Interviews with restaurateurs, food writers, fellow bloggers, food and drink producers and others.

Oct 272014
 

Married to a drinks blogger, it’s inevitable that I dip my toe into the world of drinks blogging too. One of the first drinks bloggers I met through Pete was Simon Williams, the founder of CAMRGB. I’ll let him tell you more about his mission to get us drinking really good beer in his own words…

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, I’m Simon and I write about beer and run a small organisation that tries to promote and celebrate beer regardless of particular dispense methods.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I called the blog The Campaign For Really Good Beer purposefully to annoy CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale) as the blog started as a rant against that particular organisation’s lack of support for new UK breweries.

The name also works well graphically – Really Good Beer is Red Green and Blue, RGB, the colour breakdown on an image used online.

I expected more people to make the connection straight away, but many still look surprised when I explain, and I still get people saying, “It should be red white and blue,” meaning I then have to explain again that I’m not interested in any weird nationalist agenda.

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Why did you choose to blog about beer?

As I already mentioned, it was a direct result of what CAMRA were (or weren’t) doing. They were not supporting (and still aren’t supporting) new breweries who were making what has started to be termed “Craft” beer and not brewing to CAMRA’s definition of what “Real Ale” is.

Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

For me, blogging about anything presents certain challenges as I have a young family and a full time job.

Once a blog becomes more than just a blog (as CAMRGB has) it’s imperative to keep the interest for the group and to grow the group.

Online this means regular new content, and so my days have become a process:

I get up at 5am and publish any beer reviews from the night before, answer emails etc., get the kids up, feed them, get them ready for school, get myself ready and off to work, get home at 5:30pm and pick the kids up from the child-minder, get them home, feed them and get them ready for bed, then I choose a couple of beers to drink and write about, eat and go to bed.

It is, put frankly, a bit boring.

Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Nope

Which single beer could you not live without?

Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

Not especially.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

The current trends seem to be in ridiculous facial hair more than anything.

To be serious though, you can watch the brewing industry and see where things are going.

A couple of years ago everyone was making Black IPAs, then they were all making Saisons and now everyone is sticking as much beer into as many casks and barrels for ageing as they possibly can, with sometimes amazing and sometimes hideous results.

Tell us about your pet controversy in the beer world.

Ooh, I couldn’t possibly. There would be blushes and finger pointing amongst a certain group of, shall we say, traditional ale drinkers.

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

Not really, it’s about beer and about trying to connect people.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Fitting it into everyday life.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

Meeting people and connecting people.

Seeing photos being posted on Twitter last night of people at IMBC 2014 who had struck up conversations because they were all wearing CAMRGB T-shirts is fantastic.

They know that whatever their differences they can agree on beer and share a certain ideology and can have a chat and have a good evening.

I think that that is just brilliant.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates them from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are the new fanzine writers.

Passionate amateurs writing from the heart.

The downside of that – and I remember from dealing with fanzine writers in the 80s ad 90s – is that lots of people who start blogging do it to get free stuff and the result is they will only ever say things are great as they believe that that will get them more free stuff.

I try to always be honest in my writing and some people don’t like when I say their product isn’t very good, forgetting it’s just my personal opinion, but most take it on the chin and continue to allow me to get things to review.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

I don’t know. The blog gets over 9000 hits a month right now, so I don’t really check to see who is looking at what.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I still love the two articles I wrote on Greene King: Insurgency Over The Front Line and Greene King Do The Wrong Thing

 

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Blog URL: http://camrgb.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/CAMRGB
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/CAMRGB
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/crayolasarandon/

 

For this week’s Meet The Blogger, I’m happy to introduce Laura, the author behind How To Cook Good Food. Based in Surrey, Laura is a very seasonal cook, and she enjoys growing her own fruit and vegetables, as we do.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello, I’m Laura. My blog has a tag line, recipes for food lovers. It is for fellow food fans and cooks who appreciate good food. I write recipes using the influence of the growing season. I also like to create recipes that are influenced by different food cultures and I love to use spices and fresh herbs. I also attend the occasional chef masterclass or food event/show and I review these along with food related products. I will only mention these products if I genuinely think my readers will want to hear about them and they are of good quality.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

The blog’s name came from an idea by my husband of combining “How to Cook” by Delia and “Good Food” magazine by the BBC.

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Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I once had some friends over to dinner and forgot I had brownies baking in the oven. I blame the wine! When I spotted them, completely burned I decided to knock up another batch whilst the guests were sitting happily drinking lots more wine in the sitting room. The next batch turned out perfectly and we were able to eat them warm. I never admitted this was because I burnt the first batch.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

I could not live without sea salt, garlic or chillies.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

My favourite cook books are by female chefs. One in particular is “The Cook’s Companion” by Stephanie Alexander. It is a huge tome which I bought years ago when I lived near Books for Cooks and I refer to it regularly more for personal use than for the blog.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

As I know you are a huge fan of Japanese food, as am I, I would cook you a Japanese feast. Gyoza, tempura, sushi, okonomiyaki and some teryaki and yakitori meats with pickled vegetables.

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What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

The hardest aspect of blogging is the time it takes to put a post together. Even when I keep them short and sweet, there is still the lengthy process of editing photos and naming them. Then there is the time spent promoting the posts on social media and checking comments. Not to mention the shopping for ingredients and composing half decent photographs, a skill I am always trying to improve on. Also, the proof reading takes quite a bit of concentration.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

For me it is about CPD (Continual professional development). As a cookery tutor, I am always striving to learn and improve my skills both as a cook and as a teacher. I find that blogging helps me keep up to date with trends, developing my cookery skills and techniques as well as learning from others by attending cookery masterclasses and reading a huge amount of food blogs plus the odd cook book.

I aim to blog a recipe once a week but on a good week I can stretch to two as long as one of them is short on words and pictures. I do struggle to fit in the reviews I must say and have been pretty poor with hosting blog challenges. These are things I will try to rectify next year.

In reality, there is always something I could be doing more of for my blog but life, 3 kids and a ridiculous amount of after school activities not to mention cooking every day for the family tends to get in the way. And my teaching work too!

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

There are two types of influence that I have when cooking and eating. One is seasonal and the other is cultural.

Seasonally, I am loving pumpkin, butternut squash, apples, pears, chard and kale.

My seasonal cooking includes loads of soups and bakes. I have been making pumpkin soup and bread, roasted butternut squash enjoyed with gran Luchito chilli honey, Kale in my superfood salad or stir fried with garlic & chilli and crumbles aplenty with the fruits.

Culturally, I am obsessed by both Japanese and Korean food. I have a cupboard full of ingredients that I come back to using regularly. I bought a mammoth selection of seaweeds, vinegars, noodles and sauces and I have a new found love of tofu and an ongoing love of anything chilli’ed and pickled.

I have been making lots of Japanese pancakes (okonomiyaki) and miso noodle soups but also some Bibimbap and Korean fried chicken. I find Japanese food subtle and light whereas Korean food satisfies my chilli habit.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Roasted Mediterranean vegetables – This never ceases to amaze me. Every day it is top of the most viewed pages. The weird thing is, it has absolutely no comments on it!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

My tagliatelle with flower sprouts & chorizo. This is such a tasty dish, and if you haven’t tried flower sprouts you really should, They are so much better than regular sprouts and are a perfect partner for chorizo. The post also happens to have one of my better photos from the early days of blogging. There is still one shocker on there which I keep meaning to replace but I won’t draw your attention to it!

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Blog URL – http://www.howtocookgoodfood.co.uk
Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/Howtocookgoodfood
Twitter handle – https://twitter.com/laura_howtocook
Pinterest profile – http://www.pinterest.com/laura_howtocook/
Instagram handle – http://instagram.com/laura_howtocook

 

For this week’s Meet The Blogger, I talk to Sally Prosser, author of My Custard Pie. Based in Dubai, Sally shares a mix of British and local cuisine and recommendations for visitors to her adopted home.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My Custard Pie is about food at the centre my everyday family life as an expat in Dubai. It includes recipes which I try to base on the seasonal local produce that’s available here – I’d sum this up as British influenced comfort food with a twist. Visitors to Dubai usually have an idea of a modern, blingy place – I try to offer an alternative view through food stories and reviews (although I did try an £800 cocktail with gold in it once). Travel is also viewed through a food lens…. or wine (a life-long journey to learn and taste more). My motivation…? I’m a keen eater

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

It’s metaphor for life: delicious, inviting but unexpectedly might hit you in the face. It reminds me of childhood squabbles with my sister over the skin of the custard (Birds) and the Phantom Flan Flinger. I do have a bit of a custard obsession.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Rolling out bits of pastry with my Mum on the kitchen table… and she inspired me to cook, although she’d be astonished to hear that. It was basic food on a budget but all cooked from scratch, a lot of produce from the garden. She taught me to value good ingredients, for instance we ate bread from the baker rather than ‘rubber bread’ (white-sliced) which was the norm for the rest of our street.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

The changing dynamics of our family. My daughter has just gone to University so the vegetarian vote in our house (my younger daughter) has increased to one-third! I’ve acquired a slow-cooker so expect lots of gently-cooked but spicy pulse-based recipes. I also love the flavours and ingredients I experienced in Georgia and I’m learning about the cuisines which spread from the Caspian sea to the Black Sea and down to Iran.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Probably when hot fat from some pork rind dripped onto my oven floor and caught fire while I was cooking for 10 people. A friend threw water on it, which sparked off huge flames – I thought the house would burn down. It didn’t and we still ate the roast potatoes that had been in there… outside in the garden.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Garlic – my Polish grandma ate a raw clove every day which may account for my high tolerance levels and love of the stuff. Lemon, I would choose lemon over chocolate any day.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

Tamasin Day-Lewis is the cookbook author I turn to most. She is so in tune with the seasons, good simple food and great produce that’s available locally. One of the absolute highlights of my blogging journey was being invited to Diana Henry’s home. Her writing style is warm, inviting and her recipes meticulous. She manages to have her finger on the foodie pulse without succumbing to fashion or transience. Claudia Roden shaped the way I cook Middle Eastern food, was my companion in Saudi Arabia and I still refer to her New Book of Middle Eastern Food regularly. Dubai-life has meant I’ve been lucky enough to meet many celebrity chefs including Giorgio Locatelli several times. His dedication to achieving the best flavours with simple ingredients is impressive, and his genuine concern for the environment and his enthusiasm for great produce sets him way apart from so many who pay lip service. Oh, and his truffle risotto is sublime.

