Food News

Emma Knowles on Eating Clean

GT’s food and style director chats about working on our first-ever Clean Eating issue, and her biggest chocolate weakness.

Food and Style director Emma Knowles

What does a typical day look like for you?

There really isn’t a typical day for me, it can be incredibly varied. If I’m testing recipes, the day will involve shopping for ingredients, some time at the computer drafting recipes and the rest of the time cooking while taking notes of any timings or tweaks. Other days involve sourcing props for photo shoots – visiting shops and props houses to pull together the magical bits and pieces that make our photo shoots so beautiful. Then there are shoot days. If we’re shooting my recipes, I’ll be working with one of our props stylists and I’ll be cooking and plating the food, otherwise I’ll be styling the props and working with a food assistant. Regardless of the exact format, it always means working with our fantastic photographers and lots of collaboration and plenty of fun (as well as the odd moment of stress and pressure!). 

How did you find working on GT‘s Clean Eating issue – was it a challenge?

Working on the Clean Eating issue was super interesting. A lot of [the recipes are similar to] how we eat at home (and also quite similar to the dishes I create for [my restaurant] Ruby’s Diner), but it pushed me in a lot of ways too – mainly the sweet dishes. The gluten-free, refined sugar-free approach isn’t my natural playground, but it was an eye-opener for me, a bit of a challenge and in the end I was really happy with the recipes. It’s always good to have your views challenged and to be pushed out of your comfort zone. I think the greatest success of the issue is that it’s super-healthy food, but approached through a GT viewfinder, with the ultimate focus always on flavour.

The cover of GT’s Clean Eating issue.

How does cooking and styling food all day affect the way you eat and cook at home?

It means we’re always eating different things, depending on what recipes I’m developing. Strangely, it can often mean we’re eating out-of-season stuff or things that may not suit the weather at the time, as we develop recipes three to four months ahead of publishing them. For example, when it’s still hot in February and March, I’ll more than likely be testing (and therefore eating) recipes that are for the middle of winter, or we’ll be eating Christmas dishes in August or September. It can be a little discombobulating!

Sydney’s Ruby’s Diner, which you co-own with your husband, Ed, was one of the first cafes to put a breakfast salad on the menu. How did that come about?

I’m not sure if we invented it, but we were definitely one of the first! It came about in the usual way when we start talking about dishes at Ruby’s Diner. Ed’s really into the health angle and often has ideas about things he’d like on the menu. I’ll then usually be a bit reluctant, as I come from the chef/flavour side of things and I can be a little sceptical, but eventually I’ll get my head around it and come up with something that ticks all the boxes – healthy (or healthy-ish) as well as full of flavour and texture. Because we come at things from different angles, it ends up being a better end result. We’re a good team! 

You have a young daughter, Ruby, whom the restaurant is named after. How does she feel about healthy eating?

Roo is a pretty fussy eater (always has been from the very first solid food I fed her – which she promptly spat out!), but luckily a lot of the things she does like are quite healthy (sushi, salads, fruit, raw vegetables and curries). That said, she has a mega sweet tooth (takes after her mum), so it can be a challenge reining that in. We aim for moderation and try to avoid thinking about food as good/bad. She’s becoming a bit more interested in cooking, too, so that always helps open the conversation about cooking from scratch, fresh ingredients and a balanced approach.

What are the restaurants you particularly love at the moment?

So many! In loose alphabetical order: Aria, Bennelong, Bodega, Chat Thai, ChiswickCirrus, Da Mario, Ester, No 1 Bent Street, Pompei’s Pizza, Porteño, The Apollo, Three Blue Ducks at Rosebery, Vacanza Pizzeria, plus pretty much anything [restaurateur] Andrew McConnell does (although I don’t get to Melbourne often enough). And although it’s not there anymore, I was lucky enough to have several amazing meals at Luke Burgess’ Garagistes in Tasmania. And I haven’t got there yet, but I can’t wait to eat at Fred’s [in Sydney] – we did a shoot with [chef] [Danielle Alvarez]( a couple of years ago now and her food is incredible. 

**What can’t you live without?


Food-wise, it has to be chocolate (and sweet things in general). That said, Iggy’s bread [in Sydney] spread with Pepe Saya butter is pretty special and I love hot chips with chicken salt (shamelessly!). Beautiful cheese is another. 

What has surprised you most about your job?

How much I still love it after all this time! It’s such a privilege to work with such amazing people, on such a beautiful product. It’s endlessly creative and varied, which keeps me engaged and very happy. 

Could you pick three recipes from the GT archive that you make over and over again?

Because I’m always developing recipes, it’s rare I regularly make something again and again (ironically, I barely follow recipes although I spend my life writing them!). But, the current cover recipe – the ultra-green bowl – has been on high rotation since it came into being. When the weather turns cool, I love this one-pot chicken with rice and mushrooms (sometimes I’ll give it an Asian twist and add ginger, spring onion, chilli and sesame). 

I also often go back to the triple chocolate praline tart when I’m after a sugar hit.

Gourmet Traveller’s Clean Eating issue is out now. Subscribe to the magazine at Magshop.

Related stories