2nd July 2015
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin
2nd July 2015
Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin
The second excursion, after our return from the pub, leads us through his back garden to a large, tumbledown shed overgrown with ivy. Nico takes out a key and creaks open the double doors. In the chill darkness, he rummages around in a pile of boxes and digs out a bottle of Wafflart-Antoniolli champagne. This is part of his commercial stock – he started importing French wine into Dublin in 2003 – but it doesn’t take much persuading to get him to bring the bottle back inside and pop the cork.
Nico has recently started specialising in organic wine, with a focus on Côtes du Rhône, and he’s working on plans to open a wine bar in the neighbourhood. He’s also a fantastic home cook, as Viv testifies when she returns home from walking the dog. Seafood is his speciality, she says, so we’re pleased to learn he’s making cod and chorizo tabbouleh for dinner. Nico has a tendency to downplay his abilities: when he serves up the dish he tells us he’s not really happy with it, it’s okay but not great, it was better last time, and so on – but don’t believe a word of it. The fish is perfectly cooked and it’s complemented beautifully by the spiciness of the chorizo and the sweetness of the tomatoes and peppers. This is not just the champagne talking: it was superb. You can find the recipe below.
At the moment, we go out once or twice a week. Viv would like to go more, but as my dad says, why go to a restaurant when we eat better at home? That’s the philosophy of my family, so I would tend to cook almost every day. Besides, it gives me great satisfaction to cook – it’s such a nice way to give yourself pleasure, to create something delicious.
Yeah. It’s not always complicated though. We make a lot of soup. Sometimes Viv says, “Can’t we just eat something simple? Can’t we just have toast and butter?”
Yeah I suppose so. But what I cook often reflects how I feel. If I feel a bit bitter, I begin to cook bitter flavours. I’ll make something with chicory or I’d get some meat and make some vinaigrette. I find you bring a lot of your emotions into cooking.
Not really. I like the fact that in Ireland they take inspiration from all over the world. Our local butchers make their own chorizo. There is a guy down in Cork making buffalo mozzarella1. It’s nice to see this. And that’s kind of the way I’m approaching cooking at the moment – I’m trying to embrace everything from everywhere, mixing it up, picking the best bits from different cuisines. So the cod with chorizo I’m cooking today has some Asian flavours from the chilli and coriander, some Spanish flavours from the chorizo…
What I cook often reflects how I feel. If I feel a bit bitter, I begin to cook bitter flavours… I find you bring a lot of your emotions into cooking
I’m moving away from it. Well, no, I still love to make côte du boeuf2, and mushroom tarts with a lot of butter and cream, and other heavy French recipes. But we’re moving into a society where everybody wants to be healthy, to eat healthy, so you kind of have to adapt to that. My girlfriend wouldn’t be so happy if every day I cooked a big piece of beef and used a lot of butter, cream, cheese.
Well I suppose when you get old, that’s what you have to do [laughs].
Not necessarily. My mum was trying not to cook things that were very heavy. She used to make this great chicory dish with ham, béchamel and cheese, baked in the oven, but there was never enough cream and you always ended up eating the chicory on its own. So when I take on that recipe, I make it so that you never run out of sauce.
Yeah I’d say so. I am interested in other countries: South Africa has very good wines; Italian wine can be nice but all the big Italian reds are a little too overpowering for me – too strong in alcohol, almost like port. But France is very exciting at the moment. People are making some fantastic organic wines.
You can. It’s all about the flavours. And I don’t like the taste of sulphites, they destroy the whole experience. I’m likely to be more indulgent with wine that has a bit of toughness but has a good balance and flavour, rather than wine that has chemicals and is drinking very easily.
Sometimes, but it can be very disappointing. You have to remember that wine has to be a pleasure to drink. I have a bottle of natural wine here and to be honest it’s not very good.
Not good. I first came here in 1994 to go to a boarding school in Killarney. The food was – well it was just potatoes really. At school you had to fight for the main dish so for a while I just ate potatoes. Eventually they started to respect me and give me a bit of food, but it was a jungle.
No it was not.
I like to cook this dish in the winter when I’m craving the sun and need something colourful and spicy. It reminds me of the heat of summer.
Nico on his cod and chorizo supper – see Recipe
It was the sense that there’s so much to build here. It was a bit like going into the Wild West – there was so much freedom, so many things to be done. After that term in boarding school, I came back for a year during business school and got a job with Findlater [a Dublin wine merchant]. I went in and said, “I’m French, do you have a job for me?” They said, “Yeah sure. Come on in.” [laughs].
