Ellie Boudhana: Self-taught Melbourne chef talks cooking, Hope St Radio and new book Ellie’s Table

Arylene Westlake-Jennings
The Nightly
Ellie Bouhadana says she’s been making life up as she goes.
Ellie Bouhadana says she’s been making life up as she goes. Credit: Lucia Bell-Epstein

You’ve got to be pretty ballsy to wing it at an interview for a restaurant position, let alone impress by successfully deboning a box of whole chickens.

But self-taught chef Ellie Bouhadana reckons she’s been making her life up as it goes, with what she calls undue confidence matched with an ethnic work ethic that sets her up for any challenge.

But it wasn’t that restaurant position that caught the attention of Melbournian foodies, it was her COVID lockdown venture prior, of her sending out packages of freshly made focaccia and handmade pasta across the city, that gave her name traction.

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Today she’s at the helm of Hope St Radio (no, not the chicken deboning place; she’s progressed a heap since), and this month released her first cookbook.

The 30-year-old is joyous in conversation, and her fervour for Jewish food is contagious.

“For me, food of the home is everything,” Bouhadana says.

“It’s how I learned to love food. It’s how I cook in the restaurant — I take food that is from my background and turn it into food that you can eat at a restaurant so it’s a little bit more refined.

“But the way I grew up eating on big Jewish holidays and cooking with all the people in my family, that is my base and where my love for food comes from.”

And who needs formal chef training when you’ve got family matriarchs who will tell you something’s not good enough if they so deem it?

Bouhadana reckons it is the way of ethnic families whose love language is food, one expressed through a seemingly never-ending array of dishes set upon the dinner table each evening.

“That is exactly what I wanted to portray in the book,” she says.

“For me, what’s almost more important than a main meal is to have a table full of little plates.

“That’s how we eat in my family and Friday night Shabbat traditional dinners will always have a lot of different little dips.

Roman-Jewish-style fried zucchini with mint recipe from Ellie’s Table by Ellie Bouhadana, published by Hardie Grant Books.
Roman-Jewish-style fried zucchini with mint recipe from Ellie’s Table by Ellie Bouhadana, published by Hardie Grant Books. Credit: Lucia Bell-Epstein

“It’s just so exciting to have a table full of little plates or when you go to a restaurant and they’re rolling out little plates every few minutes.”

Here, Bouhadana shares one of her favourites.

Roman-Jewish-style fried zucchini with mint

Serves 5 as a starter

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) small to medium-sized zucchini (courgettes)
  • extra-virgin olive oil for frying plus 2 tablespoons extra
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • small handful of flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, finely chopped
  • small handful of mint, finely chopped
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) white-wine vinegar

METHOD

  1. Slice the zucchini into rounds 7 mm (1/3 in) thick.
  2. Heat 3 cm (11/4 in) of extra-virgin olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. To check if the oil is hot enough for frying, drop a small piece of zucchini into the oil; if it sizzles and small bubbles form around the zucchini, the oil is ready.
  3. Working in batches, fry the zucchini slices for about 3 minutes, turning once so that both sides hit the oil. Using tongs or a spider, lift the zucchini out of the oil once the slices have turned a deep golden colour and leave them to drain on a tray lined with paper towels. Continue until all the zucchini slices are fried, then season with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Next, make the marinade. Mix the garlic, parsley, mint, white-wine vinegar and the 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. Season with a small pinch of flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  5. Put half of the zucchini slices in a glass or ceramic dish and layer with half of the marinade. Repeat this process with the remaining zucchini slices, then leave to marinate for at least 15 minutes before serving.
from Ellie’s Table by Ellie Bouhadana, published by Hardie Grant Books.
from Ellie’s Table by Ellie Bouhadana, published by Hardie Grant Books. Credit: Hardie Grant Publishing

This recipe is an edited extract from Ellie’s Table by Ellie Bouhadana ($55), published by Hardie Grant Books. Photography by Lucia Bell-Epstein.

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