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Chefs at home: Louis Couttoupes, Bar Rochford

Belinda Neame

It’s an oft-used cliché.

On every reality television cooking show there’s a moment—perhaps even several—where contestants will tear up as they recount childhood memories in the kitchen with a loved one, and how those early days shaped their “food journey”.

It’s hard to resist an eye roll when the accompanying violin soundtrack reaches its quavering crescendo, but there’s no denying that the home environment can have a powerful influence on our relationship with food.

For our HerCanberra Magazine: Home, we go into the kitchens (and one garden) of three Canberra chefs to discover the influence of family and home on the food they love to cook.

Louis Couttoupes – Bar Rochford

WHAT’S YOUR EARLIEST FOOD MEMORY?

I remember sitting with my grandad and watching the Swans play when I was young. My favourite snack back then was a bowl of cut apple and cheddar cheese. To this day, it’s what I reach for when I raid the fridge at 3am.

I also remember making fresh pasta with my dad. We didn’t really know what we were doing but there was nothing more thrilling for five-year-old me than making a huge, parent-approved floury mess in the kitchen.

WHAT WAS FOOD LIKE IN YOUR HOUSE GROWING UP?

My family is food-obsessed. I definitely inherited that from both my parents. They are quite academic though, with a strong sense of social justice—mealtimes at our place seemed to be the anchor for discussions about politics or social issues or foreign affairs—so I don’t think they ever thought I’d end up cooking for a career.

I studied international relations at uni, have a Masters in International Security and spent nine years in the public service before I started cooking, so I guess the sudden change might have come as a bit of a surprise to them.

WHAT DID YOU LOVE TO EAT WITH YOUR FAMILY?

I always looked forward to weekend lunches at home. I grew up close to Haberfield in Sydney, so someone would always go to the Italian deli and load up on fresh cheeses, salumi and bread. Either that or a big pasta lunch.

WHEN YOU PREPARE MEALS FOR FRIENDS AT HOME, WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO MEAL?

I don’t get a lot of time off so when I have people around I prefer to spend it with them than in the kitchen.

Whole grilled fish is as simple as it gets, and I love cooking over coal. The smoke and char flavour is just the best. I like to mix the resting juices from the fish with a bit of oil and lemon juice, and some wild fennel blossoms. At the moment it’s hard to go past tomatoes when they look and taste so great too. Olive oil, fetta, picked herbs. That’s it.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR FOOD PHILOSOPHY?

Someone once asked me to describe my cooking style, and that one stumped me for quite a while. I was like “kind of French-Japanese-Mediterranean with a South American influence?” which is sort of true but it makes me sound like a crazy person.

I know it sounds trite and overdone, but I’m a huge believer in seasonality, simplicity and locally-grown produce. So many places say that and then you see tomatoes on the menu in winter, so you know they’ve travelled from miles away. Or they say simple, but serve vegetables that have taken hours or days to prep with all sorts of special chefs’ gadgets and tricks.

Don’t get me wrong—that kind of cuisine definitely has its place, and people are doing amazing things—but it’s definitely not the low key or casual approach that many claim.

I try not to interfere too much with the food I make—it’s all about enhancing it—like pairing it with an awesome or unusual companion ingredient to bring out the taste and texture. I put a lot of emphasis on building relationships with growers and producers. I like to be guided by their advice because they know best—if my supplier brings me something unexpected because it looked great that particular day, I’ll chuck it on the menu that night.

I’m also a bit of a sucker for an unusual ingredient—algaes, fungi, foraged plants, ferments, inks, glands, rare honeys, you name it. One of the best things I’ve eaten in the last 12 months was fermented fish guts in Japan. Ten years ago I would have baulked and now I spend hours trying to incorporate those things into the everyday.

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS AND TRICKS FOR MAKING ENTERTAINING AT HOME LESS STRESSFUL?

More booze never hurt! But seriously, I think people tend to get anxious and overreach when they entertain and end up spending the whole time in the kitchen rather than hanging out with friends. Make it simple, and make something you know well, so you can chat your way through it and sit down with everyone at the table.

Louis’ Gratin Dauphinois

These potatoes—or variations of them—are a pretty traditional accompaniment to a lot of stuff in rural France. This dish will go with pretty much any grilled fish, meat or vegetarian meal, and I have never, ever seen leftovers.

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 Medium waxy potatoes (like Desiree)
  • 300ml Pure cream
  • Sea salt flakes
  • Rosemary

Serves 6

METHOD

Preheat oven to 200 ̊C.

Slice or mandolin potatoes to about 1 mm thick and lay them in overlapping layers in a lightly oiled baking tray. Pour cream over the potatoes and season with salt.

Sprinkle a few generous sprigs’ worth of rosemary leaves over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cream has caramelised.

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean Photography

This article originally appeared as part of our CHEFS AT HOME article in Magazine: Home for Autumn 2018, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Belinda Neame

Belinda is HerCanberra's Production Manager. A foodie and lover of handmade, Belinda enjoys nothing more than a good coffee and seeing Canberra businesses thrive. In her 'spare time', Belinda organises the quarterly Canberra street food event, The Forage with her husband Tim. More about the Author