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If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Usually something I’d never cooked before. I love having people round as it gives me carte blanche to try things out. Probably quite a high risk strategy. Perhaps a full-blown Georgian feast, or an Iranian rice dish…although I might change my mind. We’d have good wine and great cheese at the end and I always over-cater…

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If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

In the UK I would return to the Riverford Field Kitchen in the middle of their Devon Farm. Huge sharing platters of delicious simple dishes which are very veg heavy (and picked outside that day) and traditional puds with loads of custard of course. In Dubai it would be a tiny Morrocan restaurant in an obscure part of the city where the chefs sing and ululate from the kitchen to welcome you, and the waiters slice the enormous sugar-coated pastilla with a ceremonial dagger.

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Definitely Georgia in the Caucasus – a beautiful country with five micro-climates, stunning scenery and warm, kind people with a unique culture and heritage which has survived almost miraculously. Opening a qvevri (a clay vessel) which is buried in the ground and tasting the new wine with the people who had picked the grapes and made the wine was really special… as well as many banquets with heart-felt speeches, myriad courses and haunting polyphonic singing.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list?

The Caucasus beckon again with Armenia and Azerbaijan tied in top place.

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If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

We’d drive from Dubai to the Mussandam coast in Oman. A dhow (wooden boat) trip would show us the splendour of the coast line which is like Norways fjords but barren and rocky. We’d eat freshly caught fish smothered in herbs hot from the barbecue.

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What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

Endless subject matter (I have over 150 draft posts) and the wonderful online community. Fooderati Arabia in the UAE and many, many friends I’ve met online and off from all over the world… all with a passion for food.

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m on a preserved lemon kick right now, the vibrant, sharp, saltiness enhances so many things. It’s peak pomegranate season now and I bought some wild, organic fruit picked in Oman. Such a fresh and delicate flavour.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Where to take visitors to eat out in Dubai on a budget – based on the reactions of a stream of friends and family visiting for over 14 years.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

I spent a year researching my Desert Island Dishes post and it includes Georgio Locatelli, Antonio Carluccio, Clovis Tattinger (all interviewed personally) and many of my very favourite bloggers. This courgette cluster bread deserves some more love too.

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What’s the one question you wish I’d asked you but didn’t?

What’s my biggest concern about food?

Please go ahead and answer it!

The control of our food chain and supply system by ‘Big Food’, Chemical companies and those solely motivated by the bottom-line and share-holder value.

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Blog URL: http://mycustardpie.com/
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MyCustardPie
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/mycustardpie
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/mycustardpie/
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/mycustardpie

 

Sarah started her blog Maison Cupcake just a few months after I started Kavey Eats and we met pretty soon after that, via blogger events we both attended. We’ve been friends ever since and Sarah’s blog is a wonderful source of inspiration for tasty,family-friendly cooking.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share. Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

I’m Sarah from Maison Cupcake my blog started as only baking but has morphed into other things along the way.. I’d have put much more thought into the name of my site if I’d realised I’d be using it five years later.

Why did you choose to blog about baking?

I started the blog in a month when I had volunteered to make cupcakes for a street party. My first efforts were pretty terrible but I logged photos of my progress and then blogged about the party itself. After that I didn’t want to stop and wanted to improve my baking skills, possibly to launch a local cake making business if I got good enough. At the time there were only about six proper baking blogs in the UK and I got my inspiration from American baking sites. After much consideration I didn’t sell baked goods commercially as I found brand collaborations on the blog were more lucrative and were less of a drain on time with my family. I would find supplying cafés with the same old brownies week after week very tedious. With the blog you rarely do the same thing twice.

Does blogging about baking present any particular challenges?

It can be hard to keep up a conveyor belt of posts when you don’t feel like eating baked stuff yourself. Often I seriously don’t want any sweet stuff in the house whatsoever because it’s too much of a temptation. I should blog more breads but I find it’s the naughty stuff that’s more popular! The ingredients can work out expensive – which is annoying if it’s not naturally what you’d have been having for dinner. The advantage though is that baked items are often ok to photograph the next day when you’ve got better light and you can take your time with photo shoots because your dinner isn’t going cold.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

My grandmother was a very traditional cook and turned out amazing meals from a tiny kitchen. I had also adored home economics lessons at school and nearly went to catering college but was put off by the prospect of unsocial hours working in hotel or restaurant trade. No one ever suggested I might get trained up and then work for myself, there wasn’t the same sense of entrepreneurial spirit that there is today.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

I am very keen on making as many things as I can from scratch. I get very disheartened in supermarkets seeing how they profit from getting us to cut corners in the kitchen. It’s great to see kit for old fashioned skills such as making your own cheeses or sausages being sold in Lakeland and such places but I’d sooner see people confidently knocking up everyday sauces and pesto without relying on gloop in jars.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I made some chocolate brioche once that looked like dog turds. Had I wanted to invent a recipe for edible chocolate dog turds I couldn’t have done it any better. A Japanese Buzzfeed style site once picked them up saying it was a recipe for edible dog turds and the post suddenly got about 3000 hits 3 years after publication.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

On a practical level, flour, eggs, butter and sugar. But personal favourite must-have ingredients are chickpeas, sweet red chilli peppers, rocket, dill mustard and gherkins from IKEA.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I enjoy Rose Prince’s books very much. They’re like Nigella’s first book How to Eat in that they’re very conversational about real home cooking and all words and no pictures. My guilty pleasure is collecting tiny hardback cookbooks on niche topics/brands from French supermarkets. I own about 25 of them and they’re fabulous as food styling reference for different dish types.

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If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

Oh blimey I think I would feel too flustered and show off the fine eateries of Walthamstow Village to you instead!

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I always take my Heston vegetable knife and OXO potato peeler on holiday. We go self catering a lot and there’s nothing worse than an ineffective knife or peeler.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

I don’t really have any white elephants as I’m meticulous about decluttering stuff I don’t use but the Morphy Intellisteamer was something I couldn’t justify countertop space for.

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What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

A plate being cleared before you’ve finished chewing the last mouthful. That makes me really mad!

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

I am dying to try the new branch of Eat17 in Hackney. It’s a brasserie style restaurant above a Spar convenience store. The original one is near my home in Walthamstow and the Spar won a national convenience store award. It’s like having a mini Selfridge’s food hall on the doorstep. The owners are very finger on the pulse with new trends and small producers so anything new and interesting tends to show up in there. Next door in the Eat17 restaurant, their burgers in brioche buns (and yes with Eat17 bacon jam) are the best I’ve ever had. GBK and Byron just don’t cut it for me now I’ve been spoiled.

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If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Let’s hop over to Bruges and tour chocolate shops followed by glasses of red cherry Kriek beer. And I could show you my favourite ever homewares shop – it’s a Dutch/Belgian chain called Dille & Kamille and is fabulous for food styling props!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I have varied the mix of content over time… it started as mostly baking and then become more a journal of places we’d been as a family or blog events I’d attended. I attend far fewer events now as my motivation had mainly been to make friends with other bloggers and now we don’t need an event to get together! I used to worry it was all too random but so long as I put my personality into everything I don’t think it matters if you deviate onto other subjects.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Not having enough hours in the day. There are so many ideas I’d love to get off the ground but never enough time to do them especially with family commitments. There’s only so much blog related work they’ll let me get away with in evenings and at weekends.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

I hate to say it but money. Not everything I blog is done to earn money through brands but enough of it to justify me being self employed publishing brand content or blogging for commercial sites. The perks that come with working with brands keep things interesting although one does quickly tire of yet another free apron / hessian bag / kitchen timer. I prefer it when brands provide a good spread of their products in an adequate quantity to experiment properly – rather than “goodies” that are invariably branded cheap spoons/pens/mugs. And if they want you to meet their latest brand campaign deadline or provide them with content for their own websites and social media they should pay you too.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I am in love with fregola since having some served at Britmums in a macaroni cheese style sauce topped with shin of beef in gravy. It was the best meal I ate out of a cardboard box with disposable cutlery ever. After struggling to track fregola down, my trusty Walthamstow Spar started to stock it but unfortunately my husband has a horror of small round things and refuses to eat it.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Bizarrely enough it’s a terrible photo of a chocolate smoothie that I tagged The Shrink Mummy Shake. It regularly goes crazy on Pinterest.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

This is very old post about a ramshackle market in Montenegro where my in-laws have a holiday home followed by recipe for an Eastern European pepper sauce called ajvar. I always wish I published more travel posts, certainly I have a massive backlog of unblogged pictures taken abroad. There’s so much well researched travel content out there I worry that my holiday snaps would be too facile in comparison!

