One whiff of the salon coffee and there’s no doubt that Cath Frost and Guy Roberts, partners in life and in Auckland’s chic K’Road salon Vada, appreciate what tastes great.
Recent winners of the The L’Oreal Salon Team of the Year they share a talent for styling hair and a passion for great food, the latter of which extends back to their childhoods. But while Cath’s a local girl with strong links to Scotland and India, Guy is a Londoner, with family in France and England. Although half a world apart, they both grew up in families with love of cooking and eating – especially curry, of all things.
For Cath, the link goes way back to the 1700s, when the first of several generations, on her father’s side, lived and worked in India. This connection is the source of the fine bone china cups edged in gold we are drinking tea from, the richly toned antique rug at our feet (a gift from Cath’s grandmother, bought from a camel riding travelling salesman) and an impressive filigreed brass opium smoking pipe (just for looks, of course) at my elbow.
Cath remembers, “Every Sunday as children, we made Chapattis for lunch round the table at my Grandmother’s house. They went with curries with sour-hot flavours, not sweet like many we eat in New Zealand. There were also a lot of fiery Madras curries, because my Dad came from Madras and liked them hot. We also ate Lime Kasaundi, which my grandfather made. I make it too (see the recipe below) and even eat it with my favourite weekend food – fresh bread, tasty cheese, olives and vine-ripened tomatoes. It’s really sour and salty”.
The Scottish side of Cath’s family lends an influence to her cooking. “I grew up with things like pork pies and black pudding in my lunch box. At home we made plenty of soup from scratch, starting with a meaty bone, adding barley and lots of vegetables. Like my mum and Nana, I have a big pot on the go most weekends in winter”.
Guy’s palate meanwhile, got off to a kick-start when he was growing up in St. John’s Wood in North West London where his father, who worked in plumbing and heating, was famous amongst their group of friends for his fantastic curries. “He’d often prepare them a week before they were due to be eaten, so the flavour was full and contents tender. He was always quizzing chefs in restaurants for tips and threatened to be the first Englishman to open up a genuine curry house.”
While Dad cooked curries, Guy’s Mum was busy putting together equally rich and delicious concoctions. “I was born and raised on avocados. It was the seventies and my friends would come round and say, “What are those funny things? I ate them with salt and lemon, and later with home-made egg mayonnaise”. He adds with a chuckle, “Mum made me very fat, very young. A big favourite of mine, was kidneys on toast made with Marsala. That also scared my friends, but won my first boss over, when he came for dinner”.
As was the custom in England, the school provided his lunch and, much to my surprise, he describes this as as something else! “One school was vegetarian and all the food was homemade”, he explains. “We had yoghurt with a thick crusty skin on the top, black bread, cottage cheeses, salad items, honey and nuts.
“Another (school I attended) was St. Anthony’s at the top of Hampstead Heath where an Italian cook of the old school, cooked up spaghetti bolognese for our lunch, adding a whole bottle of wine for flavour. She couldn’t stop herself creating the best and didn’t consider it a waste on children. Our parents, on the other hand were not so keen at the thought of their children probably being tipsy at school. I thought it was delicious”.
With such flavoursome backgrounds, it’s understandable that Guy and Cath are culinary enthusiasts, and understandable that they don’t have long to prepare meals, given that both tend to finish late at the salon and arrive home famished. And these days, on top of the long work hours, they also have the demands of planning a wedding.
Yes, after ten years together, Cath and Guy are finally tying the knot next year. The dynamic duo met while working alongside each other as teachers at the Cut Above Academy in Auckland. The romance side of things got off to a slow start – it wasn’t until Guy was about to return to England that they started noticing each other. He went, but the lure of love brought him back here three months later.
When career opportunities took them to different cities, they found they couldn’t be without each other and Vada was born. Three years on, the salon enjoys an extensive and diverse clientele, with the original staff of two increased to ten. They have had much high profile work and also celebrated plenty of industry awards for their creative skills and talent, including Guy winning the title 2001 American Crew hairdresser of the Year and being nominated for Schwarzkopf Hairdresser of the Year.
When it comes to food, the busy couple agree that it also takes a bit of creative thinking to put great tasting dishes together quickly at the end of the working day. But they manage it, none the less. Cath calls their typical weeknight meals ‘a quick fix’ involving minimum preparation, enabling her and Guy to unwind with a glass of wine.
I can see she knows her food, as she promptly explains, “I cook udon noodles, steam some Bok Choy and make a broth with a little soy, fresh grated ginger, crushed garlic and finely sliced onions. I put the udon noodles in a bowl, lay slices of bought cooked chicken on top, pour on the broth and sprinkle over a few pieces of chopped spring onion and voila!”
Not to be outdone, Guy chips in with his speciality - a frittata, put together by sautéing chopped garlic and onion with potato cubes, diced peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, broccoli (whatever vegetables are in the house) in a little hot olive oil. The mixture is topped with beaten eggs, a handful of grated cheese, fresh ground pepper, a splash of cream and cooked a few minutes till the base is firm, then finished off in a hot oven - about 20 minutes from go to whoa.
Together they also concoct dishes like a delicious rare beef or lamb salad (recipe below), but when time permits, they opt for the heady pleasure of slow simmered food, like hearty soups, casseroles, hot pots and all manner of curries.
It’s easy to see they eat well. Even their fluffy black and white cat, Oscar, gets in on the action. Obviously a smart cat, he prefers to eat he prefers to eat what Cath eats and shares her glass of warm milk in the evenings before curling up to sleep in their stylish inner-city terraced house.
