Danielle Alvarez has been appointed culinary director of the Sydney Opera House’s event venues. The esteemed Sydney-based chef left her role as head chef at Fred’s in May 2022, choosing to “focus on more creative aspects” of her career. That sabbatical has seen her take her forthcoming cookbook Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking to publication and now she takes the role at Sydney’s most iconic venue.
“I am just so honoured,” Alvarez tells Broadsheet. “There’s definitely a lot of weight on my shoulders but I’ve just come off a year of really recharging my batteries, so I feel ready for this next challenge.”
As of October, those fortunate enough to host an event – weddings, charity dinners, super special small events and corporate functions – in the selection of spaces under the white sails can choose to delight their guests with Alvarez’s menu. There are Sydney rock oysters dotted with zesty gems of finger lime and golden bites of tuna crudo sandwiched between crisp flash-fried crackers; a tartare of hyperlocal snapper or a decadent hit of scallop, served in-shell, underneath cafe de Paris butter.
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For sit-down events, there’s greens-filled doppio ravioli and pepper-roasted lamb rump with smoky eggplant. As is Alvarez’s style, the dishes are driven by the seasons, leaving the inherent glory of the Aussie (and often New South Wales-grown) produce shine.
The Trippas White Group, which is at the helm of Bar 83, Walsh Bay Kitchen and events at Taronga Zoo, has run the food and drink offering at the Sydney Opera House since 2018; Alvarez’s role is a first for the group. “Danielle cares deeply about the connection between food and culture,” Trippas White Group CEO Kevin Zajax says. “I can’t think of anywhere better to bring this together than arguably the world’s most recognisable cultural destination.”
Alvarez spent five minutes with Broadsheet, sharing all on her new role and the new chapter of her career.
Danielle, what is your new job title and what does the role entail?
My new title is culinary director, under the Trippas White Group, for the event rooms in the Sydney Opera House. That includes the Yallamundi Rooms, the Utzon Room and the Northern Foyers. It’s a creative role for me; my menus will be in addition to those [currently offered]. I’m focusing on beautiful summer produce, with pretty much everything from Australia and a lot from New South Wales – I’m aiming to champion a lot of those small producers that I’ve always used.
I’m going to be curating a few events throughout the year, too. We’re still workshopping those, but it could be a small farm dinner or a native Australian ingredients dinner, it could be bringing in someone to share food stories. Part of the excitement for me is that not only do I get the opportunity to affect the food that might be served in the Opera House, but also curate some events and bring amazing Australians together.
How do you approach menu development?
I always start with: what am I writing it for? What’s in season? What’s going to be best at that time? And then I put myself in the place of the people who will be eating the food: if I was sitting in the Yallamundi room, what would I want to be eating? I cook things that I know and from my background, so I tend to focus on Mediterranean flavours; but, merging that with Australian ingredients is my main focus for this menu. You can expect lots of seafood, vegetables and a lot from New South Wales.
It’s such an iconic venue and outlook, people will be sitting down to tables in such a special space. Have you been inspired by the setting?
Absolutely. Because it is such a beautiful space, the interior as well as the exterior, I’ve definitely given a lot more consideration to presentation. Funnily enough, we just did the photoshoot last week for all the food and I looked back on it at the end of the day and just thought “Oh wow, this is a lot more architectural than I ever would have thought of before”. Just being in that space – the incredible architectural construction of that building – has somehow inspired that.
Do you have a favourite dish on your menu?
I always feel like super simple is best. It’s a snapper tartare using locally line-caught snapper with Yarra Valley salmon roe, finger lime and these delicious little fried crispy crackers and herbs. To me that just screams something that you want in summer sitting near the ocean. The other one is a canapé : the Sydney rock oysters with a passionfruit and finger lime mignonette. It’s just so fresh – passionfruit actually feel quite Australian to me. Combining that with the brininess of the oysters just works super well.
Passionfruit is so Aussie, really Christmassy. I know connection to place and community is core to what you do, how have you approached that here?
I’d say it’s certainly a challenge when approaching things in a function-style setting as opposed to a restaurant, where there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to change the menu to what’s growing in the garden or what’s best at that very moment. I really have to do a lot more forward-thinking and planning. Although we’re going to start in a good place, I think there’s going to be room to grow and develop that program moving forward. Trippas White has been really supportive of getting a lot of the suppliers that I champion on board.
Congratulations on your forthcoming cookbook Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking, can you tell me about the project?
It’s been a couple of years in the making, and I just feel so excited to finally see it coming out in the world. To also be culminating with this big announcement, for me, it just feels like the next few months are big. I’m ready and I’m excited and I just want to share great food with people. Whatever your life situation is, you can cook food from the book, you can attend an event at the Opera House.
The main idea of the book was really born during Covid, when lots of ingredients were not available to me and I was spending a lot of time – as all of us were – just cooking at home. The book is about cooking with abandon and restraint, with economy and grace. So, using what’s at your disposal, lots of things from the pantry, ingredients from your local supermarket, but still being able to have a beautiful meal. My goal is to show that you can still make something lovely in a pinch, at home and not have to be sourcing lots of different things.
I will always champion the best ingredients because I do believe they make the best food, but you can still make the best food with whatever you have on hand. It shouldn’t be only for elites, you know?
Catch Danielle Alvarez in conversation with Recipes for a Lifetime of Beautiful Cooking co-author Libby Travers on Friday November 10 in the Opera House’s Yallamundi Rooms. Tickets are on sale now.