A Day In The Life
Danielle Alvarez has always been interested in cooking, but she never imagined it would become her job, let alone in a restaurant on the other side of the world.
The Florida native initially studied art history, before switching to professional cooking. Her first cooking job was an internship at three Michelin star restaurant, The French Laundry, in the Napa Valley, followed by a stint in San Francisco, where she began defining the type of chef she wanted to be. ‘I was very interested in the small farms and the incredible tasting organic produce that finds its way into so many kitchens in San Francisco,’ she says.
Danielle went on to spend four years at the renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley, before a holiday to Australia changed everything. ‘It was actually on that first trip that I just had that feeling that I needed to come back here,’ she says. ‘I sent a message to an Aussie friend… Turns out Merivale had reached out to him to ask if he knew of any chefs that would want to come over and lead a project in Paddington they had imagined. It felt like it was destiny knocking.’ Danielle flew back to Australia, interviewed for the job, and the rest is history.
Since opening in 2016 with Danielle as head chef, Fred’s has gone on to become one of Sydney’s most acclaimed modern restaurants.
You will also soon be able to try Danielle’s recipes at home via her upcoming debut cookbook, Always Add Lemon. The acclaimed chef says readers can expect lots of fruits, vegetables, handmade pastas, and pastries in the book, all of which adhere to her philosophy of simple food. ‘Simple doesn’t mean fast in my book, but it’s not complicated,’ she says. ‘They are dishes you can entertain with or make for simple family home meals. It’s the food I (and hopefully you) want to eat. It’s seasonal and it’s nourishing for the heart and soul.’
Find out how this inspiring woman gets it done!
I wake up between 7 and 8am every day, usually naturally, but I always set an alarm in case. Then I make coffee.
I’m great in the mornings, sometimes I think I should have been a baker! I did work the breakfast shift in California for about a year. The 5am wake ups were pretty tough, but it was so nice to leave work when it was still sunny out. I often went straight to bed but it was nice to feel like I could do something if I wanted to!
Every day I take at least 30 minutes of quiet time completely for myself. Thankfully my partner Dan wakes up later than me so I’m always guaranteed this alone time. I spend this time working out any conflicts I’ve been having either with a person or a dish, and I visualise what I want outcomes to be. I do this entirely in my head while staring out the window drinking coffee.
I am someone that needs this – I cannot recharge and clear my head in the company of others. I need this solitude to work my stuff and my ideas out.
For breakfast I change it up. Sometimes it’s fried eggs with chilli sauce, or it’s oat porridge with walnuts and honey. When it’s hot in the summer, I like to make an oat, frozen banana, and peanut butter smoothie which is filling but gives me lots of energy.
I drive to work and start at either 8.30am or 1pm depending on the day. The first task is generally a briefing with the chefs to discuss any menu changes for the day, what the staff meal is, and any important announcements.
After that it could be another meeting with the wider group management team, responding to emails, or getting right into the kitchen because there is a new dish coming on and I need to make it/write a recipe or tweak something that wasn’t right from the night before. No two days are alike in a restaurant and I love that.
Lunch is not a thing for me. If I’m not serving lunch, I’m starting my day right around lunch time, so I’ll usually have breakfast and then the ‘family meal’ with the restaurant’s team at 4pm for dinner. I’ve really been on the chefs about serving nutrient dense foods and not just making pasta for the family meal but it’s tough. Sometimes pasta is just the easiest, tastiest option!
Typical afternoon tasks for me are meetings and prepping food in the kitchen. It’s honestly the most frantic time of the day, especially between 4 and 5pm.
I generally feel energised in the afternoon. I only ever start to feel tired around 9 or 10pm.
I finish work at either 6pm or 11.30pm depending on the day. To unwind, I have a glass of wine and sit in silence.
Switching off can be tough when I finish work at 11:30pm. Often I’m thinking about the service and things that went wrong, so to quiet my mind, often the best thing is to just go to sleep. Luckily, once I’m tired, I only need to hit the pillow and I’m asleep.
I need at least seven hours sleep to be at my best – anything less and I’m just not myself – but eight plus hours is ideal.
What are some of the main influences on your cooking?
European cooking for sure: French, Italian, Spanish. But after having spent some time in Australia, I find myself using a few more Asian ingredients. I like everything to feel very fresh and of what it is. Often, I don’t do more than use a little lemon, oil or butter and salt on something, but it’s the way you do this which can make all the difference.
How do you manage the stress of leading a busy, acclaimed kitchen?
Stress management is tough. I don’t have it figured out. Sometimes I feel very in control, and other times, it gets the best of me. Things I do know, though, are that to keep a steady head you have to be healthy physically and mentally. This for me means exercise, sleep, hydration, healthy foods, and enough time away from the kitchen to recharge after a big week. I don’t often get all those things right all at once but I’m old enough now to know what I should be doing. I’m getting better with every passing year, I feel.
Right now I’m listening to, watching, and reading…
Reading: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Watching: Fargo (the TV series) on Netflix
Listening to: Jazz. It’s always jazz or classical at my house when I’m cooking, sometimes Sinatra.
A philosophy I live and work by is…
Be the person you want to meet in the world.
Something I’ve learned the hard way is…
It doesn’t have to be hard. I tend to jump into things without much thought or planning and this always results in a bit of chaos, which I have come to realise I enjoy, but it’s not a good leadership strategy. People around you want to feel like you’re in control and they want to know there is a strategy at play. So, take the time to plan things out and prepare. Things will feel a lot easier if you’ve put the thought and time into planning the details.
Danielle’s upcoming cookbook Always Add Lemon is available to pre-order now!