef’s new show Cooking with Maggie is broadcast on Facebook and Instagram, and episodes will be tailored based on viewer feedback.
Shot on a phone in her Barossa kitchen, Beer’s daily video tutorials feel a lot like a regular cooking show, albeit shorter, and cover everything from full dishes to tips on specific methods to how-tos on choosing produce. Recipes include caramelised onions with Persian feta, oatmeal risotto, a Panzanella salad and a yeast-free bread.
Hospitality empire Rockpool Dining Group, of which Neil Perry is part-owner (for the time being), ceased delivery and takeaway and closed all but one of its restaurants (Sydney’s Fratelli Fresh) two weeks ago.
It’s freed Perry up for more home cooking than usual, and he’s making, well, mostly sandwiches. Think prawn, iceberg and pickled cucumbers with cocktail sauce on rye, or grilled lemon-chilli chicken on flatbread. He’s also done Bircher muesli and an orecchiette pasta with pork sausage and broccolini.
They recipes aren’t always step-by-step, and some feel a bit like you’re just over at Perry’s place for dinner while he narrates everything, but that in itself is a decent watch.