Meet the Chef: Stephannie Liu of Julie

Photography by Annika Kafcaloudis
Interview by Harriet Davidson

Chef Stephannie Liu has just returned to Australia – lucky us. A chef whose way with food has been built, layer by layer, over her past decade living across the seas, cooking in New York, Paris and most-recently, Copenhagen. From cooking through defined seasons, developing an appreciation and respect for the restrictions and celebrations of produce; to the people Stephannie has cooked alongside and admired; to her infatuation with the industry as a whole; each layer has been built upon the foundation that a childhood with a full and busy family table gave her, but as you’ll read, over the years, a life in food for Stephannie has become about more than feeding people beautiful plates. 

A stint in Sydney’s Rockpool as a 16-year-old, serving plates at popular Paris natural wine bar La Buvette, and running the kitchen at what must be one of the most-loved cafés of our time, Copenhagen’s Atelier September, are all part of the story. It’s Melbourne’s Julie Restaurant that Stephannie has landed in on her return to this side of the world, running the kitchen and working closely with the on-site garden to serve her produce-driven plates. 

We spoke to Stephannie about how it all started; the need for a remodel of the archaic ecosystem that restaurants work within; pinch-me moments involving Alice Waters and perfect apricots; and why cooking is only one aspect of a life in food. And if late-summer heirloom tomatoes thrill you like they do Steph, she’s shared a recipe she’s been loving, combining heirloom tomatoes with charred plum and drizzling it all with a dill flower vinaigrette. She’s certainly no ordinary chef – lucky us indeed.

Stephannie dresses the table with IN BED 100% Table Cloth in Natural

On the role food played growing up …

I grew up in a household where food played an integral part in belonging. My parents are Chinese-Fijian immigrants who moved to Australia in the 80’s, where they had my siblings and I. Our dinner table was in a constant state of being extended, filled with colourful, fragrant spreads of food, with each family member offering their signature dish to share with loved ones. Sitting around the table talking, arguing, eating and laughing – the whole gamut of emotions came together at our family table.

On occasion, my grandpa would make the most warming slow-braised oxtail soup, heady with Chinese medicinal herbs and aromatics. This soup, ladled into bowls of steaming jasmine rice, is one of the first dishes I ever fell in love with. The joy and notion of being cared for that I felt whenever that dish was prepared for family dinner was a sentiment I wanted to hold on to and share, and is in part why I still cook today.

On Stephannie’s journey in food … 

My aunty’s best friend Sarah Swan (of Bryon’s Bay Grocer and now-closed 100 Mile Table) worked for Neil Perry at the original Rockpool in Sydney. She was always encouraging of my wanting to become a chef, leading to an internship with Rockpool when I was 16 and still in high school. The world of professional kitchens was equal parts intimidating and full of wonder at the time, and still is for me to this day. 

At the age of 21, I booked an open-ended ticket abroad after having cooked professionally for a few years in Sydney and becoming a little disillusioned by some of the kitchens I had found myself in. I ended up spending most of my twenties living abroad, landing first in New York, then moving to Copenhagen, over to Paris and back to Copenhagen again with my husband Julien, only returning to Australia for visa runs.

Being fascinated by and passionate about the industry as a whole led me to primarily work as a chef throughout my career, but I have also had stints in the front of house, as a food stylist and as a recipe developer. In Paris I was behind the bar at La Buvette, an idyllic neighbourhood natural wine bar and in Copenhagen I became the head chef at Atelier September and Apollo Bar before opening a cosy everyday eatery, studio x kitchen. In 2023 I made the return to Australia where I’m excited to have joined the wonderful Julie team in Melbourne as head chef within the Abbotsford Convent, honouring the so-called “wayward” women of its complicated past, together with a formidable all-female management team.

On what and who has been most impressionable in informing Stephannie’s style of food through her years of cooking …  

I couldn’t pinpoint just one entity to have informed my cooking style. I don’t think my cooking and the way I put ingredients together is ground-breaking, instead it’s based on simplicity, nourishment and a respect for ingredients and the seasons; purveyor focused and considered, to offer comfort and joy. I love feeding people and being able to connect through a medium that I care deeply about, where I can constantly learn and evolve.

From a young age I admired Kylie Kwong, someone who I resonated with and who seemed to effortlessly share her passion through recipes and words. I found this same kinship through Alice Waters’ writing, prompting me to dine solo at the age of 21 at her restaurant, Chez Panisse in Berkley, California. Being greeted by a smiling Alice at the front door was a pinch me moment, followed by another soon after when served a perfectly ripe Sunny Slope apricot for dessert. 

Living abroad, travelling and soaking up the knowledge of all the talented individuals that I’ve been lucky to cross paths with have all contributed to informing my cooking in some way or another. I’m endlessly inspired by the people I am grateful to know and work with. From Bella Miezis, a bright (and wise beyond her 17 years!) chef de partie at Julie; to Trisha Greentree, the most thoughtful and generous chef; to Audrey Payne, whose words champion voices and values that reflect what I yearn to see more of in today’s media; and my sister Alisa Liu, whose empathetic nature and generosity of spirit I truly admire.

I don’t think my cooking and the way I put ingredients together is ground-breaking, instead it’s based on simplicity, nourishment and a respect for ingredients and the seasons; purveyor focused and considered, to offer comfort and joy.

On the importance of growers and producers …  

Food will always be personal for me. It is, in the most basic definition, my career, but it bridges the connection to my identity as a woman, my family, my heritage and the local community within everyday life. Working with people who care as much about what they do as I do is essential to my own work. Without the purveyors and farmers, I wouldn’t be able to cook in a way that is meaningful to me.

Food will always be personal for me. It is, in the most basic definition, my career, but it bridges the connection to my identity as a woman, my family, my heritage and the local community within everyday life.