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Blog URL: http://maisoncupcake.com
Facebook page: http://facebook.com/maisoncupcake
Twitter handle: http://twitter.com/maisoncupcake
Pinterest profile: http://pinterest.com/maisoncupcake
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/maisoncupcake

 

You might think it a little strange for me to interview my own husband, since I might reasonably be expected to know most, if not all, of his answers! But of course, Monday Meet The Blogger is about sharing the blogs I love with a wider audience. So please read on to find out more about Pete Drinks, a blog where Pete talks about beer, whisky and coffee.

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Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Not really; I started out writing guest spots on Kavey Eats and it just seemed the obvious name!

Why did you choose to blog about drink?

Honestly? It all came about because after a spate of food arriving at the house for Kavey to review; I (jokingly) asked Kavey why she never got offered beer. I was slightly horrified to learn that she had turned down such offers because she didn’t write about beer. She said she’d accept the next offer if I would write the review, and in the meantime invited me to guest post about beers I already had in the house. That sounds bad, because it makes it seem like I was only in it for free beer but actually I very quickly realised I just liked writing about beer and I didn’t care whether it was free or not.

The trouble with only making guest posts on someone else’s blog is that I soon found myself asking for yet another slot and being told that I’d have to wait a month. By that stage, I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to be a short-lived hobby so it seemed time to cut myself adrift and set up my very own blog.

Of course, the downside to that is that I don’t get to enjoy all the lovely traffic that came with being on a popular blog like Kavey Eats! [I didn’t pay him to say that! KF]

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Does blogging about drink present any particular challenges?

I don’t think the challenges are particularly specific to drink – they’re the same whenever you’re reviewing anything. You have to try and form an impartial opinion on something (the easy bit) and then put into words why you’ve reached that conclusion (the hard bit).

The other challenge is vocabulary; describing a beer (or anything else for that matter) is hard if you’re not in the habit of doing so – those first few cringe-worthy posts are filled with useful descriptions like “malty” and “bitter” which is a bit like describing the Antarctic as “a bit cold”; technically correct, but not exactly informative.

One of the joys of blogging is that it forces you to think far more deeply about what you’re tasting, and search for different ways to describe those tastes. I used to laugh at some of the Jilly Goolden-like excesses of tasting notes, but the more I try and understand flavour, the more I understand where she’s coming from.

The downside, of course, is that there’s always a small voice telling me that what I’m writing is unbearably pretentious twaddle when I begin waxing lyrical!

You mainly focus on coffee, whisky and beer. Why?

When I started, I was dedicated to beer, because that was what I knew most about (although not, to be honest, a great deal back then) and beer blogging appeared to be “a thing”.

It was over a year before I branched out into whisky, and that was largely caused by the large Drinks by the Dram parcel I got for my birthday. In many ways, that felt like going back to my initial days of talking about beer, because there was an entirely different palette of flavours to recognise.

Coffee came another year later; I’d tended to be a Nescafe Instant drinker to be honest, until I ended up working in an office where we had a coffee club – any time we bought a coffee we’d not tried before, Phil would demand our marks out of ten and we slowly built up a revealing list of our favourites. They knew I was a drinks blogger, so when they suggested I should add coffee to my repertoire, I took the plunge.

When you are pulling together a new review post, what are the similarities and differences when talking about coffee, whisky and beer?

The vocabularies and flavour palettes are different, but the basic questions you’re asking are the same: how does it smell? how does it taste? do I like it? and above all, why (or why not)?!

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Many of your posts are about your home-brewing experiences. What are your top homebrew tips to share with a) a complete novice b) a kit brewer thinking of branching out?

a) Just go for it. It’s dead easy, it’s cheap to start out and beer comes out the other end. Buy a kit, and get stuck in. Ignore anything you read about water treatment.

I would suggest you resist diving into homebrew forums at all to start with; they are fantastic resources of information and opinion, but they’re also full of people who will insist that if you don’t do everything exactly the way they do, that your beer will be ruined, destined to go down the drain. It will scare you out of doing anything.

Above all, keep in mind that people were brewing beer in mud huts five thousand years ago, and they didn’t have digital thermometers back then. Sure, if you’re a commercial brewer trying to reproduce the same beer day after day you need to be precise, but for the novice home-brewer, you can get away with a lot of errors (trust me!)

b) Stop using kits! “Brewing” with cans of extract is a little bit like baking cakes with packet mixes – sure, it produces something roughly beer-like (or cake-like) at the end of it, but you’ve only been half-involved. This ties a little into the first part of this question, because I’d say that if possible, complete novices should jump straight into ‘real’ brewing from the beginning.

Brewing from grain gives you so much more flexibility, and really doesn’t make things all that more complicated. If you can make a cup of tea, you can make all-grain beer. And it’ll taste better.

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What’s been the homebrew you’ve been most pleased with, and why?

That’s a little like asking a parent to pick their favourite child!

My Coffee Porter is an obvious one, because I got to brew it in a real brewery, sell it in a real pub and see real people paying actual money to drink it.

Have you had any homebrew disasters? What happened?

I’ve made plenty of mistakes – getting mash temperatures wildly out, managing to start a brew day without checking that I actually had all the ingredients and having to re-write the recipe on the fly – but things invariably work out ok. Beer really wants to be made.

Perhaps the closest to ‘disaster’ was the time I realised (at the end of the boil) that I’d forgotten to fit the hop filter inside the boiler. The hop filter is essentially a strainer that keeps the hops back in the boiler, and stops them from clogging up the tap when you’re trying to get all your lovely beer out.

After realising that just trying to carry on wasn’t going to work (the tap was so plugged up by hops that nothing was coming out) I eventually had to plunge my (thoroughly washed!) arm into still-rather-hot wort and fit the damn filter with the boiler still full.

Again, the beer came out fine at the end of it all.

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For those who don’t have an understanding of the brewing process, can you give us a brief explanation of the process; a short dummies guide?

Beer only (normally) has four ingredients; malted grain, hops, water and yeast. It also has four basic steps:

  1. Soak the malted grain in hot water (65degrees, give or take) for an hour. This extracts the sugar from the malt, and gives you a sweet liquid (called wort).
  2. Boil the wort for an hour (after straining out the malt grain), adding hops along the way. Hops added at the start of the boil mainly contribute bitterness to the beer, while hops added later in the process (especially in the last 15 minutes) are more about flavour and aroma.
  3. Once the wort has cooled down (and you’ve strained out the hops), add the yeast. This is the bit that turns all those sugars into alcohol.
  4. Drink!

If you can make a cup of tea and boil and egg, you’ve already mastered the fundamental techniques.

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As you also feature in many of the cooking posts on Kavey Eats, we must surely squeeze in some cooking questions…

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Growing up, my cooking was limited to making cakes with my mum. It’s fair to say that we weren’t an adventurous family, food-wise so those cakes were limited to what was in Mrs. Beeton – Victoria sponges and butterfly cakes.

I’m not sure I could claim to be “inspired” to cook; at University it was more of a necessity than a passion, but over time being married to a foodie changes your perspective!

What recipe are you fondest / proudest of?

I’m not sure I’d describe myself as *proud* of any of my recipes; I mean I can produce tasty enough food, but I don’t see myself signing up to MasterChef any time soon.

The recipe that’s been most widely (and positively!) enjoyed is probably my Chocolate Porter Cake. I somehow agreed to take part in a Great Chocolate Cake-Off at Chocolate Unwrapped, and ended up creating a Devil’s Food Cake-based affair, liberally laced with Fuller’s excellent London Porter, in the sponge and the filling. And the cream on top.

It’s not the prettiest cake in the world – I still have the same design skills as I had when I was 8 years old – but it’s damn tasty.

I also had fun making up a paprika ginger beer recipe for a mixer challenge!

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Is there a particular style of beer you seek out most often?

Short answer, no. The slightly longer answer is, I’ll usually seek out something different to the beer I’ve just finished!

Which single beer could you not live without?

Honestly, I’m not sure there is one. There are about a million different beers out there, and while I’d be sad if, say, Bristol Beer Factory’s Southville Hop was suddenly discontinued, I’m sure I’d find something to take its place in my affections!

Are there beer styles you don’t like or think are overrated?

I don’t get Pilsners. It’s not that I don’t like them; I just don’t see why they seem to be so revered among beer “experts”.

What are the current trends in the beer scene? How do you feel about them?

Cans seem to be very trendy right now; as with so many things, British breweries are starting to import the US concept of putting their beer into cans rather than bottles. Of course, beer in cans is hardly revolutionary – Special Brew has been in cans for decades – it’s something new for “premium” beers.

In theory, it’s a superior package – light-proof, more robust and far lighter than glass bottles. In practice… I’m unconvinced. I generally find them over-carbonated and while I’ll happily drink from a bottle sometimes, I just don’t enjoy drinking beer straight from the can.

I probably need to do more research.

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What are your top three criteria for a great pub? Do you have a favourite pub? Why?

