What Katie Said
If ever there were an emblematic princess to represent the fairy tale of ‘corporate workhorse turned blogger extraordinaire’, it would be Katie Quinn Davies. The in-demand lenswoman’s ethereally rustic approach to food styling and sunny Sydney personality made What Katie Ate a James Beard-awarded springboard for two cookbooks worth their weight in gold, and gigs with the likes of Food + Wine, Martha Stewart Living and Kitchen Aid (just to name a few). We caught up with the flaxen haired Irish-born lass to gush over her unassailable eye and talk about her passion for skate culture, Noel Gallagher and why chasing down your creative calling is always a worthwhile pursuit.
How to blaze your own trail
After a few years of soul searching, I realized I just hadn’t found my ‘true creative calling’. So in 2009, I left my full-time art director role and decided to give myself a year to learn the skills needed to develop a food photography portfolio. I looked everywhere for professional food styling courses in Melbourne or Sydney and when I couldn’t find any, I decided to bite the bullet and teach myself. I’d buy ingredients the night before and get up early each morning to practice styling the food items that I had read were somewhat difficult to master – burgers, sandwiches, lasagna, ice cream and so on. I gave them all a shot (and failed a lot!) but I persevered and gradually, I got better. I really do believe that it’s only through failing that you learn your craft and hone your style.
Something in the water
The perfect Sydney day for me is getting out onto the water. Or at least being near the water and enjoying great food and wine. I love to get up early and head out to Manly on the ferry – the vibe is fantastic. I watch the surfers do their thing and then head to a nice lunch. The Pantry is one of my fave spots. There is a great menu, lovely staff and incredible views – it’s based right on the beach.
The regular’s guide to Sydney F&B
My favorite Sydney restaurant is Bambini Trust. The Daniel San rooftop, Frankie’s, The Baxter Inn, The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar on the water, Surly’s burgers in Darlinghurst and Vasco bar are all favorites on repeat.
On the Aussie food revolution
I think it has a lot to do with the multi-cultural society here. We have such a mix of people living in Australia from all over the world. There is a huge Asian population, and that has a massive influence on the food scene. Aussie/Asian fusion cuisine offers great texture, flavor combinations and variety. The artisan food producers are SO passionate about what they do. The quality of food is outstanding and I think it makes people very open to trying new things and supporting local food producers – cheesemakers, winemakers, small butchers. There are great food fairs and markets here all the time, especially in the summer months. People love to get up and out on the weekend to snap up loads of amazing produce at their local organic market and then cook for family and friends at BBQ’s and get-togethers.
Surf cowboys have the best taste
I tend to spend most of my disposable income on things totally unrelated to food. I am really into surfing and skateboarding memorabilia. I often check out Surfing Cowboys in Venice Beach to see what vintage skateboards they have as I have a small collection of them. They ship to Australia which is lucky for me!
Decor splurges should stir the soul
I live in a little white 2-bedroom clapboard cottage in a very village-like neighborhood called Rozelle. My house is all white, including the floorboards, so I like to inject color through furnishings, cushions, books, framed photos and pictures, and vintage boxes. I adore surf culture as well as typography, so a lot of my prints are type-based. I am really into music and recently splurged on two huge original photo prints from photographer Scarlet Page (the daughter of Jimmy Page). I was at her London book party for Resonators and purchased photos of two of my music heroes: Noel Gallagher and Paul Weller. They were shipped over to Sydney and they now have pride of place in my sitting room and office.
The eye has to travel (and so must the belly!)
I get most of my inspiration for cooking and recipe writing via traveling either for my photo work or for personal leisure. I love trying new dishes and getting inspired by them. If I eat something that really impresses me, I tend to try to reproduce it back home. I’ll guess what ingredients were in it and add my own twists, sometimes combining 1 or 2 different recipes to create a whole new one.
Contributing photography credit: Jennifer Soo/Sunday Life
Shutterbugs down under
I think Sydney produces some of the best food photographers in the world. Aussie food stylists and photographers changed the way that food is being shot. The style is very rustic, loose and shot mostly in natural light. Donna Hay was a driving force behind changing the way food is represented, which she introduced back in her days at Marie Claire magazine.
