He must have been one of the first people I interviewed at the time of the publication of Fusion back in 2010.
New Zealand born, London based chef, Peter Gordon latest book 'Everyday' is published by Harper Collins in New Zealand and Australia and Jacqui Small in the UK, no U.S edition yet– although as 2 of Peter’s previous books (he’s written 7 – he doesn’t use a ghost writer) have been published in the US he’s hopeful this latest will be picked up.
A few days after his return from New Zealand, I made a house call to Peter Gordon for an 'Everyday' conversation.
Q: Peter, you just came back from New Zealand. what were you working on there?
Actually for the first time in years, it was not all work. I spent quality time for the holidays with my partner Al who lives in Auckland and caught up with my family around Australia and New Zealand. Once holidays were over I had work to get on with - a series of tv commercials and media project that will be airing in June or July (8 episodes). We can talk about it more then but for now it’s under wraps. I also went fishing, foraging, diving for Paua (NZ native black abalone), harvesting sea urchins caught, cleaned and smoked over 100 eels.
Q: Your new book is titled 'Everyday', did you want to encourage people to eat (and cook) more at home?
During the week many people are pressed for time so I created recipes that could be prepared quickly with minimal shopping. The recipe for spaghetti toast for example uses canned spaghetti. bread and butter – simple! Another dish is cauliflower roasted with olives and herbs. My aim was also to help readers stay on budget. Even with simplicity in mind, one will need to know how to cook to put these dishes on the table. It will also help on days when you lack inspiration to add a little zing to dinner.
Q: Do you think that cooking a meal at home for family or friends connects you more deeply with your food and where it comes from?
City kids often don't realize that chicken legs come from living things. Seriously – and don’t even ask if they know where meatloaf comes from. On a recent visit to New Zealand, I taught school kids to cook vegetable soup and oat biscuits – some of the kids had no idea what a bell pepper or zucchini was which surprised me. When friends with children visit, I often take them to nearby city farm one of a number in London.
Q: Was the intent of 'Everyday also to show that streamlined dishes with less ingredients can be appealing, exciting, tastewise?
My previous book 'Fusion' looked at history of food, origins, food travel, it was quite complex. 'Everyday' skips over that and is simply a book laden with 170 recipes – It is a simpler approach for leaner times.
Q: When was 'Everyday' published?
First in New Zealand and Australia in October 2012 followed in November by UK, there is no U.S edition in the works yet. I was cooking at The Frankfurt Book Fair at the end of 2012 and it’s obvious the book publishing world is in flux with movement towards more digital publishing. In U.S it can be hard to make your voice heard if you don't have a TV-cable presence.
Q: Do you see each book as a chance to share new favorites, discoveries?
I like the process of writing books. If I have time to focuss, I enjoy it. It is a way to communicate my passion for flavours and my interest in people.
Q: Are new ingredients, dishes, informed by your travels?
Absolutely – and especially so as I travel a lot with restaurants in 2 countries (NZ and the UK), and a consultancy in Istanbul with 2 restaurants. There is a tension though, because when a chef is away, is it wise to let people know you are not in your kitchen? On the other hand it’s impossible to be in all my kitchens at the same time. Travel has been highly influential on my cooking.
Q: When you step away from your restaurant stove and travel, do you come back refreshed?
Never refreshed enough unfortunately. While in Ibiza recently, I stayed in a 14th century farm cottage owned by friends, shopped at local markets, cooked dishes using local ingredients. All very locavore! I stayed away from island's party crowd and it was definitely refreshing. Funnily enough, my friends are also good mates with Yoshi Takazawa of restaurant Aronia in Tokyo – he is hugely popular in Spain in the way so many Japanese chefs are.
Q: Can ingredients from various parts of the world be an invitation to travel to the source?
Food tourism definitely exists and most of my friends only ever travel to places where food will be a feature. I must have eaten almost everything, because I’ve not really experienced that many new ingredients in recent years (I’m always looking though) except perhaps for sea kale, hua (the stomach from black abalone – very seaweedy)... Currently in New Zealand, biggest trend is Mexican food and food trucks. In the UK, many restaurants have adopted a simpler, low key approach, tapas style menus.
Q: What was your biggest challenge in past couple years?