  1. Decent beer – by which I mean, (a) well kept, (b) not too damn cold, and (c) a decent – and changing – selection.
  2. Peace – going to the pub is a social experience; I want to be able to hear the people I’m with, not loud music or a blaring TV
  3. Food – having decent food means there’s a better chance of me being able to persuade my food-loving, beer-hating beloved to go to the pub with me!

Happily, our local – The Bohemia – ticks all those boxes quite nicely, and happens to be a brewery too!

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What are the biggest turn offs for you, in the pubs you don’t like?

TV. I HATE pub TV. I loathe it. There are few things more likely to stop me from even going into a pub. I’d rather – MUCH rather – be in a smoke-filled pub than a Sky Sports-filled one.

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How did you get into whisky?

Unlike beer, I haven’t always loved whisky. I put this down to my initial taste, in my teens, when I somehow acquired a small bottle of Teachers and decided that whisky was icky. To be fair to Teachers, I don’t think my teenage palate would have fallen in love with the finest single malt but the experience formed a firm belief that whisky was some sort of grain-flavoured sink cleaner.

Fast forward many years to the time we went up to Aberdeen to visit one of my wife’s friends. I’m sure we chatted and had a very pleasant time on the way in from the airport, but in my memory I’m convinced the first words this formidable Scots lady said to me were: “So, I hear you don’t like whisky, Pete. We’ll see about that!” – whereupon she opened a huge cupboard filled with an alarming number of bottles. A few were selected and pulled out onto the table; she is (and therefore, I am) a big Islay fan and decided that Lagavulin was an excellent distillery with which to start my education.

The rest of that evening is something of a haze. I do remember calling a halt to proceedings, having not yet even ventured past Islay, on the basis that I could no longer feel my face. Despite this, I was converted and have been on a voyage of discovery on the sea of whisky ever since.

What is your favourite style of whisky?

With that kind of start, I’ve always had a love of the big, powerful, smoky whiskies of Islay, and many of the other Scottish Island whiskies are the same.

That said, I’m developing an appreciation of bourbon too.

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You’ve visited Japan twice in the last two years and enjoyed trying Japanese whisky. How does Japanese whisky compare to Scotch and what might be a good bottle to buy for someone who’s not tried any before?

It’s probably closer to Scotch than whisky from other countries, although they’re not generally big on peat. The biggest difference is that they tend to benefit a lot more from a drop of water being added to them – I suspect that’s largely because the Japanese largely drink whisky with water, rather than straight up as we do.

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You’re a keen coffee drinker but have steered clear of the more pretentious side of coffeephilia. Tell us your thoughts on enjoying coffee as a regular coffee drinker.

There’s a lot of snobbery around coffee; as with everything I think it’s best to ignore what “the right way” is. For example, when I taste and review coffee I make it the same way as I drink it – in a big mug, with milk.

Now a coffeephile will tell you that a straight espresso is “the right way” to taste coffee and in a sense they’re right – diluting it with water and milk alters the flavour, but I don’t drink it that way normally. What’s the point in reviewing coffee in a form I never normally drink it?

What’s your top tip for an affordable tasty coffee to drink at home?

Buy an Aeropress; it’s the neatest, simplest device for brewing ground coffee. Then start working your way through the coffee in your local supermarket – there’s a huge range and something for everybody’s taste, and none of it very expensive.

For my money, you can’t go wrong with Taylor’s, and it’s often on special offer. Their After Dark remains one of my “go-to” coffees.

What are your thoughts on the increasing popularity of pod coffee machines?

Bemusement. Why buy a machine that restricts you to only drinking a limited range of (very expensively packaged) coffees? I genuinely do not get the point of them.

That said, I’ve never actually lived with one so maybe I’m missing something AMAZING about them.

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Since I’m a travel addict, you get dragged around the world regularly…

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a drinker’s perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Whenever I travel I’ve always got my eye open for the local beer; I don’t see the point of going to another country and heading for the nearest Englishe Pubbe for an overpriced half-litre of John Smiths.

Amsterdam was an impressive beer experience (largely thanks to some excellent pre-trip research not done by me!), although it’s hardly an exotic destination!

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

Hayling Island, as a child. I don’t remember there being much beer, but I do remember an arcade machine that you could win bubble gum out of.

Where are you going next?

Washington DC. I’ve heard Americans can make quite good beer these days…

What three things can you never travel without? 

Camera, Kindle and Kavey :)

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

I write more better.

Ahem. I write longer and more conversationally (sometimes to the frustration of my editor). I’ve become way better at self-editing. I’m even getting over my (incorrect) use of the possessive apostrophe in “it’s”.

Mostly, though, I just suck less than I used to. Writing, like everything else, is something you just have to do a lot – badly – before you learn how to do it properly.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Getting around to it. Once I actually sit down and start typing it’s pretty painless, but I’m very bad at the starting part.

What inspires you to keep blogging?

I just enjoy writing, and blogging about drink gives me the focus to actually put some words down, and the freedom to keep it pretty short.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that differentiates you from traditional journalists?

A lack of professionalism. And I mean that in a good way.

Journalists are, ultimately, bound by the person paying the bills – the publisher, the client, or whoever. Bloggers aren’t (or rather, shouldn’t be) so we can follow our hearts more easily.

The line is blurred because there’s such a wide spectrum of bloggers, from those who are just in it for fun – like me – to those who are looking for the book deal, the sponsorship deal, or the “real” journalism job.

The kind of blogging I do isn’t, in my mind, journalism. It’s standing on a box at Speaker’s Corner. I’m just talking about stuff I want to talk about – if someone stops and listens, that’s great but at the end of the day I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it for me.

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You grow fruit, vegetables, wheat and hops in your garden and allotment…

What do you love about doing that?

I like seeing stuff grow. I like how the garden and the allotment changes every day, even if it is just weeds half the time. I enjoy the tidiness of a freshly weeded bed (although that rarely happens!) and the peace of being out in the fresh air watching the robins watch me dig up worms for them.

Obviously it’s great to get real edible stuff out at the other end, but it’s the journey more than the destination that matters. If I was only in it for the crop, it would be cheaper and easier to go to Aldi.

What’s the hardest aspect?

Getting around to it. Once I’m there I’m happy to do the work, but I’m rubbish at taking that first step (I’m starting to see a pattern in these answers….)

What’s new on your list to grow next year?

Barley. I already grow hops, so the next logical step is to grow some barley, figure out how the hell to malt it, and make beer genuinely from scratch.

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What are you absolutely loving cooking/ eating/ drinking right now?

I recently found a case of my homebrew Coffee Stout lurking forgotten at the back of the cupboard. That was a very happy discovery!

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

By a considerable margin, my Alcoholic Ginger Beer tasting. I should probably do more things like that!

 

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Twitter handle: twitter.com/petedrinks/

 

Nazima and Pierre Corne are the couple behind Franglais Kitchen, a recipe blog full of tasty home cooking. They also run a supperclub in Cambridge and provide food consultancy to producers and restaurateurs. Nazima talks to us about their experiences.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Franglais Kitchen is largely a recipe blog, with occasional equipment and restaurant review. Pierre is an ex chef and I am a clinical academic. We both work full time and have 2 young children. We feature 3 main types of recipe on the blog: Everyday family food (with a global influence, a bit like our family itself), healthy food (with an interest in raw, vegan and unprocessed food) and food for entertaining. We run a supperclub in Cambridge, which has been great for our culinary creativity and research. We share some of the recipes on the blog.

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What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

Healthy food and experimenting with raw food. It hasn’t changed what we eat every day but it is an area that is interesting. We have found a lot of really good blogs with creative ways of making such food seem very pretty/indulgent/filling.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Nutella (Pierre), Tea (Nazima).

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

We have had some fun playing with the sous vide and working through a lot of recipes in Thomas Keller’s cookbook ‘Under Pressure’. We also use Larousse Gastronomique a lot as a reference and guide.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

We think a long slowcooked super tender lamb shank – we do ours in the sous vide for 2 days – with potato millefeuille and herb olive sauce.

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What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I got given a Japanese Tamahagane knife from my lovely work colleagues when I left my last job in London. It has retained it’s incredible cutting power and I use it constantly.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

We have a juicer (I insisted putting it on our wedding list) that has not actually made it out of the box in our 7 years of marriage…

Braised aubergine

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Fitting it in around work and family, trying to engage with other food bloggers and writers.

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

We love the creativity of preparing and presenting food and we enjoy the community of food bloggers we have become part of over the last few years.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Sourdough naan bread – I guess there are not many recipes out there and we kind of got a lot of interest on pinterest which has really boosted interest in this recipe.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

This Jasmine Rice Pannacotta is a favourite. We simmered Jasmine rice in milk and then set it into a pannacotta. It was inspired by a Thomas Keller recipe for Jasmine rice sherbet and the flavour is subtle, mildly floral but not quite jasmine, not quite rice.

jasmine rice pannacotta

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Blog URL: http://franglaiskitchen.com
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Franglaiskitchen
Twitter handle: @franglaiscook
Pinterest profile: http://www.pinterest.com/FranglaisKitchn/
Instagram handle: http://instagram.com/franglaiskitchen

 

Cooksister is one of the longest standing food blogs around and has gone from strength to strength in the last decade. I’ve been reading for several years, so it’s with great pleasure that I interview Jeanne Horak-Druiff for this week’s Monday Meet The Blogger.

