Exclusive interview with Jess Daniell of Jess' Underground Kitchen

People with busy lives and over committed schedules flock to the doors of Jess' Undergound Kitchen. Why? Because she makes...

People with busy lives and over committed schedules flock to the doors of Jess' Undergound Kitchen. Why? Because she makes fresh flavorsome and seasonal meals that can be hand delivered to your own door. Each week Jess uploads a new menu which lets you know what she’ll be cooking Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Three nights of delicious meals sorted, with vegetarian or paleo options too!  

We at Tessuti love Jess' Underground Kitchen meals, and being just down the road from each other, you can bet we take full advantage of her neighbourhood location! To celebrate the wonderful people in our community we decided to have a quick catch up with the fun and upbeat Jess to let you all in on our favorite little secret...

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- How did your idea for Underground Kitchen come about?

Jess’ Underground Kitchen started around my dining room table. After cooking dinner for a couple of friends, one joked that she’d love to pay me to cook her meals during the week. I laughed it off, but she persisted. A week later, I’d put together my first menu and Jess’ Underground Kitchen was born. I thought I'd be cooking for 3 or 4 of my friends each week, just a few extra serves of my own dinner. But it outgrew that stage pretty quickly!

- Where do you source your produce/food from? 

I shop around, because I like to find the freshest produce and I'm also aware of keeping my prices as affordable as possible. So a mix of wholesalers, markets and retailers. There have been a few collaborations with other small food producers; I like to support businesses that are in the similar situation as me.

- What is your most popular meal?

There are a few! My beef & mozzarella lasagne has been a crowd-favourite from day one... so much so that now it's a permanent offering on my frozen menu. Honey mustard chicken bake is popular too - I serve it with a potato or cauliflower (paleo) mash in winter, or a summery orzo salad in the hotter months. The prawn & pumpkin laksa will warm your cockles too!

- Tell us about the benefits of paleo diet/eating.

The paleo diet, in my humble opinion, is about being aware of where your food comes from, and why you choose to eat certain things. There are different levels of paleo - some people will omit more than others - but ultimately it's about finding the balance that works for you. Reducing your intake of sugar, refined carbs and unwanted toxins will help you feel energised, reduce allergies and improve your mental and physical well-being. 

- What would be your advice to someone who is wanting to make a change/adopt their eating habits to paleo?

Start slowly but surely. If you go cold turkey then you're likely to experience failure at some point, like with any diet. Look at paleo as a lifestyle change, rather than a diet. Then you can begin making healthier lifestyle choices and see how they make you feel. Another positive comments I often get from my customers is that they have more time to exercise after work, because they're not thinking about what to cook for dinner! If you want to change your lifestyle, you need to look at all of your habits, not just your diet.

- Best health advice you have been given?

I personally don't follow the paleo diet exclusively, because I believe that everything should be enjoyed in moderation, and I don't have any specific allergies that stop me from eating certain food groups. Put the scales away, and LISTEN to your body. How do you feel when you move in your skin; do you feel mental clarity; do you laugh every day? These are indications of health, not the number on your bathroom scales.

- Where is your favourite hang-out spot in Auckland?

I have a border-collie, and in summer I love taking her to the dog beach over near Takapuna; there is such a sense of freedom watching all of the dogs enjoying the water together. Queenie's is my local cafe; she always guarantees an excellent caffeine hit and/or a delicious brunch. And for a quick pre-show dinner, you can't beat Tanuki's Cave for yakitori!

- And lastly, how can our readers sign up to Jess' Underground Kitchen?

Head over to facebook.com/myundergroundkitchen to join the conversation, sign up for my newsletter and see what's cooking in the underground kitchen.

...We also got to share one of Jess' recipes for her famous guacamole… Lucky!

Jess' Guacamole!

This fresh & tasty dip is great for entertaining over summer - everyone loves it! 

1/2 clove fresh garlic

2 firm but ripe avocados

1 lemon or lime, juiced

1/2 small red onion, diced

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

handful fresh herbs; coriander, basil or mint

Salt & pepper

Bash garlic in a mortar & pestle until it's a fine paste. Add avocado flesh, lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mash up until you reach your desired consistency - I like to leave some chunkier bits for texture. Stir in the diced red onion, cumin, coriander and roughly chopped fresh herbs. Taste and season again if needed.

This is a great base recipe - add fresh tomato, chilli, different herbs and spices, and really make it your own. Take your mortar straight to the table and serve the guacamole with corn chips, toasted pita or vege sticks at your next BBQ, I guarantee there won't be any left at the end of the evening!

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Images by Courtney Driscoll Photography.

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