First food memory?
Aged three, sitting on my father’s shoulders in an old-fashioned butcher’s shop, my head surrounded by sausages and black puddings hanging from the ceiling. I remember the meaty smell of the sausages, and trying to avoid having them damply brushing against my cheeks. Also memorable was the alarming and insistent thud of the butcher’s cleaver on the ancient wooden counter as he chopped up our meat. I liked all the sawdust on the floor. It seemed very clean.
First cookery skills?
Making sweets such as toffee and fudge, and ‘chocolate crackolates’ made with corn flakes, cocoa powder, syrup and butter.
Mainly Middle Eastern, such as preserved lemons, harissa sauce, cumin, freekeh (roasted green wheat) dried limes, sumac and za’atar. Having written a book about pepper, I also very much like unusual peppercorn varieties such as long pepper and grains of paradise (small reddish-brown seeds from West Africa, also known as melegueta pepper), as well as top quality black pepper.
Recipes or improvise?
If the recipe is unfamiliar, say, from a foreign cuisine, I will follow it once or twice and then adapt to suit my particular taste. On a day-to-day basis, I tend to improvise using whatever ingredients I have to hand.
Most underrated dish?
Cauliflower has to be one of the UK’s most underrated vegetables, yet it really is a national treasure. I love cooking with it – not just familiar cauliflower cheese, but roasted and scattered with toasted nuts, lemon zest and herbs. It also makes a great curry with coconut flakes and plenty of chopped coriander.
Indispensable kitchen gadget or utensil?
I would find it hard to live without my cleaver. I use it for everything – slicing, dicing, shredding, crushing, chopping, demolishing bones. I like the way the thick wide blade can be used to transfer ingredients from chopping board to pan.
Tell us a top cookery tip?
If you have cooked green vegetables and are unable to serve them immediately, put them in warm serving bowl, cover tightly with cling film and then a clean tea towel. They will remain hot and brightly coloured for about 20 minutes.
Eat at home or eat out?
We tend to eat mostly at home as we live in the depths of the countryside, and good restaurants are few and far between. Our local pub serves excellent food, though, so we go there once a week. We’re within sight of the sea, so we’ll also go to a beach café for Sunday breakfast, or one of the seafood restaurants for a treat.
What’s Britain’s best-kept food secret?
Our seasonal nuts are hardly known outside the UK. Cobnuts are a fine example. The flesh is sweet, moist and crisp, quite unlike the dried hazelnuts sold at Christmas. Cobnut oil is superb on salads. Chestnuts, with their polished mahogany skins and moist flesh are another great British nut.
What are the key ingredients for a successful cookery class?
Organisation and planning; a workable time plan – it’s essential to finish on time; a relaxed pace but not so slow that people are twiddling their thumbs.; clearly written recipes that are easy to follow; an efficient assistant to keep work stations tidy and keep on top of the washing up – above all, the class should be fun.