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Hello and welcome, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hi – I’m Jeanne!  I am a South African who has been living in London for the past 14 years and loving it more with each passing year. My blog started as an outlet for my writing more than anything else, and has morphed into an outlet for my cooking, writing and photography.  Although I started as purely a food blog, I now see myself as 50/50 food and travel.  I try to post a recipe, a restaurant review and a travel piece per week – so expect food, photos and faraway places!

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

A koeksister is a plaited, deep-fried, syrup-soaked pastry that is hugely popular in South Africa.  I figured that I needed to anglicise the spelling a bit to make it non-threatening (!) but I knew that any South African looking down a list of Google search results seeing my blog name would definitely recognise a kindred spirit and click on it.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who / what inspired you to cook?

The first thing I ever learnt to bake were scones – I was probably not ten years old yet and it became my party trick to back them after school at friends’ houses without a recipe. It was definitely my mom who taught and inspired me to cook – she was always a working mom, so she did not bake her own bread or make preserves.  But she loved to cook and taught me that there is no shame in customising an out-of-the-box or tin ingredient.  She said her greatest achievement as a cook was to cook dinner for the family year in and year out and not bore herself (and them) to death. I now get what she meant ;)

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

A combination of what’s in season, what’s being harvested on our allotment, and what dishes stuck in my mind from our travels.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

Hah – there was that time when I we had dinner guests over and had been drinking rather a lot by the time I went to get the Schweinsbraten pork roast out of the oven and prepare the gravy, I clearly should not have been operating heavy machinery.  As I poured the gravy out of the roasting tin into a small saucepan, the heavy roasting tin slipped, tipped over the saucepan and sprayed hot, fatty, meaty liquid all over the countertop, the cupboards, the floor, the skirting boards… you name it. How I missed my feet, I do not know. After hubby mopped up a bit, I made Bisto gravy and served the roast.  Entertaining under the influence: don’t do it, kids!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Salt, cheese, garlic and olive oil.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I love everything about Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries – from the ethos of using leftovers to make stuff to eating seasonally, to the simple but beautiful photography.  I also love his recipes. Donna Hay’s books inspire me visually but I have yet to cook from one of them…

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

For the starter I’d keep is simple with these astonishingly good tomato, olive and basil bruschetta;  followed by chicken in a creamy mustard, rosemary and preserved lemon sauce; and to finish, a South African classic:  coconut tart (klappertert).

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What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without? (It doesn’t have to be electrical)

Excellent sharp knives, and my WMF boiled egg shell chopper (a sheer indulgence, I know!)

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

A piping bag and some nozzles.  A baker, I ain’t!

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

I have a long-standing love affair with French cooking. But I have never yet been known to turn down an Italian meal!

Which single dish could you not live without?

An excellent Caesar salad topped with a grilled salmon fillet. Simple heaven.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Rude staff, and too much noise (either from music or from fellow-diners)

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

Club Gascon (their set lunch is outstanding value for money); L’Atelier Joel Robuchon; Vinoteca Farringdon

What’s the strangest / funniest / best / worst (pick one or more) thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?

I once took some visitors to the capital out to dinner and was obviously keen to make a good impression. We ordered sole and what arrived, at the premium price of sole, was quite obviously cheap plaice. We complained to the waiter who looked like a bunny in the headlights and fetched The Most Supercilious Manager in London.  His opening gambit was: “Is there a problem?  Because the fish you ordered is almost exactly like sole… [pregnant pause]  but it is in fact plaice”. When we objected to being served a substitute without being given the choice of ordering something else, he blamed the fact that sole was not “in season”.  When we then objected to paying the price of sole for cheap plaice, he disagreed that there was a price difference until we Googled both from a fishmonger and showed him the results. He then grudgingly agreed to comp us desserts. It was a total PR/service fail from any angle you care to look at it and I have never been back.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

This is a non-topic as far as I am concerned, wheeled out by the press periodically when they need a bit of blogger-baiting to increase their engagement. It’s my food; I paid for it and I will photograph it if I like.  I am not using my flash and I am not taking pictures of other people. I am not expecting other people at my table to wait for me to do my thing – I only photograph my own food.  I cannot see how this is any more distressing to fellow-diners than somebody checking their text messages at the table.  And restaurants who panic about it need to remember that free publicity is a rare and beautiful thing.

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?

Bloggers are not constrained by available column inches like print journalists are, so I can give a blow-by-blow account of a meal, with accompanying pictures.  I have often said that I am not a restaurant critic – my intention is for you to feel as if you are there with me, experiencing everything I experienced. In my opinion, this gives people a good basis for deciding whether to spend their hard-earned cash on an expensive meal at a restaurant I have visited.  When I am booking restaurants in foreign cities, I often seek out blog reviews rather than critic reviews, because I want this sort of blow by blow account. And I figure if this is what I look for, then there may well be other people looking for the same kind of thing.

If we were meeting for a meal out, which restaurant would you choose?

The Swan at the Globe – both for the view and the consistently excellent, unpretentious food

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

The seafood trip I took to West Sweden.  I had never thought about Sweden as a food e destination and this trip totally changed my perspective. On the first afternoon we went on a mussel safari, which involved going out into the archipelago in a boat to look at the baby mussels on their ropes, and then mooring up beside a tiny island where we stopped off and hosts Adriaan and Lars made us some of the freshest, most delicious moules mariniere I have ever tasted.  We sat on the rocks eating mussels and sipping wine in the late afternoon sun.  Bliss.

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (Make it a top 3 if you prefer)

Canada, Japan, India.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

The first overseas trip I took was with my parents when I was 14.  We flew to Nice from Johannesburg and rented a car; and then we drove around France for 3 weeks, Chevy Chase-style.  Nice to Bordeaux; Bordeaux to Brive; Brive to Rennes; Rennes to Mont St Michel; Mont St Michel to Paris; Paris to Chamonix; Chamonix to Monte Carlo; Monte Carlo to Portofino; and then back to Nice.  It gave me a passion for France (and for travel) that I cherish to this day.

Where are you going next?

Jersey, Paris and Australia!

What three things can you never travel without? 

My phone, my camera, my earplugs

What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?

Best travel experiences have been my stay at the utterly breath-taking  One&Only The Palm in Dubai; and my Business Class flights to Singapore. I have not had any utterly appalling travel experiences – other than the odd bit of delayed luggage.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Japan!  Because you could show me the ropes!

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Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

My style of writing has become less like a diary and more like a magazine –I now prefer to write something that might still be relevant in 5 years (e.g. a city guide) rather than breathlessly telling you where I’ve been.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

I never ever have enough time to do all the things I want to do. I always feel there is some aspect of my blog that I am neglecting…

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

It’s the satisfaction of creating something from nothing. A dish, a story and a photo, all combined together. It cheers me up even if I have had the worst of days.  And of course the fab friends and connections that I have made through blogging!

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What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Loving the deluge of sweet, home-grown summer tomatoes. There is also much barbecuing going on while the weather holds…

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Sautéed Brussels sprouts. Who knew?

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Oh there are loads.  But I will restrict myself to this one: gem squash with a cheesy, spicy creamed sweetcorn filling.

 

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Blog URL – http://www.cooksister.com
Facebook page –  https://www.facebook.com/Cooksister
Twitter handle – https://twitter.com/cooksisterblog
Pinterest profile – http://pinterest.com/cooksister/
Instagram handle – http://instagram.com/cooksister
Google+ profile – https://plus.google.com/+JeanneHorakDruiff

 

Neil often has me oohing with envy when he shares the details of his latest press trip. Even worse when he tweets photos of his borrowed Bentley by the Great Wall of China or the latest American road trip featuring lobster or real deal barbeque meat. In addition, Neil (and his wife Mrs Dine Hard) are our allotment neighbours, so it’s lovely to spend time with them there. Let’s be honest though, it’s Mr Kavey Eats and Mrs Dine Hard that do most of the hard work…

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

My name is Neil Davey and I’m a freelance journalist. I blog as “The Lambshank Redemption” because originally I’d intended to cover both film and food. My break in journalism came through reviewing films, but it was the food side that I came to enjoy more, hence the original plan was to combine the two with a “night out” – a restaurant review and a film – and a “night in” – a recipe and a DVD review.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

When it came to the name, it was always likely to be a film and food pun. Funnily enough, The Lambshank Redemption was my second choice as I much preferred Dine Hard, but someone had already registered that and, annoyingly, never done anything with it. Still, I managed to snap that up for my Twitter handle instead, which is good because it’s much shorter and easier to remember than “LambshankRdmptn”. Bite Club was also kicked around for a while…

I started the blog at the suggestion of William Leigh. I was between editorial jobs and keen to boost my name as a food writer, and the blog seemed a good way to try and do that.

Neil

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

It’s probably a combination of my mother and my grandmother. My mum, sister and I used to make a great date cake – a recipe I really must dig out soon – in school holidays and my grandmother was also a great baker: because of her I will never turn down a rock cake. The other things I always associate with her and my granddad – aside from fond memories of a sweet tin containing neat, uniform slices of Mars Bar – are pickled cucumber and onion, and bowls of stewed fruit. I think much of that sprang from WWII-inspired frugality. The first thing my granddad did when they moved closer to us in 1981 was to find the local greengrocer and persuade them to sell him all the battered and bruised stuff that other people didn’t want. He’d often return, proudly clutching a bag of grim looking fruit and vegetables that had cost him a few pence, and within minutes, they’d have transformed it into elegantly sliced simple pickles or a big bowl of stewed apple or plums or whatever, that would become breakfast or dessert for the next few days. More often than not, we still do the same, the only difference being much of our pickled / stewed / transformed produce is home grown.

