It was really the simplest of dishes that sparked Danielle Graham’s love affair with cooking. She was just five, she recalls, when her mother made some Chinese fried rice for her school friends.
“I think I fell in love with food that day. It was a special experience for me. My mum is a fantastic cook,” she says.
From that moment, her mother had found a helper who would willingly “mix ingredients and chop things up”. Getting their hands “dirty” had become a family tradition for the mother and daughter, a ritual that now continues with Danielle and her daughter.
“We make wantons together,” she says, adding, “There is nothing that makes me happier than spending time in the kitchen cooking and making food for my family to enjoy together.”
Now Danielle brings these positive experiences together in her recently launched cookbook, On the Table at Home. The book, she says, represents all that is close to her and is born out her passion for cooking and love of eating. Not words that you typically find uttered by a model. But as Nigella Lawson once said, “you can’t truly say you live well unless you eat well.”
In her interview with Prestige, Danielle tells us what prompted her to write On the Table at Home.
Why did you want to do the cookbook?
My mother has been the biggest inspiration for my cookbook as she instilled this love of food in me from a very young age. The book is something that can be kept forever. I want to share my recipes for home cooked and delicious food.
I decided to shoot the cookbook in Sydney where my mother lives and where my cousin Simon, who is an amazing chef, has a food truck called AGAPE which serves organic food. We had the most amazing dream team. My good friend Claire Delmar is a well- known food stylist and she brought so much magic to the book. My step father Florian, who is a wonderfully trained chef, was very involved as well.
My super talented friend Nic Wong is head chef at Cho Cho San, a very cool Japanese restaurant in Sydney and he has been a huge inspiration on some of the Japanese recipes in the book. My best friend Chris in Hong Kong has influenced my cooking and I remember first trying steamed fish with her in HK and we have a recipe for that in the book. My father taught me to make mash potatoes when I was nine years old and it was one of the first things I learned to make. Today it’s my son’s favourite and he asks for it at least once a week!
What is the concept behind the book?
I believe sharing a meal on the table at home brings people together. The recipes are a mix of East meets West, like me growing up with an Asian mother and Western father. There are plenty of Asian dishes such as my late grandmother’s Hainanese Chicken Rice, Mum’s Beef Rendang, my version of crispy Chicken Karaage as well as some Western dishes like Dad’s Sheperd’s Pie, Caesar Salad and Roasted Lamb Shoulder.
You mentioned that the book will also look at food from a cultural context. What does food symbolise to you?
There are plenty of Asian dishes and some Western dishes in the book. Each recipe has a little story behind it which has been inspired by my family recipes that have been passed down to me. Others are from places I have travelled to and tasted dishes from, which I then add my own personal touch to make them my own. Food brings people from all different cultures together, it is like a universal language. You could be eating anywhere, enjoying different flavours and speaking the same language just by eating the same food. My late grandmother was a very good cook and we always ate way too much whenever she was around supervising each and every bite! Her Hainanese Chicken Rice is a recipe that is in the book. Each time I eat Chicken Rice, I think of her. It’s wonderful how food can evoke feelings and make you think of someone.
Tell me what you would cook in these three difference scenarios;
a) for a dinner party
b) for a family night in
c) to cheer someone up
a- Asian. Crispy scallop and shiitake mushroom wantons with a ginger and soy dipping sauce, prawn toasts with sweet chilli sauce, grilled lamb chops with cumin and coriander, fried soya sauce and five spice chicken wings, fragrant rice, beef rendang, chicken curry, stir-fried Chinese mixed greens, five spice tofu and black fungus salad, black and pepper crabs, stir-fried vermicelli noodles with squid and prawns.
b – Roast chicken with thyme and butter, mash potatoes and mixed mushrooms with garlic butter.
c – Codfish congee with mushrooms and spinach is my feel good food. Whenever my family or friends are not feeling well I will make some and feed them with it.
Meet Danielle Graham and get a signed copy of On the Table at Home during the book launch at Ben’s Independent Grocer on Oct 14th at 2pm