On cooking in the season-driven Northern Hemisphere … 

In Denmark, the seasons are so defined as opposed to the everlasting blur of summer I was used to as a kid in the inner-west of Sydney. Being restricted to what is available during a particular season was a wonderful learning experience in Europe. I loved the limitations and truly living, celebrating and tasting each season wholeheartedly. I got to work with a few great small-scale farms and producers in Copenhagen which changed the way I cooked, using less but of superior quality. These relationships were the backbone of my menus – leaning into the deep, blood-red strawberries from Klippingegård that never see refrigeration for the fleeting few weeks that they grow, or the bounty of spiral cabbages and varieties of kale that boldly occupy produce lists during long winters.  

On what’s at the heart of the Julie kitchen …

At Julie, it’s important to me that we develop, maintain and celebrate these purveyors, as they inform what the restaurant is, share our values and, of course, make our food all the more delicious. We’re lucky to have our own kitchen garden at Julie, that head gardener, Cate Della Bosca, intuitively cares for, providing us with harvests of produce that enrich our menus. This connection between our garden and the restaurant is pretty special, and it’s a chef’s dream to have access, input and a tangible direct thread between what’s grown in the ground and served on the plate.

On recharging on days off … 

Working in kitchens is an incredibly social job, involving constant face-to-face communication for long periods of time, in a high-pressure environment. After over a decade in this industry, I’ve realised that to recharge and truly do my best when I’m at work, I need to intentionally take time for myself on days off. Switching off temporarily, resting and taking care of my own needs for a day, and not feeling guilty for that, is something I now understand is essential for me, and enables me to be more intentional and present both with those who I care about and with my work. 

On how Stephannie thinks as an industry, hospitality can continue to shift towards one that fosters a healthy and balanced lifestyle … 

I’m asked this often and I still struggle to have a succinct answer, or a finite solution. There is a shift in very specific restaurants to provide a more sustainable and healthy work culture, but as a whole industry, we are still very much a work in progress. There are restaurants that have begun to promote a façade of a “healthy and balanced” workplace for their employees without creating the necessary infrastructure to facilitate this, which raises even more issues. It’s clear that the current business model for restaurants is broken, as is the food system. In order to create real and lasting change, the delicate and archaic ecosystem that restaurants exist in needs to be completely remodelled.

I will always firmly believe in putting people first, from how we source food, to the way we treat each other within the workplace and our guests. The more years I spend in this industry, the less it is about the act of cooking itself, and the more it is about how can we provide support, stability and a sustainable life within the industry for the people who make these venues live. More resources, such as U.K-based Countertalk who work to empower the hospitality industry and those who work in it, are necessary, as well as accessible mental health care for all in the industry. The problems are layered and complex, with no single solution, and consistently bringing light to these issues is only the first of many steps.

On what’s thrilling produce-wise in these late-summer days … 

I’m a reactive cook, honouring what’s delicious and available to make recipes and hopefully dishes that people enjoy is my simple process. We work with a handful of small farms, and this summer Chloe and Jared of Dog Creek Growers in the Yarra Ranges, have been producing incredible heirloom tomatoes that need little done to them. While the tomatoes are still around as we enter a shoulder season, I’ve been pairing their crop with charred blood plums, their Tropea onions and a bright dill flower vinaigrette. In spring I steeped dill flowers from Somerset Heritage Farm in Chardonnay vinegar  I love the delicate aniseed flavour they offer in an unfussy assembly of ingredients like this. 

On advice for someone considering exploring a life in food … 

Spend some time working at your favourite food businesses, ask questions, bring a strong work ethic, be open-minded and be kind – everyone has something to teach and something to learn. 

On day-off lunches … For me, it’s freshly cooked jasmine rice, soft eggs, spring onions, covered in homemade chilli oil and white pepper.
Favourite kitchen tool: A small offset spatula and the wooden spoon my friend Tim hand-carved for me
Favourite food book: Kylie Kwong’s Heart & Soul, Diana Henry’s How to Eat a Peach, all the Chez Panisse books and really, so many others. I recently read Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and loved it. 
Favourite food person: My mum, Grace Yee
Herb: Coriander
Place to perch for a glass and a snack in Melbourne right now: La Pinta 

Summer tomatoes, charred plum, dill flower vinaigrette
Serves 4

Dill flower vinegar can be made by steeping dill flowers in chardonnay vinegar in a jar for a minimum of a day to let the flavours meld. Alternatively, as a quick substitute that you can use immediately, you could combine chopped fresh dill or toasted crushed dill seeds with chardonnay vinegar.


For the salad:
4 blood plums, halved and seed removed
500g heirloom tomatoes, very ripe and sliced into various-sized wedges
1 Tropea onion, thinly sliced with a mandoline or very sharp knife
A couple sprigs of tarragon (or any soft herb such as dill, mint, marjoram)

For the vinaigrette:
15g Dijon mustard
50g dill flower vinegar 
20g lemon juice
10g maple syrup 
100g extra virgin olive oil (I’ve used Mount Zero Frantoio)
Flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

For the vinaigrette, in a small mixing bowl combine all the ingredients and whisk together. Season with salt and pepper, set aside.

Preheat a heavy-based skillet until very hot. Drizzle the cut plums with a little olive oil and sprinkle them with a pinch of salt. Place the plums carefully cut-side down, into the hot pan. Let the plums sear on high heat, without turning, until they char on the cut side, approximately 34 minutes. Remove the plums from the pan and set aside. 

Assemble the tomato wedges on your chosen plate, followed by the charred plums, Tropea onion slices and tarragon. Generously season with flaky salt and freshly ground black pepper, and spoon the dill flower vinaigrette over the entire dish.


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