Lambshank - broadbeans uncooked Maldon 3

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

The influences come from all over these days. In the course of the job, I’m very lucky to travel the world, usually to eat or hang out with chefs, and often pick up a technique or an ingredient (or a chilli sauce!) on these trips. I don’t think there’s a single particular influence, although until recently, I was very focused on BBQ for a piece I was compiling for delicious. magazine. In all cases though, I do err on the side of spicy…

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

The most recent one involved my first attempts at Syrian food, from a book I’m supposed to review called Almond Bar. The potato salad – with loads of lemon juice, paprika, tomatoes etc – was utterly delicious. Just as well really, as the falafel came out incredibly salty and the rosewater ice cream… For the falafel I’m pointing the finger at a typo: the recipe calls for a tablespoon of salt and, based on my second, actually edible attempt, I think that should read teaspoon. The rosewater ice cream though, I’ll throw my hands up and take a fair chunk of the blame. I’d never used rosewater before and didn’t realise quite how much the concentration varies between different manufacturers. I also just tipped the entire bottle in without tasting as I went… the result was a litre-and-a-bit of bright pink, insanely bitter custard that went straight down the plughole.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

At the moment, with the sunshine doing brilliant things in the polytunnel, it’s tomatoes. A good tomato sandwich – bread toasted on one side, lashings of mayo, loads of salt and black pepper – is one of the joys of life. I couldn’t live without chillies either, either whole, dried or in sauce form. And mashed potato… as a kid, it was about the only thing I ate and it’s still my favourite, comforting form of spud.

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational and in the same spirit, are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

If I ever think my mojo has gone missing, I tend to re-read Anthony Bourdain. I’m loathe to use the word “passion” when it comes to food – I hear Giles’s voice asking if I’d be willing to be nailed to a cross for it – but in this case I think you have to as Bourdain’s enthusiasm is palpable. I also re-read Jeffrey Steingarten on a regular basis, as I adore his commitment to the tasks at hand and his essay on salt should be essential reading for everyone with an overbearing health freak in their life. Recipe wise, I’d be lost without Madhur Jaffrey and Delia for many basics but meander through the rest of the collection on a regular basis, sometimes for an exact recipe, but more frequently for a little inspiration. I also still have vague plans to do the Julie & Julia thing and spend a year going through Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book or Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

These days when we entertain it’s all about the advance prep. Back in the day, I’d happily do all sorts of elaborate stuff but that meant never seeing guests and spending every hour in the kitchen. These days I quite often sous vide meat hours in advance, so that can be finished off in a pan or in the oven: I’ve had particular success with steaks marinaded in a ssam jang sauce recipe I got from Judy Joo. So you’d probably get something really straightforward – soup, bangers and mash, apple crumble and custard – or a big Korean feast, with lots of meat, lettuce wraps and fermented side dishes. In all cases though, as a former Neal’s Yard Dairy employee, there’s going to be a killer cheeseboard. That’s a given.

Lurpak Cinnamon Simple Pleasures

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I LOVE my Global knives. I think you can do without much kitchen equipment, but a good knife is an absolute essential. That and a really good pan. The Le Creuset sauté pan I got sent recently is a cracker. The non-stick is excellent, so it washes up like a dream, and because it’s a sauté pan, the sides are that bit higher so I often pull that out instead of a saucepan.

What’s your kitchen white elephant?

Good question… I know I don’t use the Kenwood Cooking Chef as much as it deserves, although the grinder element of it does get a daily work out around coffee time. There’s an air fryer I got sent ages ago which hasn’t been plugged in for over a year now, so that’s probably the one.

HItchin Risotto Hitchin Hermitage 2
Rodells Lloyd Lambshank Lobster Benedict

Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

Not at all. I like all sorts of cuisines.

Which single dish could you not live without?

I’m not sure there is one although if I hit a proper old school pub anywhere and they’ve got ham, egg and chips on the menu, well, that’s my decision sorted.

How do you decide where to visit next?

A lot of what I do has a work element, so often the requirements of a commission dictate where I go. Otherwise, PR information, word of mouth, friend’s recommendations… all play a part.

What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?

Ah the trend question. I’ve got a new writing gig where I’m supposed to look at upcoming trends and I’m really struggling with it. My mind doesn’t really work like that. I do think that Korean food will spread across the UK in the next couple of years though and that makes me happy.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

“Can I explain our menu to you?”

As a restaurateur mate always replies: “Is it a list of food that I order and you bring? In that case no, I’ve done this before…”

Or, possibly worse, “chef will send out the food when it’s ready, not in any particular order.”

As the same restaurateur says, “is chef paying for my meal? No? In that case chef can send food out when I want it not when it’s convenient to chef…”

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

I often get asked for recommendations. At the moment, thanks to the travel writing, I’m actually eating out more abroad and outside of London, so I’m way behind on new openings in my home town. Accordingly my current Top Three is going to be a deeply pretentious list of places all around the world while my London Top Three is probably out of date. Accordingly I tend to stick to a couple of stalwart places and a wild card if anyone asks. Depending on who’s asking, you can perm any three from…

Goodman – Great steak, great cooking, great front of house, great atmosphere. Same applies to Burger & Lobster. You know what you’re going to get and, in these instances, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Heron has to be in there too. It’s so brilliantly unlikely and it’s certainly not for everybody but it’s probably the best place in London for a chilli-based endorphin rush. Besides, I was always a fan of the late lamented Dive Bar so basement rooms in slightly grungy pubs are always going to score highly.

I’ve also got to say The Coach & Horses, of course. It’s absolutely my favourite pub in London – it’s a proper old school boozer, and so am I – and Leigh Norton can fry better than just about anyone I’ve ever met. If that sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, it’s not meant to. He can also really cook. When the restaurant opens “properly” later this year, and he can have a run of his more creative stuff… oh boy. Can’t wait. Earlier this year he was serving a risotto of caramelised sweetbreads with sherry vinegar that’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in London in the last two, three years. They have a pretty good food and drink quiz there too, I’m told…

Of recent(ish) openings, I was very impressed with Lyle’s – a great small plate menu – and The Typing Room, and recently had a fantastic supper at Mazi in Notting Hill.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

I always take photos but: a) do it discretely; and b) just take photos of what I’ve ordered, rather than stop everybody else from eating… unless they’re taking photos too, in which case I might. I really cannot see what harm that does. If I was setting up a tripod and asking the restaurant to change the lighting levels or insisting the waiter pour the sauce from the other side or something, then yeah, I can see it’s annoying. But quick snap or two, no flash, on my phone or camera?

Lambshank SDW Dog Lambshank clams
Lambshank - Bens Chilli Bowl Food Lambshank - Bens outside

What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

Probably Maine. MSN sent me out in July 2012 to live blog from the Maine Lobster Festival and to compile a top ten of great things to eat on the East Coast. With the help of the brilliant TV Food Maps – a website that has plotted pretty much every place ever featured on a Food Network programme by state and city – I had a couple of days walking and eating around Brooklyn, a day through Connecticut stopping at some superb diners, a night in Rhode Island, then up to Maine to consume my bodyweight in lobster rolls before looping back for a couple of days in Boston. The food was terrific, the people lovely and the scenery in Maine is like driving through a Richard Gere film. My favourite moment was when I stopped at Miller’s, a lobster shack on the water in a place called Spruce Point. It’s not in any of the books, but was recommended to me by Michael Salmon, the chef at The Hartstone Inn and it’s this beautiful, idyllic spot and the lobster roll was absolutely first class., plus as you eat , you’re looking over the waters the lobster was fished from, and there are fishermen hoisting more pots up and bringing fresh lobsters in to the restaurant’s tanks… I asked the waitress how long ago the lobster in my roll would have been in the water. She blushed, apologised profusely and said, well, you’re here slightly out of season so it might have been, like, four hours?

Which destination is at the top of your foodie travel wish list? (You can make it a top 3 if you prefer)

I know I need to spend a LOT more time in Italy, so that’s a constant on the list. Chicago has been a target for a while – fingers crossed I’m there in September – and probably Australia. With luck I’ll be in Melbourne for the food festival next year.

What’s the very first trip you remember taking?

As a kid, probably a family trip to Devon. In those days I didn’t eat a whole lot but that was the trip when I first discovered seriously good cheddar. There was also a café that did this incredible orange ice cream.

Where are you going next?

Depending on when you publish this, I’m going salmon fishing in Alaska on Sunday! After that I’m heading to South Carolina for a food festival, plus a few days exploring BBQ shacks around Charleston. And then, if all goes to plan, I’m in Chicago for a three days…

After that, I’m actually hoping for a holiday, probably Portugal.

What three things can you never travel without?

These days it’s all about the chargers and leads. A couple of years ago I found this brilliant adapter plug with a couple of USB sockets that goes everywhere with me. I left it in San Francisco a couple of years ago, bought a replacement that wasn’t as good… and so paid for the hotel to post it back to me in London. I always carry a complete change of clothes and washbag basics in my hand luggage, just in case my suitcase doesn’t make it through. And I have a portable battery pack that holds about 60 hours of charge, that’s come in very handy a few times.