Also at home are a healthy pile of cookbooks sits on the side table. I discovered the favourite is Nigel Slater’s Appetite, Which they describe as flexible like their own cooking style. This is also one of the reasons they enjoy Donna Hay’s cookbook.
There’s a substantial collection of music too. One whole wall is devoted to vinyl LP’s another to a vast carved cabinet filled with CD’s, testimony to the fact Guy also DJ’s at clubs and on George FM. Perhaps rubbing shoulders with rock legend Mick Jagger early on fuelled this passion. Jagger was dating the Robert’s next-door neighbour Marsha Hunt, star of musical ‘Hair’. Their daughter Carris Jagger and Guy spent lots of time in each other’s flats (there’s even a photo of the two tots together in the bath). Celebes like Sting and Boy George were also visitors.
Maybe it’s partly because of their multi-national heritage, but international cuisine and travel seem to have greatly influenced and inspired Guy and Cath’s tastebuds and cooking styles. Pleasurable that is, except for one six-week stint in Thailand, when he ate with the local hill tribes and became very ill. He was sent to the resident witch doctor for a cure ‘to expel the demons’. This involved arranging his body in various contortionist poses followed by washing the witch doctor’s hands to get rid of the evil spirits. No joke in his dire state, but Guy’s demonstration was very funny and after we stopped laughing, I asked the obvious. Was it successful?
His answer is an unequivocal, “No, it wasn’t”. But he’s quick to add, “I did recover and it hasn’t put me off”. Inf act, it has, ironically fuelled in him a love of Laos style Thai cuisine using lemongrass, limes, kaffer leaves and coriander
The couple also travel to Lotte Caronne in southwest France, where they stay with Guy’s Dad and his step-mum Sandra, at their 15th century French stone cottage (restored by his Dad) with an attached ‘pigeonairy’ converted into guest accommodation. The property has fig trees that fruit heavily, which Sandra turns into tangy chutneys to eat with lamb and add to duck casseroles. Everything they eat is fresh, either grown in the garden or purchased daily from the local markets.
This is something they try to do here. Cath says, “We like things made from scratch, using really fresh ingredients and try to buy organic”.
Being a vegetarian for a time, also influenced Cath’s cooking. She recalls creating huge vegetarian banquets for her family and providing them with colourful sheets to wear as saris. She still makes delicious dhal, vegetable curries and samosas, although she longer has the time to soak beans and pulses or make Panne (Indian Cheese) from scratch.
Today guests will more likely be served creamy risottos or caramelized onion tarts for lunch with a big crisp salad or at night, it might be baked fish, chicken parcels or little lamb shank pies with ‘stomp’. Stop right there. What is stomp? Guy describes it as roughly mashed potatoes, carrot, celery and onion, served with gravy. They’ll also put together vegetable kebabs combining yams, peppers, garlic or fish in cubes with vine tomatoes brushed with olive oil and served with a tangy yoghurt coriander dressing. Dessert is often little coffee cups filled with velvety chocolate mousse.
I can’t help but think that Oscar struck it lucky when he hooked up with these two.
Cath’s Lime Kasaundi
This is a very old family recipe, handed down through generations, for an Indian-style pickle or chutney
6 lemons or 10 limes roughly chopped
Place in china or glass bowl (not metal) sprinkle with about ½ cup salt. Leave covered 3 days to draw out water. Drain.
2ozs dried ground chilli powder & 2ozs mustard seeds
1 dsrtsp black peppercorns
6gms fresh ginger & 2/3 cloves garlic finely sliced
1 dsrtsp tumeric
4 bay leaves
½ ltre olive oil or vegetable oil & ½ ltre white vinegar
Heat oil, cook ginger and garlic gently for 2mins. Add chilli and mustard seeds and warm through over low heat for about 4mins. Add bay leaves, pepper and tumeric and cook 3 to 5mins until aroma develops then subsides. Cool a little and add drained lemons. Pack in sterile jars, leave a finger width gap at top and fill space with vinegar. Put lid on and leave a month. Store in cool dark place. Will keep at least 6 months.
Guy’s Rare Beef Salad
This is a quick quick and tasty recipe that Guy has evolved over the years. Serves 2
500gms piece eye fillet
Fresh rocket and/or mixed salad greens – a supermarket pack
10 cherry tomatoes
10 green beans
1 red onion sliced
clove of chopped garlic
1 red pepper sliced
Bunch fresh coriander and fresh mint
2 tsp dry coriander
1 tbl each black peppercorns & sea salt
olive oil & vegetable oil
Process peppercorns, sea salt, dried coriander and garlic to coarse grind. Press mixture into meat that has been rubbed with olive oil. Sear quickly all over. Place in pre-heated oven at 180 degrees about 15 mins. Should be medium rate. Remove from oven and wrap in foil. Prepare rocket and salad leaves and put on platter. Scatter over halved cherry tomatoes and red onions rings. Heat vegetable oil, add garlic and cook lightly, add red pepper and beans stir-fry till just soft. Add to salad platter with finely sliced beef. Toss through chopped coriander and mint, pour over dressing (see recipe below) and mix lightly.
For the dressing,
Mix together mix together thoroughly, juice of one lemon, ½ cup olive oil, pinch of chilli flakes or ½ chopped fresh chilli, S & P to taste, dash sesame oil.
©2004 Linda Donald
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Appeared in Food + Wine Lifestyle
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