Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. Each feature profiles a woman we admire and we hope each interview inspires you the same way in which these women inspire us.
For our latest edition, we speak to chef Danielle Alvarez who has been at the helm of many incredible restaurants throughout California and Sydney, but most recently, is immersing herself in more creative projects within the industry. Here she shares with us how she moved from working in the arts to becoming a chef, her non-negotiable daily rituals and she generously gifts us a cosy autumn recipe that we suggest you try immediately.
Please share a little bit more about yourself, your upbringing and any defining moments that lead you to where you are today.
I grew up in Miami, Florida in the US. My parents are Cuban immigrants and Miami has a huge immigrant and Latin population so it was very diverse when I was growing up. We grew up going to beaches and spending time out on the ocean and spending lots of time together as a family. I am very lucky. Food was a big part of my childhood and I grew up watching the women in my family cook, most notably my mom who worked but managed to make dinner every night. My mother, being the excellent host that she was, always hosted all holidays and family gatherings at home. I would help her iron napkins, prep the food and set the table, I was basically her apprentice. My favourite part though, was watching everyone enjoying her food and hospitality. There was always space at her table for one more and she just knew how to host a party. Now I think back and watching her do this was probably the reason I wanted to get into food.
You studied art history in Florida, worked within the arts then switched to culinary school, was there a moment that you knew you wanted to cook as your profession?
I think the moment I knew was a few years into working in the arts. I worked at a gallery, in a museum and at a not-for-profit which sold commissioned art for charity. I would spend my weekends baking pastries and selling them to friends for their gatherings or work parties. I'm sure none of it was great but it was home made and I couldn’t think about anything else during the week. I loved making something with my hands that I could then sell. Before I got too invested in the art world I enrolled in culinary school, later moving to California to begin my cooking career and never looked back.
"I’ve certainly learned that you can’t let humility get in the way of visibility because it's the only way to make significant change and empower others."
Talk us through the move to Australia…
I had spent eight years cooking and working in the San Francisco bay area cooking at some of the world's top restaurants. I was, however, ready for a change of scenery by that point and decided I would move back to Miami for a bit and figure it out. As my reward for finishing up my time in California, I booked a solo trip to Sydney. Australia seemed so far away but I had friends here so I knew that if I didn't want to spend the whole trip alone, I would have friends around. I went to the beach during the day and went to restaurants by myself at night. It was February so a truly beautiful time of year in Sydney and I completely fell in love with the city and the food scene. Before getting on the plane to go back to the US I shot off an email to an Australian friend in New York, who seemingly knows everyone and is a great connector of people, and told him about my burgeoning love of the place. I let him know that if he heard of any good jobs, to let me know. By the time I landed home in Miami, he had responded with an opportunity with the Merivale group. “Merivale who?” I had no idea. But I quickly found out. Maybe two months later I was back in Sydney cooking for Justin Hemmes, the then CEO and the food & beverage director. We all completely connected and formed the idea for Fred’s that very night. I went back home, packed everything up and moved to Australia a couple of months after that.
As the former head chef of the aforementioned Fred’s, how does your day to day now differ and what inspired the change?
It's completely different. I would have normally woken up to messages from suppliers letting us know they were out of (insert any food item) from the previous night's order and to please call them. I would then read the reports from the day before and perhaps do a bit of menu writing and tweaking based on what I knew we had or what was coming in from farms. Then, I might exercise, or not if I had to get the restaurant straight away, and then start work in the venue, usually finishing up around 10 or 11pm. It really was relentless from the moment I opened my eyes. Which I realise, I did for so long because I love it. I loved Freds, I loved my team and I loved cooking together and creating something beautiful for people to enjoy every night. But for me, the schedule was not sustainable. I felt like I had no more fresh ideas, every day felt like I was putting out some sort of fire rather than doing the thing I loved and truly, I was just exhausted and burnt out.
Now my day starts with a walk in the park with my puppy, some meditation, exercise, reading (probably not all every day) and then it's very diverse. My work now is very dynamic. I may be planning or prepping for an event, I may be testing and writing recipes, I might be working on a book or I might be filming content for a brand partnership. Whatever it is though, it's a slower pace and I control it which has been a life changer. I miss the restaurant for sure, but for now, this suits me just fine and I'm really happy.
We read that while you were at the helm of Fred’s, it was one of only five female-led restaurants to carry two hats by the Good Food Guide. Was this significant for you and in the years since, have you seen any change in leadership within the industry?
I was always very proud to hold those hats but quietly proud. I never wanted my team to feel this was our “raison d’etre” I just wanted everyone to focus on doing the best they could so I never shouted this from the rooftops. However, it is an achievement and it's important that other women see that so that they can picture themselves doing the same or better. I’ve certainly learned that you can’t let humility get in the way of visibility because it's the only way to make significant change and empower others.
I don't know the statistics of women in leadership roles in hospitality but I have seen alot of incredible women come up in the last 9 years since I've lived here. I think the industry is at a really crucial place. I would have said keeping women in the industry is a problem we need to tackle but now I think it's keeping men and women in the industry and convincing young people that it is a great career with alot of potential. I'm a case in point. Although I think my departure from restaurants is temporary, I think we are still asking too much of people and unfortunately restaurant margins are so thin, there is not alot of room for flexibility in working hours. It's getting better but restaurants are extremely high pressure and I don't have the answers for how we fix this.