What’s the best/ worst travel experience you’ve ever had?

Best… probably a trip to this incredible ranch in Montana. That or getting upgraded.

The worst… same trip to Montana. Everything that could have gone wrong with the flights went wrong, we ended up having to sleep in Denver airport overnight and United Airlines were worse than useless. I’ve subsequently turned down trips because it’s meant flying United. A bit first world problem I know but they’re an utter chocolate teapot of an airline.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

Now there’s a question. I’ve still not been to India so going with someone who’s very familiar with the food could be great fun. Or Korea, seeing we’re both obsessed with Yijo restaurant in Finchley?

Hickory Pit Nashville Sauce Hickory Pit Devilled Eggs

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Less love, more necessity but it’s that time of year to get creative with courgettes. I’ve become a whizz at frittatas as a result…

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Funnily enough, with all the international travel and stuff featured, I’ve just checked and it’s this post. On Hitchin, in Hertfordshire.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Nice idea… but traffic wasn’t the reason I started the blog so I rarely look at the traffic figures. I just throw ‘em out there and if they stick, they stick, if they don’t, well, I’m not going to change my style or try and focus on popular subjects. It’s all just a bit of fun, really.

 

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Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/DineHard
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A blogger after my own heart is fellow Londoner Leyla Kazim, who is as enthusiastic about eating out in London and as excitable about travelling and eating around the world as I am myself. Find out more about Leyla in today’s Meet The Blogger.

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

Hello! I’m Leyla and I’m a twenty-something lover of all things gustatory living in South West London. I started my blog in October 2012 – it’s intended to be a personal anthology charting the places I visit, the cultures I experience, the food I eat, and the impressions they make upon me.

My mum is Mauritian and my dad is Turkish-Cypriot – to say I was brought up surrounded by some pretty exceptional cooking is an understatement, and I have little doubt it’s because of my parents that food is such a huge part of my life today.

I studied Astrophysics at university and worked in a software company for several years – neither of which automatically marry themselves with the love of food. But I got to that age where I came to realise what I actually enjoyed doing with my time and what meant the most to me. So my work now is writing about food or photographing it. And when I’m not working, I’m eating.

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What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what what inspired you to cook?

Despite my mum being a pretty great cook, she was always very territorial in the kitchen. No one was really allowed to get involved or in her way, so I first learnt to cook rather late in life when I moved out of home to go to university and had to feed myself. It was the first time I had free range in a kitchen, and I was in my element. I started out not even being able to make an omelette, but quickly learnt a lot and soon found myself cooking whenever I wasn’t busy getting drunk.

A lot of my family on my dad’s side have been in catering most of their working lives. My parents themselves own a café / restaurant and I started working in it at the age of 12 on Saturdays. I did everything front of house and my dad was in the kitchen. Nowadays, I’m mostly found on the other side of things as a guest in restaurants. But I suppose you could say I’ve been in that sort of environment, one way or another, for most of my life.

Tell us the story of your most spectacular kitchen failure!

I made a sorbet once, with egg whites. It tasted of frozen egg white. God, it was awful.

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Lemons. The juice of them may as well run through my veins. That’s the part-Turk in me.

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Is there a particular cuisine or style of cooking that you seek out most often?

I’m attracted to food of the Levant like a homing missile. For me to delay a visit to a newly opened Middle Eastern restaurant for much longer than it takes to glance over the online menu, is nothing short of sacrilege. I guess it’s ‘in my blood’, as they say.

My two other favourite cuisines are Japanese and Spanish. Gah..

Which single dish could you not live without?

Bread. I can give up anything else you throw at me (with some protest). But I could not give up good bread. Did you know bread is considered sacred in Turkey and if people find a piece on the floor, they will pick it up and put it on a wall or something out of respect. You can have that little nugget for free.

How do you decide where to visit next?

Through much torture and deliberation. There are so many restaurants to visit in London alone and not enough time / money / metabolism / willing dining partners to even begin to make a dent. And I’m in restaurants more than the average Jo. Nowadays, I just slam my finger down on a map with my eyes closed and see what’s good in that area. That, or take recommendations.

What current / upcoming trends in the restaurant scene do you find the most exciting?

Middle Eastern food has had some sort of second coming of late, what with Sabrina Ghayour’s fabulous cook book Persiana, new London openings such as The Palomar and Arabica Bar & Kitchen, and Alan Yau is opening a lahmacun place on Shaftsbury Avenue soon. See you there.

What are the biggest turn offs for you, when eating out?

Bad table manners. Oh my, I cannot abide it. I can’t stand people chewing with their mouth open, loud chewing, talking with your mouth full, licking of fingers, wiping of fingers on jeans. And so on.

Do you have a current favourite restaurant (or top 3?)

I had lunch at Lyle’s last week and I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was. I’m 100% returning for their evening menu.

One of my favourite restaurants to date is Café Murano for exquisite Italian.

Cafe_Murano

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you in a restaurant?

I was on a date once in a very posh restaurant and managed to set the menu on fire. It was a good ice breaker.

What’s your take on the never-ending “discussion” about taking photographs in restaurants?

As long as you’re not setting up a tripod and reflector box between tables, then I really can’t see a problem. Photos are ultimately taken to share with others through some sort of online channel, so it’s all free press for the restaurant. Thankfully, most seem to be entirely fine with it. I’m yet to be asked not to take photos, but then I haven’t eaten in Paris for a while..

Blogging killed the newspaper star. What do you think bloggers bring to the arena that appeals to your readers / differentiates you from traditional journalists?

I think people read national press reviews to enjoy the read, not necessarily to then pick up the phone and book a table at that restaurant. With bloggers however, I feel people are more likely to actually visit the places we have said are good. It’s the voice of the people – while there is more than enough room for both journalists and bloggers (and I do swing between the two), there’s no denying that bloggers have a very big influence.

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What’s been your favourite destination thus far, from a foodie perspective? Can you share a favourite memory from the trip?

The blog has only been running for two years, and there were a lot of places I visited prior to it that I haven’t written about. One highlight was Naples and the pizza that left me and my partner starting at each other wide-eyed after the first bite, with expressions of ‘Errr.. are you getting what I’m getting? Holy sh*t this is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.’

In more recent times, Japan. All of Japan. All three glorious weeks travelling around and eating my way through Japan. The fish is so iridescent and so luminescent that it doesn’t look like it can possibly be real. It’s all a bit incredible there, really.

Where are you going next?

Do I have an answer for this.

From December, I’ll be embarking on a nine month travelling expedition. I’m basically hitting all the countries that I’ve been desperate to eat in for as long as I can remember. There’s been some hard saving that’s gone into this, and I can’t quite believe it’s finally within grasping distance. The countries include: India, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, Mexico.

As long as I don’t get hit by a bus in the meantime.

What three things can you never travel without?

Sun cream – I have no desire to age prematurely. Some sort of GPS device for every moment of every day when I am lost – I have a terrible sense of direction. A notebook – if I don’t write it down, it didn’t happen (I also have a terrible memory). And a fourth one is my SLR.

What’s the best travel experience you’ve ever had?

We stayed overnight in a Berber tent on the fringes of the Sahara once. I woke up to find the nomads climbing some mighty sand dunes under a bruised sky just before the sun was due to come up. They were climbing to watch the sun rise over the desert – we joined them. It was incredible.

If we were to take a trip together, where would we go?

I think it would have to be Japan Kavey, right?

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Blog Class (Entire section is optional)

Since you started blogging, has your style and content changed over time, and if so, in what ways?

If my writing hasn’t improved over these two years, then I quit. I started pretty terribly, so there was really only one way to go.

What is the hardest aspect of blogging for you?

Procrastination is a pain in the arse. But it’s a bit like exercise – once you start, you remember you quite enjoy it. Oh, just me then..

What inspires you to keep blogging regularly?

It’s the journal of my life, really. I get a lot of pleasure looking back on what I’ve done, places I’ve been, and I’m a person that loves to record things. I plan to post something weekly while I’m travelling – it will be an invaluable chronicle of what will be a once in a lifetime adventure.

Plus, people seem to like it – that’s always nice to hear.

The Mad Turk

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

I’m desperately searching for some fresh hazelnuts but can’t find them anywhere – ahhh. Also, my plum tree in the garden is in its first year of fruiting. I picked four ripe ones yesterday. They were small, but goddamn they were the sweetest most exquisite plums I’ve ever eaten.

What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

Something about ribs – one of Gordon Ramsay’s recipes that I decided to cook and blog one day. I know nothing about SEO but something I did on that post has seen its hits rocket off towards the edges of the universe. I think that’s a strange anomaly and so I mostly ignore it. So the second most read blog is my 10 Things to Eat in Istanbul post – a lot of research, time and love went into it, so it’s really nice to see it appreciated.

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Hows about a big up for my cousin’s gaff in Stamford, The Mad Turk. He’s doing the Turkish-Cypriot cuisine proud with the food coming from his kitchen. Great restaurant, wonderful food, and he’s a lot of fun.

 

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Blog URL http://www.thecutlerychronicles.com/
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If you ever attend a blogger event and spot a whirlwind of energy and smiles, a warm and exuberant character with a truly deep love for Indian food, you can be sure that you’ve found Zoe, aka The Spice Scribe. More recently, she also launched a second blog to share her love of chocolate.

