Undressed by Zoe Cuthberston

It's always been a dream to mix my 3 loves together; fashion, food and art. So, we have teamed up with our dear friend Zoe from Undressed Tablescapes to deliver you delicious, seasonal food and beverage recipes that will taste as good as a margarita on a hot day. Firstly, we want you to get to know Zoe – you'll fall in love with her, we did (and her food). 

Where did your love for cooking originate?

As a child I’d pretend to host my own cooking show – talking to ‘camera’, and measuring ingredients out in individual bowls like I’d seen on television – to my mum’s horror, hah! Mum also tells me I was very discerning about the restaurants we visited, which sounds terribly spoiled, but I guess I just knew what I wanted (and what I wanted to eat!) from a very young age.

What inspires your recipes?

Quite simply, I cook the food I love to eat. Food brings me endless joy; therefore you could say my recipes are led by emotion. There’s nothing more grounding than heating a serving of soup I had the foresight to stash in the freezer for wobbly days, just as I love the reward of preparing a huge feast for friends, shared over a languorous summers evening. To me, following, reading, sharing, and creating recipes is a love language – a way of nourishing yourself and others.

Tell us about Undressed – more importantly, where did your name come from?

Undressed is a culmination of my two great loves – the way food looks, and the way it tastes. This has led me to specialise in tablescaping, catering, and recipe development. My focus is vegetarian cuisine, with the hope that others may also appreciate and enjoy the abundance of nature through my cooking. To me, food is about rejoicing, not restricting, and the Undressed table is designed so that everyone is nourished.

Eventually, I would love to develop a line of sauces & salad dressings, which is what originally inspired the name – products ‘stripped’ of extraneous ingredients or additives and full of natural, flavourful combinations to reveal a new era for condiments. It’s also a little play on the depressing trend of ordering salads with ‘dressing on the side’ – I never want anything, or anyone to be left out!

We adore your tablescapes, any tips for when creating our own at home?

Thank you! The Undressed ethos can also be applied to dressing the table. As Coco Chanel said, “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”. Keep this in mind for your next tablescape, it doesn’t need to be perfectly matching or symmetrical – don’t hesitate to take something away; I believe this can result in perfect alchemy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love abundance, but don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune every time guests come around. Cut citrus, spear the pointy end with an apple corer and you have perfect candle holders, fabric odds and ends make the most darling napkins – and retro is definitely having a resurgence, so your local op shop is a haven for table styling – think doilies, silverware and coloured glass.

Favourite cookbook?

This is like making me choose a favourite child... but if I had to, I’d say Anna Jones’ books. Her book, A Modern Way to Eat is brilliant for those wanting to venture into more veg-leaning cooking, and One Pot, Pan, Planet is a wonderful guide to sustainable and convenient cooking. I also adore Alison Roman and Karen Mordechai (Sunday Suppers) cookbooks – the photography and styling in both is a huge source of inspiration to me.

Please share some tips that will help fit cooking into a busy lifestyle.

Buy Anna Jones book (above!) and while it might not be for everyone – plan, plan, plan! One of my favourite weekend pastimes is to drag a pile of cookbooks to bed with cup of tea and find inspiration for the week’s meals. Write your shopping list from under the covers, and half the work is done!

Having a pantry stocked with ingredients you use time and time again is also helpful, that way you’ll gravitate towards recipes where you already have most of the staple ingredients. This is also more economical and helps to eliminate waste. I’ve put this theory to the test while developing my recipes for VAHST Store – the Minestrone Soup, for example, calls for a bunch of carrots and I’ve repurposed their green tops into a zingy pesto, likewise the brine from a tin of chickpeas (used for Baked Sweet Potatoes & Masala Chickpeas) goes straight into frothy Pear & Rhubarb Gin Sours.

Which leads me perfectly to the next question...

Do you have any game-changers for us when shopping for ingredients?

My game-changer pantry staples are: maple syrup, tamari, apple cider vinegar, tahini, good quality olive oil, proper sea salt, passata, tinned tomatoes and legumes, soba noodles, tempeh, nori sheets, and miso. I’ll also stock up on bulk items somewhere like The Source, and for me these are; oats, buckwheat, dates, almonds, cashews, seeds, shredded coconut, brown rice, and don’t forget to buy yourself a snack while you’re there – my favourite is dried mango!

I’m also obsessed with these spice blends from Oasis, a Middle Eastern grocer that my friend Kat got me onto, you can order them online.

Finally, your local farmers markets are abundant with fresh produce - you don’t even have to worry about shopping seasonally, they do it for you! I love fresh greens such as kale, hardy veggies like cauliflower and eggplant, citrus, all the herbs, rye bread, fresh eggs, butter, yoghurt and cheese, like feta or parmesan.

With these ingredients I guarantee you can make hundreds of delicious, easy meals at home.

You're hosting an outdoor dinner party, you can invite 5 guests, who is sitting around your table?

I’ve waited my whole life to be asked this question! It doesn’t specify dead or alive, so I’ve taken some liberties and revived a few guests from beyond...

Nora Ephron – a woman whose take on 2022 I’d love to hear.

Julia Child – for her voice alone.

Stanley Tucci – for his voice alone.

Raven Smith – for his searing wit, and the fact he can knock back a martini or two.

Dolly Alderton – writer of my favourite book, host of my favourite podcast, director of my favourite television show - and muse to a whole generation of women, myself included.

What’s your one absolute weak spot for food, this could be a cuisine, dish or particular restaurant.

My mum’s cooking.

What's next for Undressed?

What started as meal ideas for my friends during lockdown, Undressed has blossomed into something more wonderful than I ever could have imagined! I’d love to continue writing recipes – I just find the idea that somewhere, someone on the other side of the world could be eating the same meal as you the most comforting concept. I hope that my food continues to connect people, and places too – I’m going to be spending a bit more time in Melbourne to be closer to family, so I’m excited for what unfolds there. As always, what’s next will be about the pleasure of sitting down at the table, knife and fork poised, ready to dig in...