Catching the healthy eating wave
Sydney has probably made me a much healthier cook! You can only buy fruits and vegetables here when they are naturally available so you have to learn to cook with the seasons. I have been introduced to a plethora of healthier beans and grains which I now incorporate a lot more. I am lucky to live right near an excellent organic supermarket, which inspires healthy ideas for weeknight meals.
Sydneysider for life
I adore the lifestyle here. Sydney is a very outdoorsy place due to the wonderful weather we get for most of the year. It can get cold, but generally, you can be walking around in a t-shirt and shorts by 12pm on a winter’s day. I love having lunch with friends on the harbor. I never get tired of seeing the glorious Harbour Bridge or the Opera House and each time I see them, I still pinch myself at how lucky I am to live here.
Like real life only better
My look evolved quite naturally as I taught myself to style food. Initially, I mimicked the style of other food stylists in Sydney and abroad. Their styles were quite restrained though, so I started to get a lot looser with the food and developed a more natural, rustic style. My hero prop style is probably influenced by my Irish heritage: layered, textured fabrics, hand-thrown, organic-style ceramics and a very casual approach to plating. I want each scene to look real and attainable, and to make people want to dive right in.
Food, wine and the great outdoors
Sydney entertaining is all about the outdoor lifestyle for me. I tend to throw more cookouts and outdoor entertaining events, especially in the warmer months. I just love spoiling people who are dear to me with really good food and wine. I like to make people feel really at home and give them a really nice, relaxed evening filled with good food, wine and conversation.
Just add roses, cheddar and a little Rage Against the Machine
I love Barossa Valley reds, especially Shiraz or a good Amarone – they also produce amazing Rieslings. I prefer to serve cheeses as a savory dessert course, so I’ll always ensure there’s a great sharp, crumbly, cloth-bound English cheddar in the mix, along with a creamy Irish one I love called ‘Cashel Blue’, and a delicious oozy Brie.
I like to describe my taste in flowers as “English Country Garden” – very pretty, soft and romantic. I love all-white arrangements of hydrangeas, peonies, jasmine or David Austin roses.
Music is always on at my house, and I normally make a new playlist for each dinner party. I’ll take my friends’ tastes into account so I can work their favorite music into the mix. By 2 AM, we are usually dancing around the sitting room to Queen, Rage Against the Machine, or Oasis!
Have camera, will travel
Italy, the U.S., Japan and the U.K. (especially The Cotswolds) are my favorite places to travel. I would love to get to South America and Istanbul at some stage – I think the photo opportunities would be incredible!
Try Katie’s Favorite Appetizer…
“I love a good crostini as a starter, or as a nibble for people over pre-dinner drinks!”
Fresh Prawn Crostini
Courtesy of Katie Quinn Davies
- 1/2 cup frozen baby peas
- Pinch sugar
- 1 tablespoon capers, drained and rinsed well
- 8 green, mild olives
- 2/3 cup smooth and creamy goat cheese
- 1 tablespoon sour cream
- 1/2 teaspoon, finely chopped parsley
- Juice of half a small lemon
- 1.5 pounds cooked prawns/shrimp ~ peeled, cleaned and deveined
- 1 white, crusty baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
- Lemon-flavored olive oil to serve (I use this brand ~ their lemon oil is excellent)
- Lemon zest (grated on a super-fine microplane) to garnish
- Handful watercress to garnish
Fill a small bowl with cold water and add a handful of ice cubes. Set aside near the sink along with a strainer.
Bring a small pot of water to the boil over high heat, add a pinch of sugar then add the frozen peas, cook for 2 minutes, then drain and plunge the peas into the iced water. Allow to sit in the water to cool completely, then drain again and set aside.
Into a mixing bowl, add the goat cheese and sour cream, stir to combine until smooth and fully lump free ~ this can take a little while as the two textures will be quite different initially.
Remove olive pit and chop very finely along with the rinsed capers. Add to the goat cheese along with the parsley and a good seasoning of freshly ground black pepper.
Lightly toast the slices of bread and rub each one with the cut garlic clove.
To assemble: spread goat’s cheese paste onto each slice of toasted bread, top with a few baby peas (you can very lightly press the peas into the paste to stop them rolling off), 2 prawns, a drizzle of lemon oil and a small sprinkling of lemon zest. Season with a final grind of black pepper.
Makes 10-12 depending on size of prawns/shrimp.