The Gannet Q&A

Thom Eagle

23rd November 2016

Photograph: Lola DeMille

Thom Eagle grew up in Kent before moving to Norwich to study American Literature. After starting to cook professionally upon graduation, he and his partner Lola Demille moved to Suffolk to run the kitchen at Darsham Nurseries Café, where he has a free rein to ferment and pickle as much of the garden as he can – and take the time to write about it all. As well as his blog, he writes a column for Locavore magazine and is working on his first book. Not a recipe book, though; a cookery book.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

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.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

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.

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

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

No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

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.

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

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.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Corned beef hash. I bloody love corned beef hash.

Who is your food hero?

MFK Fisher! What a writer.

What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

I like to think of myself as a master pasta chef, a point of view which others tolerate.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

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.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

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.

A photo posted by Thomas Eagle (@thomeagle) on

Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

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.

Share a useful cooking tip.

Don’t be scared of salt.

If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

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.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

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.

What’s your biggest food aversion?

I have a turbulent relationship with beetroot. Sometimes I really can’t stand it.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

When you have to wait a sodding age for the bill. I’ve finished! Let me go home!

What food trend really gets on your nerves?

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.

What’s your biggest food extravagance?

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…

Describe your perfect breakfast.

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.

A photo posted by Thomas Eagle (@thomeagle) on

Posted 23rd November 2016

In The Gannet Q&A

 

Photograph: Lola DeMille

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