"I love that everything I have from Marle feels like a wardrobe staple. Although I may follow some trends, I much prefer things that I can wear multiple times."
What is your favourite part of your process?
I love to create. I learn by doing, so for every recipe I write or dish I create, I've dreamt and written several more. Many times, it doesn’t work, but when I make something really good and I get to feed it to someone or I write a great recipe and someone cooks it and loves it, there is simply no greater feeling in my work.
Do you have any special routines or rituals each day?
Walking my dog as soon as I wake up in the morning has been amazing (we got him right after I left the restaurant). I don't always leap out of bed with joy at that early hour but getting light in my eyes and moving my body as the first thing I do, rather than reaching for my phone, is a wonderful part of my routine. I mentioned meditation already but I do really believe in its powers and I am by no means an expert. I’m new on the journey but it has helped tremendously with my anxiety. I love to burn some Astier de Villatte while I meditate for a truly calming experience. I also exercise most days (I follow Tracy Anderson) and I really love her program because I can do it from home, it's challenging, it changes every week and even though it has helped with strength and mobility as I age, it's the mental benefit I get from it that keeps me hooked. All of these things feed me internally and as for the external, I’m very low maintenance. I’ve used the same facial cleanser and moisturiser for the past 10 years from Guinot and I use them morning and night.
Your cooking style leans towards farm-to-table, what is it about this approach you love so much?
The obvious answer is that it tastes better. The fresher something is, the better your cooking will be. Especially if it is grown by a local grower who might grow a more interesting variety or something grown for flavour as opposed to appearance. I guess this is my theme, I'm more interested in how something tastes, versus what it looks like. I'm more interested in what's on the inside than what's on the outside. I also love to champion small local growers who are growing sustainably. It's better for the soil and therefore it's better for us.
The word “effortless” also comes to mind. Farm-to-table food is not effortless as anyone who cooks this way can confirm but it can feel “effortless” and “natural”. I like my food to embody that sort of perfectly imperfect characteristic which we see in nature. I love how a twisted carrot, a gnarly tomato or a bent asparagus may be one of the best things you’ve eaten.
Marle is designed to add effortless ease to a woman’s wardrobe, how does wearing Marle make you feel?
I love that everything I have from Marle feels like a wardrobe staple. Although I may follow some trends, I much prefer things that I can wear multiple times. As you can see by what I've said here, I just don’t have the patience to spend alot of time shopping or picking out outfits. I know the pieces I have from Marle I will wear again and again because the silhouettes are classic, effortless, comfortable and of great quality.
As we transition into autumn, what will you be cooking more of?
Autumn and winter for me are for cosiness and there is nothing more cosy than a soup on a cool day. I probably have soup for dinner on most days during those seasons. One of my favourites is a roasted tomato soup which is excellent to make with fresh late season tomatoes or with tinned tomatoes throughout winter.
What is your most treasured object and why?
A bracelet my mom gave to me which she had made from an old watch of my grandmothers. She added a diamond from a pair of earrings of hers to it. It's like having both of them with me when I wear it.
Favourite meal to make?
Handmade pasta. I absolutely love the process and I learn something every time. I feel a great connection to Italy and to the great nonnas that teach us so much.
Favourite meal to eat?
Handmade pasta! Ha! Or anything my mom makes. Nothing like going home and being cooked for by my mom.
Favourite thing to wear?
Summer: Bronzed skin, a bathing suit and my Marle sun hat.
Every other season: My Marle stone washed silk top and pants set. It's like wearing the most gorgeous pajamas but still feeling put together, comfortable and relaxed.
Your non-negotiable daily rituals?
Walking my dog and cooking at least one meal.
Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter?
Autumn/winter- I love cosiness.
Pasta e Fagioli
A classic warming soup for cozy cold days.
500g fresh borlotti beans (yielding 1.5 cups of beans)*
2 + 1 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 head garlic, split through the center
½ small onion
1 stalk celery
1 sprig rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 rind parmiggiano Reggiano
250g cherry tomatoes
1 cup short dried pasta (tubbettini or conchigliette or cavatelli)
Handful of fresh sage leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
*If you can't find fresh borlotti beans you can swap for 1 cup of dried borlotti beans, soaked in cold water overnight. The soaked beans will need to simmer for twice the time as fresh beans and will require an extra 300-500ml of water.
Preheat your oven to 220C.
Combine the beans (out of the pods) in a pot with the water, salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, rosemary and rind of parmiggiano Reggiano. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer on low for 40-50 minutes until the bean is completely tender throughout.
While the beans cook, place the cherry tomatoes on a parchment paper lined sheet tray and drizzle them with 2 tsp. olive oil. Roast them in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the skins burst and begin to brown. Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, pull the skins off the tomatoes and discard the skins.
Remove the herbs and vegetables from the pot of beans and discard them. Add the tomatoes and the pasta to the beans and bring to a vigorous simmer over medium/high heat. Simmer until the pasta is cooked. Add a little water as needed to keep the mix the consistency of a thick soup. Adjust the flavour with salt and black pepper.
Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a small sautee pan set over medium heat and sizzle the sage leaves in the oil for 10-20 seconds. Pour all of this into the bean pot and stir to combine.
- Divide into bowls and top with freshly grated parmiggiano reggiano, black pepper and extra virgin olive oil.