Chef Danielle Alvarez heads Fred’s in Sydney
Chef Danielle Alvarez heads Fred’s, a Sydney hotspot dedicated to sustainable produce, seasonality and combining old-world techniques with innovation. Here Alvarez, who spent her formative years at Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, cooks on free-standing Tuscan grills and a custom-made hearth.
We chat to Chef Danielle about cooking in Cuba and Australia, learning from Alice Waters, and women in the kitchen.
Your family was originally from Cuba, but you grew up in the US, and now you run a much-loved restaurant in Sydney, Australia – what took you to Australia, and made you want to stay?
I suppose like a lot of people it was a summer holiday to Australia that first opened my eyes to everything this country had to offer. I had never really intended to move here but I was also at a point in my life where I had the flexibility and the freedom to make the leap. A great opportunity came my way and I took it.
What made me want to stay was the great quality of life and the welcoming and generous hospitality community that immediately embraced me and felt like family.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My style is rooted in quality, seasonal ingredients and old-world classical cooking. I want people to feel like the produce has come straight from the farm and that most ingredients are easily recognisable and super fresh but always with a little bit of an unexpected twist and great technique. Some say I cook like a grandma, I take that as a compliment.
Has your Cuban heritage influenced the way you cook in any way?
I wouldn’t say Cuban food influenced my cuisine but Cuban hospitality and community certainly did. I grew up cooking side by side with my mom and grandmother and they taught me to taste and to put love into the food you are cooking.
They also taught me that cooking and entertaining are not just about the food, its also about the music, the table, the lighting, the laughter and the company and to always have room for one more. I try to bring that energy into Fred’s as much as I can.
You worked with Alice Waters – in fact she has called you “one of my favourite cooks” – how has she influenced you?
In too many ways to list. Alice is a huge inspiration to so many people because she is one of those people who don’t come around very often. She is a visionary, she doesn’t let things get in the way of her dreams and she looks beyond the stove, to the bigger picture of humanity. Cooking, eating and dining are political acts or, at least, they can be. The choices we make in what we cook in the restaurant have huge effects on our immediate and larger communities. Alice taught me that.
There was much more but that is probably the single biggest takeaway from my time at Chez Panisse.
You also worked under Amaryll Schwertner at San Francisco restaurant Boulettes Larder – are these impressive women chefs the reason you now have a strongly female staff?
I am happy to say I have a very balanced male:female staff ratio. In all industries I think both men and women bring equally important perspectives and we must include everyone. My strong female role models certainly pushed me forward and taught me to not let my gender be anything that made me feel “less than” without ever saying that.
I suppose it was this that helped to get me here and I have so many women working for me that started off saying that they wanted to work for another woman, so maybe in an indirect way, it is giving more women in general a bit of confidence to approach me and ask for a job. That makes me happy.
Are there any other chefs you particularly admire, and why?
I really admire Daniela Soto-Ines who is of Mexican descent and works in New York. I only follow her through Instagram but her positivity, love of her staff and focus on health is so infectious. I admire anyone that lives life with such positivity, especially in kitchens where mental health and physical health are such big issues.
I really admire Sean Moran of Sean’s Panaroma because he has always marched to the beat of his own drum and in a city that is so fickle and focused on trends, what he does is timeless and beautiful and he has never waivered on that in the 25+ years Sean’s has been open.
What’s your philosophy on ingredients, and where do you source yours?
Without amazing ingredients we will never have great food. Because things at Fred’s are so simple on the plate, if you don’t start with perfect ingredients the dish will always feel like it’s missing something or it’s unimpressive. We source most of ours from small organic farms that deliver to our doorstep. It’s a lot of work to source ingredients this way, but it’s the only way I could do it and the result is so worth it.
What do you think of the Sydney dining scene?
I think there is such talent in this city. Such talent and such diversity. Although I lament the lack of great Mexican food there is great pretty much everything else you could want. It’s really inspiring and fun to eat out in this town. Maybe one of the best in the world.
Running a restaurant is incredibly stressful. How do you relax?
I like to spend time with my friends and my partner in great conversation, over a great meal and some wine or simply staying home and reading or writing. Exercise too, that’s a big one for my mental and obviously physical health.
I probably used to fill my days off too much and I’ve learned these days to say “no” a whole lot more. It’s so important to make time for yourself to do whatever YOU want to do. I don’t have kids so that’s probably a lot easier for someone in my situation but essential for me at this stage in my life.
Thank you, Danielle, and we wish you continuing success through “cooking like a granny”!
You want to see more from Danielle? See her amazing recipe.
What is your plan for your future as a chef?
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