1996 Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion

Stephanie Alexander’s opus, The Cook’s Companion, subtitled ‘The complete book of ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen’  went on to have seven print runs between 1996 and 1999. It has sold more than half a million copies. A revised edition was published in 2004, containing 300 new recipes and 12 new chapters. It was further revised in 2014.

Stephanie Alexander is among Australia’s best-known cooks and restaurateurs, although she had no formal training as a chef. From her first restaurant, Jamaica House, through subsequent enterprises Stephanie’s and the Richmond Hill Larder and Café, she built a formidable reputation on the Australian food scene.

Her first book, Menu for Food Lovers, was published in 1985. More books followed, but it was The Cook’s Companion that proved to be her magnum opus. The book sold so well it enabled Alexander to clear the debts on her Hawthorn restaurant and move on to new projects.

The Cook’s Companion is an alphabetical listing of ingredients that Alexander feels Australian cooks are likely to have on hand or can easily obtain from local shops. “Do not look here for entries on asparagus peas, pignuts, bung kwangs, cardoons, cape gooseberries, riberries, guavas, mallow leaves, wild boar, partridge or other such exotic delicacies,” she writes in the introduction.

The first chapter talks about kitchen equipment and utensils with personal comments on their usefulness. “I have rarely used a larding needle,” she writes, “although it is useful for cooks to know of their existence.” She also regards the mandoline as expensive and dangerous, writing “I do not recommend it for home kitchen use unless you enjoy living dangerously”.

Not all the recipes are simple. For example, the “quick” minestrone includes, as one of the ingredients, “two artichokes cooked in a Blanc” and cut in half. Just the sort of thing you’d have lying around the kitchen! But there are also lots of quick tips, such as “add cubes of fetta or other sharp cheese to an omelette”.

Stephanie Alexander has since published many more books, including the Tuscan Cookbook, co-written with Maggie Beer after their Italian sojourn, in 2003. She was influential in starting the Kitchen Garden project, developing vegetable gardens in schools.

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