Network Ten Executive General Manager Russel Howcroft. Photo: Pat Scala
Russel Howcroft, 50, is perhaps best known as a panellist on ABC Television’s The Gruen Transfer. But the former CEO of advertising company Y & R Group spends most of his time managing the Melbourne office of Network Ten. At the beginning of this year his wife Kate Burke and her sister Anna bought wholesale pie manufacturer Caspers Gourmet Foods, which Howcroft dreams of one day turning into a major food player. “I love food marketing,” he says. “That’s where you can create brands, which is what I hope to do with Caspers.” Most recently, though, he became an author, launching his book When it’s Right to be Wrong, in September. Howcroft lives in Hawthorn with his wife Kate and their three children, Claudia (21), Charlie (18) and Louis (13).
I make pizza most Sundays so there are always cans of tomato in the pantry and olive oil (I tend to buy them if I like the design of the label). There’s always Fallot & Co French mustard for steaks and salad dressings and Sirena tuna – although I often wind up eating that directly out of the tin.
There’s always a bottle of champagne and a few jars of Mary McCarthy’s relishes (we buy them from her little honour stall in Main Ridge), and Meredith Dairy Goat Cheese, of course (great in omelettes). I often do blonde pizza toppings so I like to keep stocks of creme fraiche, which I mix with parmigiano-reggiano.
Chocolate buds. There’s a stool in the pantry and you’ll often find me sitting on that just grabbing handfuls of the stuff.
Last night’s dinner
I cooked an omelette. I used two eggs, grated some cheese and beat them together with a bit of parsley. I added some cooked mushrooms and pancetta, then sprayed our beautiful de Buyer French skillet with a little olive oil. The key is to cook quickly and make sure the eggs are still a bit runny on the inside.
I like red wine of any style but if there’s a Margaret River going I get very excited. People know I like wine so I receive plenty of gifts, and occasionally I get lucky (I recently got a bottle of 2004 Penfolds St Henri Shiraz). But my favourite wine is Jim Barry from the Clare Valley. I have a Le Creuset carafe with a cork stopper that I like to pour my wine into (which saves me having to feel guilty about all the empty bottles). Otherwise, I’ll have the occasional Glenmorangie whiskey with mum.
I use a Thermomix for making my pizza dough (Kate uses it for soups and, occasionally, mango ice-cream). Otherwise my essential tools include my Zyliss pizza chopper, a wooden rolling pin (which I use for my pizza bases on our stainless steel bench), a Microplane for my cheeses and my wooden paddle.
One of my favourites is The Harry’s Bar Cookbook, which taught me how to make a Bellini. But my stepmother, Elizabeth Howcroft (we call her Elizabeth the Second, my mum is Elizabeth the First), is a wonderful cook and produced this book of recipes, Australian Family Cooking, years ago. It’s the basis of what I like about family cooking.
Kate and I met a couple at a local bar a few years ago and they ended up inviting us to their wedding at a winery in Bordeaux. This is an apron from the winery – Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte – and every time I see it I’m reminded of what an awesome trip it was.
Most unforgettable meal
When Kate and I were in Bordeaux in 2012 we stopped in a restaurant called La Bastide De Moustiers and ate chocolate absinthe babas. I’ve never felt so happy (if you know what I mean) after eating a dessert.
Most Sundays I’ll make pizza dough (singing “Nobody does it better” by Carly Simon while I work). I use plain flour, a bit of olive oil and Lowan yeast to make the dough. The key with the base is to make it super thin – somewhere between paper and cardboard – and to cook out the mushrooms first as a topping, otherwise they’ll make your pizza soggy.
Onions really cause me issues so I now use celery instead. It’s not a bad substitute.
“My favourite dish in the whole world is bacon and eggs. And I love more than anything making that for my kids.”