Jess is the perfect example of ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade'. After being made redundant during the height of the pandemic, Jess took this as an opportunity to become the go-to source on social media for delicious recipes. Food has always been a part of Jess’s family, it is their way of connecting and celebrating and a sort of catharsis for Jess, so to speak. We caught up with Jess to discuss her food journey, recent collaborations, and to get all of the inspiration on just how to put together the perfect Christmas spread.
You are a home cook and food creative living in Melbourne/ Naarm, how did you get into cooking? Was this something you were always passionate about?
Food in my family is a love language. It’s how we connect, celebrate and commiserate. I have really fond memories of all the dinner parties my parents hosted when I was a child, which they still do to this day. As I grew up, I’d help them host too whether it was making the cocktails for guests, a dish or being the ‘waiter’, so it’s now rubbed off on me and I love creating spreads and hosting my own dinner parties at home!
You recently released your very own food product, ‘Chilli Oil on Everything’. Firstly, congratulations, what an amazing achievement! Are you a bit of a spice queen? How did you come up with this concept?
Thank you! I shared my journey HEREa few months ago. However, in recent news, I have just shipped out a special batch in collaboration with @foodforeveryone.aus that was designed by @gemleslie, the founder of FFE. It’s a limited edition batch and design with all profits donated to the ASRC- Asylum Seeker Resource Centre that sold out in one hour. I love that this spicy side hustle has grown into something that can now not only feed people’s chilli oil addiction but help to feed and support those in need. It allows me to collaborate with other like-minded food creatives that my community is equally as passionate to support.
Lockdown was a really difficult time for everyone, especially those who were made redundant in such uncertain times. For you, although tough, it encouraged you to chase your passion. Do you have any advice for those who had a similar COVID experience?
Lean into change and accentuate the positives. Change is always tough, especially when you don’t ask for it but it’s the only way for new opportunities and paths to present themselves for you to embrace. It was awful when I was made redundant, especially as it happened at the start of the first lockdown. However, once I saw the period as I time for me to rediscover what I love (i.e. cooking), I simply ran with it, sharing more recipes on my Instagram, proactively hosting live cooking classes to originally keep friends and family engaged which led to strangers cooking along with me, and from there that’s how my new career in cooking emerged with brands and businesses approaching me to do that for them.
One of the best parts about Christmas is the food, well, we think so anyway. Tell us a bit about Christma in the Nguyen household? What are some of the traditional dishes you would see on the table at your Christmas?
Christmas is all about the table and spread for me! My family like to put on a summery spread so you’ll see things like fresh seafood (last year I ordered a sushi platter from my favourite sushi place), fresh salads, grilled meats (last year I did grilled quail), a summery pavlova and a fun cocktail that everyone can enjoy like a summery punch or spritz.
What is an easy, accessible go-to recipe you can recommend for our Auguste family this Christmas?
My berry pavlova of course! It’s a crowd-pleaser and quite simple to make, just make it the day before so it has time to dry out and so you don’t have to stress about baking the day of.
Ingredients- • 4 egg whites • 1 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar • 1 cup of caster sugar • 300ml of thickened cream • ½ cup of your choice of berry jam with a dash of warm water to turn it more saucy. • 2 cups worth of your choice of berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, blueberries etc • 3 sprigs of mint, for garnishing
Method- 1. Bake your pavlova the day before so it has time to dry out and cool. Also so you don’t have to stress out about baking the day of and can just assemble and decorate just before serving! 2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. 3. Place egg whites and lemon juice into a clean mixing bowl and whisk for 5 minutes or until soft peaks form. 4. Gradually add sugar into the mixture until stiff peaks form and the meringue holds its shape when the bowl is turned upside down. 5. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Use a large bowl approx 20cm in diameter and using a pen or pencil, trace around the bowl onto the paper so you have two large circles. This will help you create two even pavlova bases. 6. Using a spatula, divide the mixture into two and place onto the two circles on the tray. 7. Bake in the oven at 140 degrees celsius for at least 1 hour. Then turn off the oven and continue to leave the pavlova in the oven overnight. This process allows the meringue to completely dry out giving you a nice crispy texture. 8. Whip your cream until medium peaks form and the cream maintains its shape when spread. 9. Assemble the pavlova by placing one pavlova base onto a platter, then spread half of the cream over the top, then add a few spoonfuls of jam and one cup of berries. Repeat with the second base, the rest of the cream, jam and berries. 10. Garnish with optional mint leaves. 11. Serve and enjoy immediately!
Gender equality is something you are really passionate about, with women being significantly underrepresented in the food industry, especially in hospitality. Who are some of the amazing women that you have collaborated with and how have you found the experience of women supporting women like this?
I recently collaborated with @gemleslie, founder of @foodforeveryone.aus, not only for my special batch of @chillioiloneverything mentioned above, but also a recipe poster that you can order here, with profits donated to OzHarvest, Second Bite & the ASRC. It has been incredible to connect and work with like minded women to create products and experiences that my audience are equally excited about and get behind. Next year is all about doing more of this!
In terms of the hospitality industry, I couldn’t agree more, women are significantly under-represented in the hospitality industry and especially in senior positions such as head chef, sommelier and restaurateur. So when it comes to dining out, I love supporting female owned or run businesses and help spread the word as much as I can so that they can get the recognition and hopefully, accolades they deserve from the industry. If you want to support them too, I adore Melbourne head chefs like Rosheen Kaul of Etta, Ellie Bouhadana of Hope St Radio and Thi Le of Anchovy and Ca Com Banh Mi Bar.
What Auguste piece do you think you will be wearing this Christmas? Any styling tips?
I’ve fallen in love with the Sheba Birdie Mini Dress in Tan. It’s the softest fabric, such a flattering cut, perfect for summer lunching with some heels, running around town with sneakers or beachy days in sandals.