My latest venture Kopapa opened in December 2010 in Covent Garden. We expected the place to be full from day One. Instead we had a really difficult opening with some of the coldest temperatures in decades which kept the public away – and the airports were closed due to snow so tourists never appeared. Reviews went from Top 5 to worst. My food has always been like that though, polarising the reviewers. It is a touristy area with many people on their way to a play or a musical. You have to catch passers by attention and our blackboard menu was not doing that. We added familiar items like burgers and soft shell crabs and things steadily improved.
Q: How does your Covent Garden experience differs from The Providores?
At The Providores, we attract a lot of regulars from the neighborhood. Doctors, professionals and residents alike. The photographer Dennis Morris and his wife are perhaps the most regular, they come 10 – 12 times a week, for coffee and a muffin, a glass of wine, a quick lunch. There is no such thing in Covent Garden where our front door is 200 feet from Cambridge Theater where Matilda the musical is playing.
Q: Besides impact of the economy, what else has changed on UK restaurant scene?
A lot of Gordon Ramsay chefs have left to pursue their own projects. Michelin star has somehow faded. Many more casual, or low key offerings, are opening – mostly for the good. Quite a few well known places have closed their doors due to the economic downturn. Use of Asian ingredients in non-asian restaurants is common, lemongrass pana cotta is an example. Mexican food is now quite popular. British had reputation for dull food. We are now in better place than 10 years ago both creatively and in dining room, less stuffy, less formal. Wine be the glass and carafe is common. It is better for lunch crowd as half bottles are hard to come by. Restaurants are meeting customers needs more. New places find inspiration both from brasseries and tapas bars.
Q: Are cocktails an important part of today's menus?
Definitely, for the holidays we created a cocktail (pictured below) combining Christmas cake mascerated with Brandy served in Martini glass and topped with whipped cream. Cocktails can be show pieces, eye catchers.And those that are fresh and fruity make a great aperitif and also help with revenue.
Q: Are you still fond of Sherry?
I really enjoy a delicious bone dry or nutty sherry, even though it's a hard sell. Sherry suffers from perception as an old ladies drink.
Q: Getting back to 'Everyday' why is accent put on 'supermarket' ingredients?
While putting book together, we decided with editor that getting ingredients used in 'Everiday' to re-create recipes would not mean a trip to 'out of the way' specialty stores as it limits the audience. Not all chain stores get my vote yet Saintsbury and Waitrose have really spent a lot of time in expanding their food selection. 20 years ago, lemongrass would have raised eyebrows, pomegranate molasses or sumac the same. Nowadays less so and all are ingredients I use constantly and customers appreciate.
Q: On breakfast spread I received before we spoke, I see baked apples, figs, baked goods I cannot quite identify, did seasonality play a role in these choices?
Seasonality played no role in 'Everyday'. Chapters include Breakfast and Brunch, Soups, Pasta-Rice and Noodles. For breakfast-brunch items, baked apples are stuffed with toasted oats and honey, you have a raspberry, banana and avocado smoothie, in baking department, parmesan pine nut scones with balsamic butter, prosciutto and tomato.
Q: Also in breakfast-brunch chapter is 'Lamb Shakshouka', can you tell us about Shakshouka's roots?
Shakshouka is a North African-Jewish vegetarian dish. I’d eaten it often over the years, the first time in Australia in the early ‘80s. Recently I ate it in the company of my good friend Yotam Ottolenghi when we were in Israel. You eat it like a stew. Think of it as sort of a ratatouille with yogurt added and eggs on top. In Tel Aviv, a restaurant named Dr Shakshouka honors that dish.
Q: Let's conclude on a personal note, what part of London do you call home?
I bought a house in London Fields, East London, 18 months ago. Believe it or not, it’s the kitchen that needs a lot of work. I did the whole house up but ran out of funds before I could tackle it, which is actually fine as I’ve had time to decide what it really needs. Construction will begin late March so I will finally have an oven which works and get rid of the hole in the floor. Neighborhood is vibrant with lots of Vietnamese restaurants, the Broadway Market, a Jamaican Market. My favorite shops on Broadway Market are Fin and Flounder (a fishmonger), Climpson & Sons (coffee roaster), and Ole Hansen a Norwegian guy who smokes the most delicious salmon.
Thanks Peter for taking an hour of your time to talk 'Everyday' food.
(* Book cover and Breakfast spread photos by Manja Wachsmuth, Cocktail image courtesy Peter Gordon, Broadway Market image from their website)