23rd November 2016
Photograph: Lola DeMille
Venice, with Lola, on February this year (no, it wasn’t for bloody Valentine’s Day). A 30-cover restaurant, mostly taken up with four generations of a sprawling local family, celebrating something or other. There was no menu, and food just came and went, offered with a take-it-or-leave it shrug. “For pasta, we have a seafood lasagne. You want it?” Of course we did! And everything else. It was wonderful.
I’m really bad at actually cooking from cookbooks – I mainly read them in bed, and then try and cook something from a half-remembered recipe a week later, lacking most of the ingredients. Fergus Henderson’s The Complete Nose to Tail, I suppose, with Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty an extremely close second.
I normally go out of my way to eat the most potentially disgusting things I can, especially on holiday, but I almost always end up loving them. I had a pig’s head terrine in a little old place in Paris that was really foul, though – like tepid snot with bits of plastic in it.
I marinated some pork fillet in fermented fava beans and honey for a week and then seared it and had it with roast Savoy cabbage
I think perfection is overrated in cooking. The whole idea, of signature dishes, of recipes refined over and over and over again over a period of months or years – of repeatability, essentially – is completely antithetical to a seasonal, ingredient-led approach. How can you have a perfect, I don’t know, tomato dish when every tomato is different? Everything is a work in progress. That said, restaurants can approach a kind of perfection if they severely limit themselves in what they do. Noble Rot is a good example – it’s a phenomenal wine bar with a very stripped back menu, but everything is absolutely spot on. The precision of the cooking there is slightly intimidating.
The opening credits of Eat, Drink, Man, Woman, where he’s preparing this huge feast for his daughters – gutting fish, inflating ducks, all sorts. The way he scores squid made me buy one of those huge Chinese cleavers, which of course I hack about with clumsily.
Corned beef hash. I bloody love corned beef hash.
MFK Fisher! What a writer.
I like to think of myself as a master pasta chef, a point of view which others tolerate.
I don’t know if it really counts because I was testing it for work, but I marinated some pork fillet in fermented fava beans and honey for a week and then seared it and had it with roast Savoy cabbage. That was nice.
I’ve become evangelical about fermented tomatoes, from a wonderful Olia Hercules recipe; we grow huge numbers of them at Darsham, and it’s a great thing to do with the surplus! I make them into bouillabaisse.
I get very obsessed with particular wooden implements. I used to have a wooden fork that I made omelettes with; now it’s one of those spoons with a corner to get right into pans.
Don’t be scared of salt.
Italy! You’ve got the Austrianisms of the north, the Arabian baroque of Sicily, echoes of Spain and Greece and ancient Rome – and all that lovely pasta in the middle.
We have the radio on during service – Tom Ravenscroft’s 6Music show, ideally – but I like to listen to instrumental things when I’m cooking at home. I really like Laura Cannell’s new stuff, and John Fahey is a perennial fave.
I have a turbulent relationship with beetroot. Sometimes I really can’t stand it.
When you have to wait a sodding age for the bill. I’ve finished! Let me go home!
Ah, they just come and go, don’t they? The clean eating thing I think is actively dangerous, but wiser heads than me have written about that.
I don’t think I have one, but then the only reason I go on holiday is to eat particular things so perhaps I’m not best placed to judge…
A proper Neapolitan espresso, knocked back at the bar with a chocolate pastry in the other hand; failing that, some good sourdough toast completely saturated with butter, then topped with cream cheese, Marmite and roast tomato would do. I’m easily pleased.
The Gannet Q&A: Yemisi Aribisala – The Nigerian food writer on an unforgettable slice of New York pizza, roasting her own coffee for breakfast, and her biggest food hero
The Gannet Q&A: Adrian Miller – The award-winning soul food scholar on a recipe that reminds him of his mother, a legendary New Orleans restaurant and his most treasured kitchen object
The Gannet Q&A: Diana Henry – The food writer recalls her favourite ever breakfast, sets out her vision for the perfect restaurant and queries people who say they love offal
The Gannet Q&A: Ed Smith – The food writer on his most dog-eared cookbook, an unforgettable meal he ate on 2 April 2011, and the things that annoy him most about restaurants