With a background in fashion design and a life full of food and travel, Stephanie Conley knows a thing or two about throwing an elaborate and decorative dining experience.
Having spent a lot of her time in creative institutions – she previously ran her own personal (and successful) fashion label, and studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu cookery school – the hostess with the mostest (quite literally) has her fingers in many different pies.
In 2008, she decided to take the plunge and turn her hand from stylish fashionista to all-round culinary whizz with the launch of her online blog, The Hostess.
Packed full of deliciously healthy, easy-to-make recipes, her blog is a one-stop-shop of drinking, dining and entertaining, deeply rooted in European cultural traditions – budding chefs out there, this is one food blog to add to your bookmark list.
And now with one delectably delicious cookbook under her belt, (At Home with The Hostess, which is available to buy for $45) we paid the kitchen goddess a visit at her Darling Point home, to talk about her love of fashion and food, her go-to neighbourhood haunts, and to get the lowdown on how to be the perfect dinner party host.
Q&A with Stephanie
What sparked your interest in cooking?
I was always interested in cooking even in high school when I would make all my friends toasted sandwiches after school. Travel has been a huge influence on my cooking and the influence of the Mediterranean diet.
Why the change from fashion to food?
I love being creative and making things with my hands so food is another form of this expression for me. I finished my label over ten years ago now and I transitioned into food very naturally as it was already a big part of my life.
Let’s talk about your blog ‘The Hostess’
I first started the hostess eight years ago after a friend set up a wordpress account for me. It was very basic in the beginning with home style snaps of food I had cooked for dinner or lunch.
Where do you go to for inspiration?
Travel is the ultimate food inspiration; Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food has influenced me the most throughout my travels. I also used to live in Rome, which has helped to develop my own unique cooking style. The Italians certainly know their stuff when it comes to cooking!
I love the Italian way of life. I shop daily (which is a very Italian) and I love fresh market produce. We eat well every night, which I think is very much influenced by my time in Italy – people have great respect for what they eat and how it is prepared; food is cooked with love and passion.
Tell us your tips for hosting an impromptu dinner party?
Choose a dish to feed a crowd in one pot that you know how to cook well, and don’t overthink it; simple is best.
How do you create a unique dining experience?
Have a drink station set up so your guests can help themselves to wine and cocktails. Beautiful glassware always adds to a luxurious feeling – make sure you have lots of ice.
Choose a desert you can prepare the day before and being organized with your pre-prep will help so you can enjoy your guests company.
I always love to have a food item that has a feeling of indulgence, this could be oysters, caviar, truffles or a dark chocolate tart but something where guests go “ooooooooh”.
What is your go-to dinner party dish?
I love to cook Paella; it adds a bit of theatre when hosting friends. And for desert, my all-time favourite is crème brûlée. You can make it the day before, then torch the sugar at the table in front of your friends! Beyond impressive.
Summer I lean towards lighter and fresher options and during winter, I tend to make heavier and richer dishes. Summer: sauté mussels and clams; ricotta roast chicken with a green bean and feta salad; then pavlova for something sweet. Winter is all about ricotta stuffed mushrooms; fillet of beef with a salsa verde; eggplant parmigiana; and an indulgently rich tiramisu.
How do you juggle entertaining now you have children?
I don’t think my style has changed but I have different needs, I entertain in a more casual way now that I have children. I need my spaces to be functional but still look beautiful. I actually did the design work for my own home, and hopefully I've encompassed both. It was a great project and I loved finding all the fabrics and furniture and bringing it all together. I wanted the house to have a feeling of casual glamour and I think I achieved that.
Where do you eat out in Sydney?
Finish this sentence… The first thing I do when I get home is…
Which suburb do you live in?
Favourite local restaurants?
Where do you shop for tableware and homewares?
The Bay Tree in Woollahra is great.
Where do you shop for food and wine?
Growers Market at Moore Park, Fratelli Fresh, Simon Johnson, Gourmet Life.
Where do you go to unwind?
My terrace with a glass of Italian pinot grigio.