The time has arrived: it’s The Block All Stars grand finale week! As the popular show wraps up for another season, and we wait for the grand finale show (airing Wednesday 20th March at 7.00pm on Channel 9), we had a chat with The Block judge and editor of Belle magazine Neale Whitaker about renovating, entertaining and cooking for family and friends.
What’s the most unusual kitchen design feature you’ve seen, and what’s the most ingenious?
In my sometimes contradictory roles as editor-in-chief of Belle and judge on The Block, I often feel like I’ve seen everything, but Duncan and Dale’s kitchen on The Block All Stars left me speechless. A cowhide splashback, a church pew and an aquarium created from the original stove! Amazingly it all worked. From a Belle perspective, we’re able to publish some of the most beautiful and design-forward kitchens around. A particular favourite is a kitchen in the current issue of the magazine by Sydney-based interior designer Greg Natale, which features a magnificent, cantilevered, ‘floating’ Caesarstone bench.
What’s one piece of advice you would give anyone tackling a kitchen renovation?
Plan, plan, plan and then plan again. A kitchen renovation is one of the costliest things you can undertake and mistakes are expensive. It’s also one of the best ways to add value to your property. Take time to work out exactly how you need your kitchen to function; for example, does it also need to be a home office, living or dining area?
How often do you cook at home, and what’s usually on your dinner menu?
You’d expect me to say ‘often’, but the answer is actually ‘rarely’. My partner is an ex-chef and can conjure restaurant-quality food on any night of the week in five minutes flat! How lucky am I? But our kitchen is very much the hub of our home (a terrace in inner-Sydney) and we spend a lot of time there. David’s food is simple, seasonal and wholesome – with definite Italian and Asian accents.
Do you like to entertain? What’s your signature dish?
We do like to entertain, but we’re kind of retro in that we like the big, formal, bells-and-whistles dinner party! Candles, napery, silver and stemware – the works. We’re not so good at the casual, drop-in-for-supper-this-evening style of entertaining. There’s no signature dish but coulibiac [classic European salmon pie] has been a crowd-pleaser on more than one occasion. David’s is the best I’ve ever tasted and it harks back to his traditional training in French cuisine.
What three words best describe your family kitchen?
Cosy, contemporary, real. It’s very much a working kitchen.