#ChefsLifeOnAPlate interview this month is with Oliver Rowe, famous for his work with seasonal food! He is also a food author, a food stylist and he knows a thing or two when it comes to cooking up an amazing feast. He has just launched a fabulous new book Food For All Seasons.
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Where are you from?
I’m a Londoner – from Camden Town. All but one of my grandparents were from London, so it’s pretty much in my blood.
What the latest project you are working on?
The last major project I’ve been working on is my book, Food for All Seasons, which took me many years to write and most of last year to get ready for publication.
Apart from that I’ve been working on lots of small projects including a series of seasonal dinners at the London Cooking Project in Battersea and several film meals with Kino Vino, including Babette’s Feast, Crossing Delancey and Fantastic Mr Fox. These will both continue into the autumn and I’ve got some interesting new pop-ups in the pipeline, including one with Rosie Birkett.
September is going to dominated by the Urban Food Fortnight (UFF), which is a chance for London food to really shine. I’ll be doing a meal with Cultivate London – a growing project in West London – on the 6th, in the build-up to the fortnight. During UFF itself, I’ll be doing two meals, one for Sustain at Farmopolis and one at LCP, whilst also Judging the Urban Food Awards! After that are is a talk with the amazing Joanna Blytheman at The Chiswick Literary Festival and two demos at Aldeburgh Food Festival and a quick stint at the Dartmouth Food Festival.
Where did you train to be a chef?
I first cooked in Tuscany – an Idyllic start – but properly learned my trade on the job at Moro in Clerkenwell, by far and away the most inspirational kitchen I’ve ever worked in. Hard work, but real food and an amazing palette of flavours.
Who inspired you to become a chef?
Elizabeth David and Keith Floyd. My mum, of course, and the various matriarchs in my life. Food and the seasons.
How would you describe your food?
Seasonal and real. Simple, European and North African inspired flavours, with the seasonal palette as my starting point always.
What is your favourite ingredient?
My favourite ingredient is salt, by a long shot, but it’s hard not to love versatile ingredients like eggs and potatoes; onions, garlic and tomatoes form the backbone of so many dishes and flavours, and where would we be without olive oil, butter, rice, flour… the list goes on. To eat, I probably love cheese as much as anything, but ingredients are also tools for chefs, so it can be hard to separate one from the other on an objective scale, they all have their place and use, bringing colour and texture in their own way.
Have you got a favourite gadget?
I love my pestle and mortar – bought years ago on Fulham Palace Road in the old Thai Supermarket there – but recently rediscovered the joys of garlic crushers. Life in a kitchen doesn’t go on without tongs, but I also love my vintage parmesan grater and my classic French apple peeler and slicer – it does it all in one go! What not to love.
What is your signature dish?
I don’t really have one as I’ve eschewed consistency of supply of ingredients for a menu that follows the seasons, but I do love a grilled pigeon breast and I’m a pretty dab hand with a pork belly.
What do you like doing when you’re not cooking?
Eating with friends. And I love going to the cinema. I’m afraid I don’t have an unusual hobby like paragliding or fencing, although I have done both. My job gets me involved in too many capers to have time really.
Where do you like to eat (UK, globally?)
Spain, Italy, France, California… Everywhere I go abroad, it’s always a journey within a journey. When you eat in a new culture, you become connected to the people that live there. In London I love the food at St John Bread and Wine as much as the food anywhere. And Barrafina.
If you were not a chef, what would you be doing?
It’s always so hard to know, but I think either a graphic designer or an actor.
Who are your favourite chefs?
My favourite chefs are mostly writers – Elizabeth David, Simon Hopkinson, Jane Grigson, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, but Fergus Henderson has changed so much, and I love his restaurants.
Where do you like to holiday?
It’s been a while since I had a proper one – I’m going to Italy this summer and have fabulous memories of trips I’ve been on there. It was the first place I cooked as a job, in a stunning hilltop village in Tuscany, and love going back.
Are your holiday destinations inspired by food?
It’s very hard not to think about what I might eat where I’m going, but we all like a nice beach and somewhere with a good glass of wine and a cold beer. I’m a sucker for a bit of scenery and a great church.
Where have you eaten your favourite ice cream and what flavour?
My current favourite ice-cream is one I made during a trip to Harrogate and Leeds for a pop-up at Norse Restaurant and Grub and Grog. We made globe artichoke ice-cream and it was more delicious than I’d even dared to hope.
Thank you Oliver! #Love2Eat2travel x