Get to know: Melissa Palinkas

How did your passion for cooking start and what is your food philosophy?

My passion for food really kicked off when I was 26 and I moved to London on a working holiday visa.  When I returned from travel I was 31 and ready for a great career in cooking.

My food philosophy is based around zero waste and using every part of the plant or animal. We use leaves make a tasty edible garnish, dry peelings to make our own seasoning, and ferment stalks to make condiments for our dishes.

Favourite and least-favourite produce/ingredient to use?

I don’t really have a least favourite; I love a challenge so don’t see anything as a bad ingredient. By far pork is my favourite ingredient as it’s a zero waste animal and a versatile meat to use.

How should a cooking novice make their start?

Get started with a good quality cook’s knife and learn how to use it properly. Make sure you’ve got a good variety of herbs, spices and staples in the pantry, read recipes from start to finish and follow the method correctly. There’s heaps of advice online, so Google is your best friend when you get stuck or don’t understand steps within a recipe.

What’s a cooking hack you can share?

Gee, a cooking hack? One I like is when buying a whole pumpkin, which are now in season, scoop out the seeds with an ice-cream scoop. Dry the seeds and coat them in some olive oil and sea salt, then roast the seeds like you would almonds. It’s perfect for a nice crunchy texture in salads. The best seeds for extra crunchy texture are Japanese pumpkins. 

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

The most common thing I see is not having a sharp enough knife. It drives me insane. You can’t prepare food to a high standard with a blunt knife.

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

The most underrated ingredients I find are pig’s tongue, ears and tails. The tongue is so delicious; it tastes exactly of the animal with no offal flavour at all. Tails and ears braised in a beautiful master stock, crumbed and fried, are also amazing. I do tails de-boned and battered occasionally, diners might be cautious but I encourage them to try it because it’s so delicious.

What are some must-have kitchen gadgets?

A cooking timer, a good crank-handed spatula and a quality set of tongs. Very simple, but you need them. I don’t have any fancy gadgets, apart from the sous vide machine for precision cooking. 

What’s a kitchen trend you’ve noticed these days?

Vegetable-forward menus and sustainability in the kitchen is slowly catching on. There are some real leaders in the game already, such as New Normal in Subiaco. I think it’s going to be the next huge trend and will eventually become the norm. It has to for future generations. 

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

I am not sure really I don’t work in any other kitchens but as a guess I would say leaves, stalks and tips from vegetables that are fully edible as well as. 

We hear a lot about family trade secrets being passed down through the generations, what’s a trademark that you’ll be passing on?

My charcuterie making skills. I grew up with a German grandmother and we ate lots of cured meats and sausage. My mum taught me never to waste a thing and remember where it comes from.

Get the recipe for Melissa’s rendition of a childhood favourite of pork and plum. Catch Melissa in action at the Kleenheat Kitchen at the Perth Garden Festival on Friday 11 April. Get 50% off your tickets with Kleenheat’s special member offer