Tobie Puttock is not a stereotypical chef. He started on his culinary endeavours by working in an Italian kitchen purely to finance his overseas snowboarding ventures. Slogging away for long hours in a kitchen however, can have its effects and Puttock slowly developed a passion for Italian cooking and produce.
“I discovered what I love about cooking,” he says of his time behind the scenes in Melbourne. “It’s the job of good ingredients and the challenge of finding the best way to use them.”
His new book of recipes called Daily Italian is more about communicating that message than giving a collection of step by step instructions. Although of course, it is easy to follow and impressively simple, the recipes offer a flexible guideline and stress combinations of ingredients.
“Many of the recipes reflect my own tendency, particularly of late, to spend less time in the kitchen and more time at the shops and markets selecting the right ingredients,” he says. “The better your produce, the less you have to do with it.”
Puttock indeed knows a fair bit about quality produce, especially when it involves Italian food. After his kitchen initiation in Melbourne he flew to Italy to get serious about the cuisine and snowboard when he could. Those snowboarding opportunities became scarce as he began enduring double shifts for seven months at the Hotel Florence on Lake Como. Blessed with a head chef barking orders in Italian and a learn-as-you-go environment, Puttock developed knowledge of the language, culture and what makes Italian food work. “I realised how blessed I was to have landed that job,” he says. “I spoke fluent Italian; I knew how to make six different types of pasta dough and could roll it with the best of them; I was a sous-chef at twenty-four.”
From that platform Puttock made serious headway in the industry. After meeting Jamie Oliver in London he was offered a job at Oliver’s restaurant, Fifteen, and developed a partnership that resulted in him opening Fifteen in Melbourne last year.
“I employed him for four years and without his help, Fifteen would never have started in the UK,” says Oliver, who wrote Daily Italian’s foreword. “I believe his passion for life and his pleasantness come out in his cooking.”
Mixed with interesting anecdotes, insight and images, Daily Italian is undoubtedly pleasant to flip through. However, Puttock insists that it isn’t the purpose of the book and too often they’re used as ornaments instead of a reference tool.
“The recipes in this book are all ‘cookable’,” he says, “none are for display purposes only.” They’re also flexible to meet with anyone’s tastes, dietary needs and intolerances — something a novice cook may miss or not fully appreciate.
“Thanks to nutritionist Sue Shepherd, each of the recipes in this book contains notes on how to adjust a dish to make it suitable for people with various food intolerances,” Puttock affirms. “As you get to know a particular recipe, you should be able to start adjusting amounts to suit your own tastes.”
So, the ideas are there to make great Italian meals, but where exactly does one get the right food products? Surely Puttock, being located in Melbourne, is referring to all the great produce found in Australia, not London or the rest of the UK? He isn’t. In fact, the meals in this book are all easily made from stocks found in London’s food markets.
“Visit Borough market on a Saturday and you’ll see any celebrity chef worth his or her Michelin star sipping coffee as they trawl the stalls for best-quality quails, goat’s curd, duck eggs and stinging nettles,” he says, writing off the idea that London’s food is below par. “Getting the best produce in the UK is no longer the tricky and time-consuming business it once was.”
Now, thanks to Tobie Puttock, making an accessible, light and tasty Italian dish is also no longer a tricky or time-consuming affair.