Mel Buttle – kitchen spy

Comedian Mel Buttle in her kitchen. Photo: Glenn Hunt.

Peter Barrett

Brisbane comedian Mel Buttle is a co-host on Lifestyle Food Channel’s The Great Australian Bake Off but at home, which she shares with partner Sophie and their rescue dog Ruby, she does “100 per cent” of the cooking. “It’s literally the only thing I have to offer to the relationship.” By the time Buttle was eight she was cooking at least one meal a week for her mother and father, a chef whose family owned takeaway restaurants. She is currently obsessed with German and Vietnamese food, but sometimes gets stuck repeating the same dish. “I will just keep going until it’s right because I hate serving up food that is not as good as it could be.”

See Buttle perform at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, March 23-April 17.

The staples 

My pantry: Look past the 18-pack of Kraft mac and cheese from Costco and you’ll find chipotle chilli, which I put in Mexican dishes, sticky rice (a nice side for Thai larb salad) and you can never have enough coconut cream and tinned tomatoes. And I like having a big packet of smoked paprika, which is great for giving colour to my savoury muffins or as the base for my chicken spice rub.

My fridge: Aside from last night’s dinner leftovers, you’ll find a big jar of sauerkraut, an unopened one-litre jar of Costco’s hollandaise sauce, soy milk for smoothies, a big bottle of fish sauce and I always have at least 500 millilitres of stock. There’s also butter and a Thomy Pikant Sußer Senf, a mustard I’m obsessed with at the moment.

Secret vice

Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Jelly Crunchie Bits. When I was little I would be, like, ‘Why doesn’t someone invent chocolate and lollies in the same thing?’ I’d bite off a bit of a red frog and a bit of chocolate and be, like, ‘When’s it going to happen!’ And it finally has.

Last night’s dinner 

Bratwurst sausages, slowly pan-fried with some sauerkraut and roast potatoes (steamed first, roughed up in a colander and then done in the oven with some garlic and whole garlic cloves for taste). I served it with my sweet German mustard and tomato sauce.

I’m drinking

I’m a massive gin fan and my favourite is a German brand called Monkey 47. It’s a little hard to find but they come in 500ml bottles and don’t last very long – I drink it as a special treat, with orange peel (I also like Hendricks and the Melbourne Gin Company). I love red wine – I had a really nice Cullen cabernet merlot the other day – but I don’t like white. And I love drinking beer out of cans, which might be a Queensland thing. My favourite is Pistonhead Kustom lager from Sweden – it’s really crisp and summery.

My toolkit

I love my Microplane for zesting (I put ginger in smoothies and grate garlic into a white bechamel sauce for that little extra hit of flavour) and I’m obsessed with my Le Creuset dutch oven. If you only have to have one pot it’s perfect. The other thing is my three-dollar Asian grocery store knife. It’s super sharp and a cross between a cleaver and a knife, which I use for everything.

My inspiration

I read cookbooks in bed at night to relax. I love Guillaume Brahimi’s Food For Friends and Maggie’s Christmas (by Maggie Beer) but my absolute favourite is New York Cult Recipes by Marc Grossman. I used to be obsessed with food from movies – peperoni pizza, corn dogs – and before I went there in person I used to read this book and drool over the recipes.

Favourite 

My baby pink KitchenAid, mainly for show-off reasons. I’ve probably only used it twice over the past year but I saw Nigella using one once when I was about 20 and thought, “Oh, when I’m a big grown-up lady I’m going to have one of those too.”

Most unforgettable meal

I realised food could be more than what I’d experienced when my dad cooked me a teriyaki marinated T-bone at my nanna’s. It was amazing. He barbecued it, which I’d never had before (in Queensland kids are only allowed the sausages) and I got this beautiful, medium-cooked steak the size of my head all to myself. I thought, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever known.”

Recipe stalwart

My pork and veal meatballs. Without giving all my tricks away, I grate the onion with a Microplane, use pureed char-grilled capsicum in the tomato sauce, and soak a piece of good quality sourdough bread in milk, mashing it up with a fork instead of breadcrumbs. I also add orange zest, grated parmesan and dill, for flavour.

Discovery

This is so embarrassing but it wasn’t until I was about 30 that I tried cold coffee, including iced coffee. Now I’m obsessed with it because it’s so hot in Brisbane. I know all the hipsters are into cold-press but I’m obsessed with Vietnamese iced coffee. I try and have one every single day.
This story was originally published in Fairfax Media’s Good Food sections on March 15, 2016. Read it online at good food.com.au here.