Find out more in my third Meet The Blogger interview…

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Hello and welcome, plea­se introduce yourself and tell us a little about the kind of content you share.

I’m Zoe Perrett, or, as most folks know me online, The Spice Scribe. I write about Indian food and the wider culture surrounding it. What perplexes people is that I’m a white, Essex-by-way-of-East-London girl – and my only tie to the country whose cuisine I so love is its food! I also blog about chocolate just for fun – but Indian food is my ‘true culinary calling’.

On Culinary Adventures of the Spice Scribe I share information on regional food, the UK Indian food scene in terms of restaurants, street food and supperclubs (the latter two both big loves of mine), food books, ingredients, produce guides, interesting characters, festivals… basically and broadly, anything related to Indian food that captures my heart and imagination which I think might resonate with readers.

Is there a story behind your blog’s name?

Hours of endless mulling… and a well-documented love for alliteration. The name of its ‘chocolate offshoot’, ‘Culinary Adventures of The Cocoa Nut’ clearly identifies it as a sibling, and, happily, manages to get in a pun to boot!

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Why did you choose to blog about Indian food and culture?

I don’t know if I chose Indian food. Maybe it chose me. Perhaps it was simply ‘Korma, Kheer and Kismet’, as the title of a new Indian food book I can’t wait to read puts it, that drew me in! Indian food just got under my skin. It makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and for some reason, I feel deeply connected to it. Sometimes just a whiff of a particular ingredient or dish will provoke a deep and unexplainable emotional response in me.

Does blogging about Indian food and culture present any particular challenges?

There’s too much to ever hope to cover if I were to learn – and type – 24/7! Even Cyrus Todiwala, one of the foremost authorities on Indian cuisine, concedes that if one were to devote many lifetimes to understanding India’s endlessly complex and varied kitchens, they would barely be able to scratch the surface.

Then there’s fact I don’t have a natural tie to the cuisine, which I find both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, it means some are quick to dismiss you as someone who knows nothing on the topic; on the other, it drives me to learn more and better in order to disprove that notion – something that only serves to benefit my own development in the long run!

Thus far, the many who champion what I do far outnumber the few who criticise – fingers crossed that remains the case…

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With Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala

What are your earliest memories of cooking? Who or what inspired you to cook?

Despite the ‘Indian thing’, my strongest memories are of cooking with my paternal grandmother – Nanny Win. More and more I’ve realised that this could be why Indian food ignites the feelings that it does within me.

She may not have used spices or Indian recipes, but when I eat things like keema and the soft, slightly sweet bread rolls called pav; the Indian rice pudding ‘kheer’, or milk-based sweetmeats, it takes me straight back to Sundays spent eating her savoury mince and nutmeg-topped milk puddings made rich with tinned ‘Tip Top’ cream.

I recently wrote a ‘food memory’ piece for my Parsi friend the Bawi Bride – it was all about Nanny Win’s cooking – and how, strangely, it actually had many parallels with ‘Parsi bhonu’.

What are the biggest influences on your cooking at the moment?

My go-to flavours are generally Bengali or Keralite. For the former, I’ll use mustard oil, dried red chillies, white poppy seeds, the mustard-mango relish called ‘kasundi’, slit green chillies and panch phoron – a mixture of 5 whole spices that speaks to me louder than any Indian masala… except, perhaps, for South Indian sambhar powder.

For the latter, coconut oil and grated coconut meat are ever-present in my kitchen – I’ll make simple vegetable stir-fries – ‘thorans’ – tempered with the oil in which I’ve fried mustard and cumin seeds, dried lentils (interestingly almost used as a ‘spice’ in this manner down South), curry leaves, chillies, and turmeric, and finish them with coconut.

I’m also currently obsessed with ‘pittu’ – a mixture of lightly-fermented rice flour that’s rolled to resemble irregular grains of cous cous, layered with fresh-grated coconut, and steamed in log-shaped moulds. You eat it with coconut gravy, sambhar or relishes. Traditionally it’s a breakfast item but I could live off it!

Which food or ingredients could you not live without?

Mustard oil, ghee, kasundi, curry leaves… there’s more on my own essentials here.

My cupboards are ridiculous, with spices shoehorned into any and every kind of container; multiple masalas; many types of dal, rice, and flour; condiments and esoteric speciality items. I also can’t resist a bargain – so there’s evidence of bulk buying. I might not be Indian, but I think my kitchen might fool you!

Which food writers / chefs do you find most inspirational?

Food writers – Chitrita Banerji. Culinary anthropologist Ammini Ramachandran. Pamela Timms, another ‘outsider’ drawn into India by its edible allures. Chefs – Cyrus Todiwala AND his wife Pervin – who many forget is a great chef in her own right. The family has done great things for ALL kinds of Indian food, but particularly with promoting Parsi and Goan fare.

Palash Mitra (Scarfes Bar), Gautham Iyer (Iyers Cafe), and Ashish Bhatia (Turban Street Cafe) are all doing interesting things and share my obsession with understanding all they can about the history, tradition and cultural issues around Indian food – as do the boys at Brighton’s Curry Leaf Cafe.

I also think streetfood and supperclub chefs deserve to be held in just as much esteem. Jhalmuri Express’s Angus Denoon never stops yearning to learn more from the Kolkata street food-wallas from whom he learned his craft. And working at the Damn Good Curry supperclub, Nilanjani Pai’s devotion to perfecting the last detail of each and every dish so that it’s absolutely as authentic as she can get it never fails to astound me.

Are there any particular cookery books you cherish above the rest of the shelf?

I have about 200 Indian cookbooks and foodie memoirs. They’re all pretty special – but some favourites include Chitrita Banerji’s ‘Bengali Cooking – Seasons and Festivals’; Rinky Bhattacharya’s ‘The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles’; ‘The Calcutta Cookbook’, given to me by my great mate Angus Denoon, owner of The Everybody Love Love Jhal Muri Express street food business; and a load of funny little finds I wouldn’t part with for love nor money. Many are on Indian regional cuisines; priced in rupees and written by Indian housewives. My Ceylonese cookbook from the 1950s is also a treasured gem.

If I were coming for dinner, what would you cook for me?

I wouldn’t – I’d take you to Nel’s (Nilanjani’s), safe in the knowledge that her version would knock anything I tried to make into a cocked hat! But if I had to, probably poha – a tossed-up mix of flattened rice, spice, and all things nice, followed by Bengali bhapa ilish (river fish steamed with chilli-ed mustard paste), white rice, and a nice ‘dry’ (gravy-less) dish of spinach with a pinch of panch phoron. Dessert would be mishti doi – an amazing Bengali sweet yogurt set in clay pots which absorb the moisture. It develops a crust like clotted cream and is no less lovely.

What’s the single piece of equipment you wouldn’t be without?

I’m really low-tech in the kitchen, but an electric spice grinder (mine’s James Martin brand; I’m not proud!) is a godsend for making masalas. Ideally I want to get my hands on a wet-and-dry grinder soon, too. Other than that it’s a dabba (spice tin) filled with little katoris (dishes) containing my most commonly-used spices and kept close to the cooker. And, of course, a pressure cooker. Once you learn to cook by number of ‘whistles’ rather than ‘minutes’, you’ve cracked it, and dal is near-instant.

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Filming a recipe for charity campaign, Curry For Change

What are you absolutely loving cooking, eating, doing right now?

Cooking: Picking my way through interesting regional recipes in Pushpeth Pant’s ‘India’. I find preparing a certain ingredient, like pumpkin, in a number of different ways ultimately instils a great instinct for recognising the provenance of a dish.

Eating: As I also blog about chocolate as The Cocoa Nut, I often have some lovely things to try lying around at home – at the moment I’m trying to eke out a box of Marc Demarquette’s ‘African Queen’ chocolates, newly awarded 3 stars at the Great Taste Awards – and I can tell why!

Otherwise, it’s Sri Lankan short eats (savoury snack items) I pick up from the hot cabinet at a local corner shop, or fish vindaye, octopus cari, and £1 fresh-rolled dal puris from the Mauritian guys at a chicken shop in Walthamstow.

Doing: As always, introducing people to new Indian ingredients, regional cuisines, foodie folks, cookbooks and places that make their eyes light up. There’s nothing more satisfying than someone falling in love with something you’ve been able to show them.

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What’s the single most popular post on your blog?

My Own Mahabharata – an Indian Vegetable Epic’. This is a guide to – and ambitious attempt to demystify – the endlessly fascinating world of the weird and wonderful vegetables (and a few fruits) that you see in Indian stores.

It’s by no means definitive – I still see many, many items that leave me scratching my head today, and people from different regions will use the same name to describe a different beast from their neighbours, or use a totally different name for a common vegetable.

But I do think it’s a useful primer, and I tried to make it as accessible as possible to people from all over so that they’re game to actually buy and try a few of whatever catches their eye in an Indian supermarket!

Can we give a little extra love and attention to a post you love but didn’t catch the attention of your readers in the way you hoped?

Probably ‘The Indian food places at which Indian foodies scoff’ where I asked many of my foodiest friends to share their top tips for eating Indian (and Pakistani) food in London.

Lots of lesser-known regional, neighbourhood-y places are mentioned; all endorsed by people that I know know about good food! If you want to know where chefs like Cyrus Todiwala and Vivek Singh eat with their families on their days off, you need to read this post.

 

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