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Food Philosophy with Chris Howard from The Humble Onion

Showcasing local and sustainably sourced WA produce is what The Humble Onion, is all about. Chris Howard, chef and co-owner, prides himself on celebrating simple ingredients with homemade focaccia, pastries, pickles, bacon and house-smoked sausage. It’s the kind of comfort food that’s fun and heart-warming – perfect for city grub.

Passion and philosophy

How did your passion for cooking start?

My passion for cooking began with my love for eating. I’ve always been a big eater, so it made sense to learn how to cook for myself!

What is your food philosophy?

My philosophy has many layers! But fundamentally, I believe that there are no bad ingredients, only bad executions, and food should be ‘simple’, not ‘basic’. That’s us in a nutshell, well, onion shell. It means that everything has an intrinsic value and can be a ‘hero’ of a dish. We’re not out to reinvent the wheel or try to make food people find massively confronting; it’s just about giving everything its day in the sun.

What inspires you?

Me yesterday vs me tomorrow. All I try to use as my focus and benchmark are questions about whether I am happy with my progress, ideas, or execution. If you’re constantly looking to others for your inspiration, you will never challenge yourself.

Cooking

What is your best and least favourite produce or ingredient to use?

My most favourite is a tie between chicken, rice and eggs. My least is that I’m not a big fan of blue cheese or filleting sardines.

What’s a simple cooking hack?

Butter.

What’s the most common mistake you see in the kitchen?

A lack of acid and texture is generally the downfall of most underwhelming dishes. So many people think of seasoning as using only salt, but it also includes fat, texture, acid, bitterness, sourness. There are so many ways to tweak a dish and turn something unimpressive into a memorable mouthful.

What underrated produce or ingredient would you like to see more people use?

I’d like to see more people thinking freely about produce and ingredients rather than following trends or looking over their neighbour’s fence for menu tips. Heading into winter, though, I should talk up brussels sprouts and cabbage. I love the brassicas.

What do you see being discarded from produce that really should be used?

Everything can be used if you want to. It is not about holding some moralistic high ground over people or trying to impress your value hierarchy on others.

I try to use everything I possibly can to make delicious food, but as soon as that appeal or feeling is taken away and becomes tokenistic, I lose interest.

Rendering tallows and making gels from bones or garums from scraps is wonderful; beetroot leaf puree or cauliflower stalk soup probably won’t be on my menu.

What do you love about Western Australian produce?

We have some of the best produce in the world! WA’s Great Southern has one of the most unique microclimates I’ve ever experienced – marron and truffles alone are worth the travel here!

About The Humble Onion

Celebrating humble ingredients over extravagance, Chris has forged a career based on honouring sustainable and ethically sourced produce prepared with care.

From his early days at The Greenhouse under Matt Stone to stints at El Public, Cantina 663, Saffire Freycinet and The Town Mouse, Chris has headed up the kitchens at Panama Social and North Bird Dining Room before opening his first café.

The Humble Onion is a love letter to Howard’s childhood and his memories of his Nan’s pork pies and Sunday roasts – simple food cooked well that sparked his love of cooking as a young boy.


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