• Yumi Stynes on The Cook Up (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
From Japanese home meals to 'bad pasta' to publishing a popular cookbook; Yumi Stynes is on a unique food journey.
Dominic Ryan

25 Oct 2021 - 1:28 PM  UPDATED 22 Oct 2021 - 5:25 PM

To be fair to Australian radio and TV stalwart Yumi Stynes, living off instant meals and cheap carb-heavy dishes is a quasi right-of-passage for young adults. 

"I didn't really take up cooking until I started living out of the family home," Stynes tells SBS Food. "And even then, it wasn't passion, it was sheer necessity!"

Not exactly the hallmarks of a cookbook-author-in-the-making, nor of someone who would end up on six episodes of a nationally broadcast cooking show like SBS Food program The Cook Up With Adam Liaw. But that's exactly the trajectory that life had in store for young Yumi.

"I lived off two-minute noodles, bad pasta and a pie maker for about a year, before I realised, 'I gotta figure this cooking stuff out'."

She found a gig as a dishwasher at a busy inner-city café in Melbourne and with it, a love for the commercial kitchen environment and an interest in eating good tucker. But the seeds had already been planted years before in a different kitchen – the one in which her Japanese mother prepared home-style dishes from her country of Japan.

"We grew up in a country town called Swan Hill [in Victoria]," Stynes says. "There were no Japanese people at all apart from us, so we would cherish the Japanese ingredients we brought back from Melbourne or Tokyo. It always seemed extra special, extra nurturing to us."

Thousand island dressing with prawns

Damn‌ ‌right‌ I‌ ‌love‌ ‌a‌ ‌prawn‌ ‌cocktail! And‌ ‌yes,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌meant‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌retro,‌ ‌and‌ ‌yes,‌ ‌it’s‌ ‌meant‌ ‌to‌ ‌be‌ ‌a‌ ‌little‌ ‌bit‌ ‌trashy.‌ 

Stynes says her mother wasn't a particularly "showy cook". "She just cooked staples that were nourishing and tasty and Japanese – not restaurant food. Japanese home food."

"One thing that we ate lots of was nori – the flat, square seaweed sheets that forms the base in what Aussies call 'sushi rolls'." 

Lobster hand rolls

My family used to holiday every year in Robe, South Australia, a town internationally famous for its rock lobsters.This is, in my opinion, the best way to eat crays.

An appreciation for simple, good home food has clearly stuck with the presenter, who entered the media industry and found herself juggling children, a demanding career and eating well.

"My cooking continued and evolved while I was raising four kids and working multiple jobs," Stynes explains. "Finding ways to save time as a busy mum became a kind of philosophy. I don't want to be snobby about food, and I don't want to make my life harder!"

"I had really stopped making anything that required an excess of fuss. And when I told other busy parents the name of the cookbook, they all instantly knew what I was talking about and all said, 'I need that cookbook'." 

Stynes began to share her ideas and hacks over social media and, following a hugely positive reception, proposed to her followers the idea of a cookbook that would concurrently push the accepted lexical boundaries while narrowing the culinary ones.

"One day I posted on Instagram, 'Would anyone be interested in a cookbook called 'Zero Fucks Cooking?'. It was like, bam!" 

For listeners and viewers of Stynes, the tongue-in-cheek title would be nothing of a surprise. She's known for being witty and having a great sense of humour.

"I had pushback about the name, [but] there was no other name that made as much sense to me. I had really stopped making anything that required an excess of fuss. And when I told other busy parents the name of the cookbook, they all instantly knew what I was talking about and all said, 'I need that cookbook'." 

Emergency apple crumble

This is the crumble I make every time a friend has a baby! I drop around a bag of the crumble topping, a tin of apple (or pear) and some delicious thick cream.

In 2018 it was to be; The Zero Fucks Cookbook: Best Food Least Effort was released nationwide. It includes recipes for scones, easy chicken wings and a dish called 'Too easy zucchini', which, in her words, "epitomises [the concept of] zero fucks – it tastes great, is good for your body and doesn't muck around with a naturally awesome vegetable". It employs one lone ingredient. 

"Because I'm so busy so I want to make cookbooks for people equally busy, but who love food," she tells Adam Liaw on SBS Food program The Cook Up With Adam Liaw.

Yumi Styles, Adam Liaw, Benjamin Law

Liaw himself is a subscriber to the 'zero fucks' dogma.

"When did cooking become so difficult?," he says. "It was always supposed to be an easy, like easy as pie! It was supposed to be easy!"

It wasn't just the purity and simplicity of humble home meals that Stynes carried from her childhood to motherhood – her Japanese heritage has remained an influence on her cooking.

"We also eat a lot of [Japanese] Kewpie mayonnaise!" She really couldn't stress this enough, revealing her family buys the commercial 1-litre bottles.

"And we always say, itadakimasu! (let us eat) before we commence eating," Stynes explains. "It's wonderful to add a little ceremony and ritual to eating."

Wattleseed and macadamia ladoos

Ladoos are the most popular Indian sweets there are. These versions include some native Australian flavours.

Sausage and brown rice minestrone

Adam turns the already comforting minestrone into something yet more hearty with minced Italian sausage and rice.

Rosé prawn spaghetti

Adam makes his rose spaghetti - a smooth blend of creamy and tart-tomato flavours.

Chilli honey baked chicken

Adam makes his chilli honey baked chicken - a simple weeknight dinner with a classic sweet and heat flavour combination. 

Cong you tofu (silken tofu with spring onion oil and soy sauce)

Adam's quick and easy block of silken tofu is dressed with spring onion, garlic and two types of soy sauce. Great served as part of a meal, everyone help themselves.

Salmon meunière

Salmon fillets perfectly pan-fried and covered with a saltbush and aniseed myrtle butter, with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Adam borrows from the French meunèire, a brown butter sauce with added herbs.

Lamb kebabs with bush tomato tahini

Blending Middle Eastern with Australian flavours, Adam shares his recipe for these juicy lamb skewers, coated in a wattle seed and bush tomato tahini.

Roast chicken with whole mushroom sauce

A whole roast butterflied chook covered in Adam's rich, buttery mushroom sauce with white wine and cream.