Back then – not any more. I was only there for four months but I learned a lot about the wine industry. After my studies I worked at a big software company but I didn’t like it very much so I decided to quit and set up a business importing wine.
Viv: Yeah, always. We take the ferry. It’s probably quicker to fly to Australia but the ferry is good for bringing stuff back.
Nico: Wine, champagne…
Viv: Your mum brought cheese over last time.
Nico: And she brought lamb with her on the way back. The best food is not just in France [laughs].
Viv: Nico’s brother lives in île de la Réunion in the Indian ocean. When she goes there she brings back lychees and passion fruits.
Viv: She does, she loves it.
Nico: Our family’s really into food. The meal has always been the social time for the family. We wouldn’t do much socialising together, except for the meal.
Viv: They always have great wine at home. What’s that wine your dad loves?
Viv: When we arrive, he has a bottle open on the table waiting for us. Woo-hoo!
Nico: Yeah. It was quite a traditional family. My mum was a housewife all her life, except one day she got fed up with it and went into politics. She’s been a politician ever since. My dad did a bit of everything: he was an engineer building petrol stations. Then he became a kiwi farmer, one of the first in France. Then he ended up working for a fruit coop – a small company that became one of biggest apple distributors in the country.
Yes. Actually what I want to do is write a cookbook with recipes from my mum and my grandmother. And include some of mine as well and mix it all up.
I think I’d stick to the traditional French recipes which can be quite tasty, no doubt about it. It’s fine to want to be healthy and all but you have to be able to enjoy food too. And the French are quite healthy after all.
Viv: It’s annoying isn’t it [laughs].
Nico: If you buy a big bunch of herbs and think you won’t use them all straight away, chop them up, seal them in a bag and freeze them. Then, whenever you need herbs, just take them out and sprinkle them – they instantly defrost.
Cut an avocado in half and eat it with nice olive oil, balsamic and a bit of fleur de sel. It’s very basic but it’ll do the job – and avocado is good for your heart.
I think we’d start with oysters. Then I would have to have a côte du boeuf cooked on a wood fire, with chips made from Irish potatoes. And for dessert, a chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream. And before that some cheese.
We’d start with oysters. Then I would have to have a côte du boeuf cooked on a wood fire, with chips made from Irish potatoes. And for dessert, a chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream
And if it’s a last meal, instead of Muscadet with my oysters I’d have champagne. And with the cote du boeuf, a nice Côte Rôtie4.
Yeah, Gangloff5. He’s a producer in the Côtes du Rhône and his wines are just amazing. The Saint-Joseph from this guy is something else. It’s frugal, sexy and very feminine at the same time, it’s got everything. It’s very difficult to find it though, because he’s a very in-demand small producer and he doesn’t export much.
I had it with my brothers last summer. We had three different Saint-Josephs. They all had very different styles but I liked the Gangloff best.
I think so. In Côtes du Rhône, you find some incredible wine for €50 that’s completely worth the money. Saying that, my price range is usually €10 to €20 – I’ll go a little higher if I can. My little brother, who is doing well, spends €40 on average, but then he doesn’t drink so much so he can afford to buy a nice one. So it’s nice to drink with him! You always appreciate it a little bit more when someone else pays.
If you go for a more famous wine like a Chablis, you’ll usually get less value than if you choose, say, a Côtes du Rhône. It’s cheaper and often better than wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. You’ll also get something very different from what you’re used to. Or go for Alsace – a nice Riesling Grand Cru will have a great finesse. Or the Loire, which will bring you wine with great satisfaction and voluptuousness.
Yeah. I’ll ask for beer [laughs]. No, to be honest, I’d drink it. I’m not that fussy. At the end of the day, it’s all about who you’re with, not what you’re drinking.
If you want to buy wine from Nico, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoe Adjonyoh – The chef & food writer cooks Moroccan chicken for lunch, recounts a journey to her Ghanaian roots and explains how a pot of peanut butter stew launched a flourishing food career
Roger Phillips – The horticulturalist and food writer takes us around his secret London garden, discusses his deep-rooted love of mushrooms and explains why he sleeps in his kitchen
Erwin Gegenbauer – The master vinegar brewer takes us on a tour of his Vienna factory, explains why local produce is “boring” and makes us breakfast featuring his own honey, oil, coffee, beer and cider