Tell us about the type of food you cook in Bite
I'm keeping it real and offering a taste of what I've been enjoying recently, the food we actually eat on a day-to-day basis. More often than not it's really healthy and simple :)
Winning MasterChef must have really changed your life. Has it also changed your food philosophy?
I wonder if people imagine what it's actually like to go from private home cook to lots of public attention in the blink of an eye. Yes, it definitely changed my life in all sorts of ways! My food philosophy has changed a little in ways that echo my experience from the show - I'm getting more and more in touch with what feels real and meaningful to me. I'm happier now to cook what feels right to me and to trust myself more rather than worry too much what other people think.
How would you describe your food style?
My food is all about trying new things, being playful, and really thinking about how I'll feel after I've eaten something. I'm happiest if I can find a new way to use ingredients, something that is fun to make and fun to eat, with the bonus of being full of healthy ingredients.
What is your favourite meal?
For me it's pretty hard to go past a tasty soup with extra-crusty bread and butter. I like the crust to be so thick it needs a dunk in the soup to soften it, with the bonus that it soaks up lots of flavour.
In part of your book, Cook with Me, you talk about yoga food. What is that?
To me it's food that makes me feel really good eat when I eat it, food that adds life and vitality to my day. This points toward ingredients like fresh fruit and veges, good fats, unrefined grains, seeds and nuts.
Online, you welcome feedback about recipes in the book, encouraging their evolution. Is this happening? Why did you do this?
I've been getting great feedback from people about recipes in my book but this has been more through Facebook and email rather than on my website. I had an idea that people might have lots of questions about specific details in recipes but that's not actually what's been happening. Perhaps it's a sign that all my recipe testing and proof reading paid off :)
What is on the agenda for you now? More TV, another book?
I've been enjoying doing more practical food work lately, keeping my feet on the ground and getting involved with some local businesses that are heading in interesting directions and expanding. I can imagine taking my time to work on another book and I've been keeping really good notes of everything that's worked really well in my kitchen at home. It's always a good sign when people try things and ask for the recipe.
Do you have a favourite cuisine?
I love the food in Slovenia. Everyone there seems to be a no-nonsense foodie who values home grown and local produce above anything else. Often dishes are very simple, letting the fresh, ripe ingredients shine with only a little tweak here and there.
What influence did your Italian mother, Zora, have on the way you cook? Does she live in Raglan too?
Mum always inspires me by her enthusiasm to search out great ingredients. She'll buy tomatoes from one place, fish from another, apples at a local orchard then gather fruit from a friend's tree. She lives in Titirangi and whenever she comes to visit she brings all sorts of foraged goodies. As a result I love to make use of what's plentiful and ripe when I cook.
Briefly describe a day’s menu.
All three of us cook most days, we often have some parts of a meal shared and other parts tailored to our own tastes. A typical day for me would be a fruity healthy breakfast then a wrap or salad for lunch. I often like a nutritious afternoon smoothie, then for dinner perhaps stir-fried tofu and veges with lots of chili, garlic and ginger. My go-to sweet treat to finish is frozen fruit 'ice cream' made in the food processor.
Describe your entertaining style.
Natural and down to earth. I think the most important thing of all when we have people over is to enjoy ourselves, I find that the food we make reflects the spirit in which it is made and people respond accordingly.
Does your daughter Ariana like to cook?
Ariana is 16 and she's enjoying cooking more and more all the time. She is particularly fond of making pasta sauce and has come up with her own special touches, which I'm chuffed about as it shows she's finding her creativity.
Are you still making and selling bread from your brick oven?
Yes, as much as possible I've been baking once a week. I learn something new every time and after doing a couple of days’ work experience with Volare and Wild Wheat bakeries recently I feel like I've developed my abilities.
Who is your food idol?
Nigel Slater for his unpretentious flair at making great food from simple ingredients. I love his creativity and commonsense real-ness about what makes food delicious
What are you cooking more of now?
I'm really enjoying making raw food versions of sweet treats. I find it fun to experiment with a whole new palette of possibilities and often the results are more delicious to me as well as way healthier.
What are your kitchen must-haves?
A heavy mortar and pestle, a solid wooden chopping board, citrus squeezers, stainless steel bowls.
Garlic, chilli, tomatoes, lemons, olive oil, good salt and pepper.
Is there any style of food you dislike?
Not too keen on anything where too much cream is used to make something rich where it could have been left out or used very lightly, e.g. seafood chowder, pasta sauces, soups.
Anything else you’d like to add?
What I notice more and more is that the attitude and appreciation we bring to our food is what makes the biggest difference to how much we enjoy it. In a similar way, being grateful for what we have makes us much happier than constant striving for more and feeling that our lives are lacking in something.