Ellie Bouhadana’s family is from Haifa, an Israeli city on the skinny stretch of coast between Tel Aviv and Beirut. When she was growing up, there was always streams of family and friends filing into her household to eat dinner on a Friday night. Later on, she would discover the same mode of eating in Italy, where a whole village would gather together at restaurants in search of good food and good company.
‘I would say my take on food is influenced by a mix of my Moroccan, Jewish and Israeli heritage; I call my style Italo-Mediterranean,’ she says. ‘When I lived in Haifa, I would watch my aunty make beautiful Friday night family Shabbat feasts from her tiny apartment – I would ask her questions, take notes on recipes. I really want to preserve their style of cooking which is so innate and relaxed.’
When she returned to Melbourne, she was so inspired by this philosophy of communal eating that she launched Ellie’s Table – a place for her to work through all her ideas and inspiration for food-oriented projects. It hit a culinary nerve. Beginning with the enormously successful ‘Doorstep Deliveries’ during lockdown, and expanding to a pop-up trattoria in Ripponlea late last year, Ellie has come a long way from a makeshift kitchen in a semi-demolished church (the first dining event she ever hosted for her friends!).
Without any formal training, she is now a cook, producer, art director and event manager all rolled into one! What does such an indefinable job description mean for her day-to-day life? Funny you should ask…
I usually wake up around 7am because of the light that streams directly into my room. In saying that, when I have the time I can wake up much later, and love spending part of the morning relaxing in bed.
A ritual I’ve always stuck by in the morning is making my bed – it makes me feel like I’ve already accomplished something in my day! I then put a podcast on and go for a walk, ending the walk most days at my local coffee shop in Balaclava. Or I skip the walk for morning yoga.
No matter the weather I love sitting outside the cafe, it feels fresh and is always nice to have a bit of sun on my face while I have a coffee, read or check emails/write a to-do list for the day. I’m usually not really hungry in the mornings, but if I am it’s hunger for a pastry of some sort.
My work schedule isn’t super regular, as my weeks often look quite different. On a week where I have a pop-up, I start working at around 8.30am. I’m not the most efficient person, so I try to start early so I can get a lot done.
When I am planning a pop-up I usually sit at my dining table and untangle the inspiration I have messily collected in my ‘Notes’ folder on my phone, writing/drawing my ideas down properly. Embedded throughout my morning is doing research in cookbooks, or sometimes speaking to my mum and grandmother to chat through food ideas.
One morning a week I’ll speak to my fruit and veg supplier to see what he recommends at that moment, based on the season. I’ll then buy a few ingredients and test recipes in my kitchen at home.
I know it seems weird but I don’t often take a proper break for lunch. I snack all day during recipe testing, so I don’t really have proper meals unless my partner is home and forces me to sit down with him. It’s the nature of my work because I’m testing food/creating new dishes all the time. Especially when I am cooking for a Saturday pop-up, I am constantly on my feet, tasting food, which makes it hard to take a moment to sit down and make myself a whole meal.
Some days I will tell a couple of friends or my sisters to come by for lunch and try the dishes I’ve been working on. Other days I will slice off a chunk of bread and eat it with butter and an anchovy – that satisfies me for a while.
After testing recipes I sit down and break the dishes down and create a menu for that weekend’s pop-up (often the dishes aren’t where I want them to be and I’ll need to do more testing the following days). Once I have a menu I am happy with, I begin on all the admin side of the pop-up. There is a huge amount to work through. I begin contacting my suppliers, create the budgets and online booking forms, and organise the overall running of the event.
I actually feel energised at this time! I do a lot of my best work in the afternoons and into the evening.
I don’t have a consistent time that I finish work, I always feel like I could do more. If I’m having friends over for dinner I close my laptop between 6 and 7pm and start cooking.
After testing and thinking about food all day, I like to finish the night with simple food. Recently I’ve been enjoying lentils cooked slowly in a sofrito base glistening with extra virgin olive oil. I sear it off with cured meat like pancetta/salami, herbs and wine. I also find myself craving steamed mussels with crusty bread.
I’ve always loved having people over for dinner as a way to unwind. I know that sounds like a lot of effort after a big day but for me throwing a little “casual” dinner party with my partner gives me a way to do something other than think about my projects. I can just immerse myself in the food I’m making for dinner, drink a glass of wine with friends, and relax.
If I’m not in the mood to cook I love going out to eat at either of my two favourite local restaurants (Claypots or Cicciolina) to have a bowl of pasta, or our favourite cajun flathead, and finish with ice cream down the road.
Depending on the night I usually get into bed between 10.30 and 11pm.
I would say I normally get a lot of sleep just because I love my bed, but at the same time I have learnt that I can function on almost no sleep when I am doing pop-ups. The adrenaline gets to me, and even if I’ve been up cooking until the early hours I somehow still manage to get up at 5am, bake off 15 trays of focaccia in my small oven and throw a super fun pop-up trattoria party that evening!