/ 4 min read

Introducing Yes, chef!

Introducing Yes, chef!
Chef Eilish Maloney, owner and founder of The What If Society – a food co-op based in the NSW Southern Highlands.
Sophie Hansen
Sophie Hansen Orange, NSW
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Welcome to Yes, chef! A monthly newsletter in which food writer Sophie Hansen shines a light on our regional chefs. This week, with Eilish Maloney.

Yes Chef! with Eilish Maloney

Eilish Maloney is the owner and founder of The What If Society – a food co-op based in the Southern Highlands that's an umbrella for two eateries: the Studio in Moss Vale (her hometown), and The Exchange in nearby Burrawang. She is 29 years old and has been working as a chef for 11 years. Before starting The What If Society she was head chef at Saint Peter, Joshua Niland's flagship restaurant.

A recipe that takes you home?

It has to be butterflied grilled king prawns with garlic cultured butter, loads of lemon, chives and black pepper. This was something we always had in my family when we were celebrating. I can picture us all around the table, peeling the shells back with our fingers and licking the buttery sauce off our hands. It was also one of the first things I really started cooking as an apprentice. Probably the dish I was most critiqued on. My family are always my most honest critics.

A recipe for joy?

For me, a recipe for joy is anything cooked over a flame. It starts with the fire, taking care to tend it to create the perfect temperature. Then it's all about the vegetables. I always use locally-grown seasonal produce from a friend who is also the farmer (I guarantee it changes the flavour), grilled and finished with a fermented sauce or seasoning and with the richest green olive oil you can access. I'm all about crunch, cream, acid and salt. I'm thinking grilled runner beans dressed in fermented jalapeños and green garlic, laid up on a bed of labneh and pangrattato (recipe below). Yes, thank you. That's how I'd welcome guests to a cocktail party.

A recipe to bolster or soothe?

Melting moments to comfort and soothe. Or whey braised osso buco with soft polenta, carrot top gremolata and a big dollop of creme fraiche. The perfect recipe for a dreamy sleep.

Where do you cook? Why here?

I am currently cooking in my hometown, Moss Vale, in the NSW Southern Highlands, where I launched The What If Society two years ago. We make, bake, ferment, and preserve good things between our two spaces. We grow, compost and whole butcher just about anything we can get our hands on that comes from our region and our region only.

The ingredient you're most excited about right now?

It has to be green coriander seed pods. When coriander bolts because of the hot weather, it seeds quickly, producing juicy green pods that burst with flavour. I've been pouring hot pickle liquid over them to use in dressings. They pop in your mouth when you crunch down on them, leaving you with this fresh coriander herb taste, matched with an acidic fresh bite. Spices don't always have to be dried.

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Eilish's grilled runner beans dressed in fermented jalapeños and pangrattato

If you haven't tried making your own fermented foods yet, you're missing out. Not only for the flavour, but also the health benefits and the savings from not wasting any of your produce. (Pretty much all veggies can be pickled and fermented.) I particularly love fermented jalapeños because they're friendly to even the most chilli-sensitive people.

Slice about 500g of jalapeños into discs about 8mm thick, then pack in a large (sterilised) jar, about 1 litre capacity or thereabouts. Add 8 thinly sliced cloves of garlic, a tablespoon of fish sauce and 1250g of water with 2% salt (25g). Leave for one month or until whenever… This stuff is a total game-changer! So good, you'll be putting it on everything.

Next, let's make our labneh. Grab a big tub of natural yoghurt from the supermarket; for 150g yogurt, add a sprinkle or two of flaked salt, a good drizzle of olive oil and a few cracks of pepper and mix together. Wrap in a muslin cloth or clean Chux and set in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge for at least 8 hours or until thick and rich. Spoon onto a nice serving dish and make a well in the centre.

Beans: Take about 200g of green beans and grill on your barbecue or fire pit until charred but still crunchy (tip: you can just grill on the side to ensure you don't overcook them). Tip into a medium-sized bowl, season with salt flakes, olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of the fermented jalapeños and about a tablespoon of the brine. Add the zest and juice of one whole lemon, toss to combine, then spoon onto the yoghurt and drizzle any dressing left over the top.

To finish, add some pangrattato (a great way to use up old stale bread): Crumble 3 slices of good bread (sourdough if you can) into rough breadcrumbs and place in a pan on low heat. Add 100ml of grapeseed oil and gently fry until golden brown. Grate 4 garlic cloves into the pan and fry until everything is golden and crunchy. Transfer crumbs to a paper towel to drain, then crumble over the beans to finish.

This is a wonderful starter but also works well as a side dish to any protein.

I hope you loved meeting Eilish in our first Yes, chef! newsletter. Who else should we profile here? Please send suggestions for who, what, where and why by replying to this email or leaving a comment at the bottom of the story.

Sophie xx