Claire Ptak: I love sauerkraut; I think it's the elixir of life'


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My earliest food memory...My first memory of consuming food is of eating wild blackberries where I grew up in northern California. But my first food-related memory is when a friend and I took all my mum's herbs and spices, put them into our sandbox and made mud pies. My mum was not that happy.

My store-cupboard essentials... For baking, fresh unsalted butter, some nice flours and some brown sugar – I'm really into using brown sugar and spelt flour at home, because I use more white sugar and white flour at work. Also, really good Parmesan, some cans of tomatoes and some garlic: a restaurateur friend of mine taught me how to make the best tomato pasta sauce, which is now my go-to store-cupboard recipe. The key with the tomatoes is to use whole peeled ones, then drain all the juice away and chop them up yourself.

My favourite cookbook... The River Café's first cookbook made me want to be a professional cook. It had an aesthetic that was totally different to cookbooks I had seen before: whereas I had taught myself to bake with Martha Stewart et al, in which everything was embellished in a frou-frou way, the cakes in that book are so simple and beautiful. I also recently got a reissue of a 1920s book called The Gentle Art of Cookery by Mrs CF Leyel. It's so cool, because its recipes feel really modern: she was very international [for her time], doing pasta and all kinds of Moroccan things and the like.

The kitchen gadget I couldn't live without... A knife called a bird's beak, which is a little paring knife that's really small and is perfect for peeling and coring apples.

My top culinary tip... When baking, don't over-mix things. I always say that to young cooks who come to work for me. If you do, the cake or scones or whatever you are making will be dense and dry.

My favourite food shop... Leila's Shop in Shoreditch [15-17 Calvert Avenue, London E2]. It's a really lovely old-fashioned greengrocer attached to a café; I get a lot of fruit there for my shop. Also, the Melrose and Morgan [shops] are really cool: they do all the typical deli stuff, but you can also order things like a whole Christmas dinner.

My top table... Mangal, which is a Turkish place [off Stoke Newington Road in east London] that serves amazing Turkish pizza. Also, the Dock Kitchen [in Ladbroke Grove, west London] – it's a beautiful space and it's great the way the cuisine ranges from Indian to Italian – and Ducksoup [in Dean Street, Soho], which I went to the other night and loved.

My desert-island dish... A fresh green salad with borlotti beans baked with olive oil, garlic and a bit of thyme. Borlotti beans are a favourite of mine: I planted some in my tiny garden this year; I wasn't sure if they'd grow, so when they did, it was the most exciting thing.

My comfort food... Oatcakes with sauerkraut. I did a fasting detox a couple of years ago, and that was one of the few things I could have. I really love sauerkraut; I think it's the elixir of life.

The strangest thing I've eaten... Fried moss, at Noma [Copenhagen]. I like the foraging thing, but sometimes, I think: really?

My pet hates... Savoury desserts, with things like olives in them. A little black pepper I can deal with, but that's it!

My tipple of choice... A cocktail called an Aviation, which is made up of gin, lemon juice and maraschino cherry liqueur. Traditionally, it also has a drop of crème de violette, which gives it a blue hue. It has a lovely earthiness about it. I have them at Quo Vadis, which has some of the best cocktails in London.

Claire Ptak is a pastry chef and owner of Violet Cakes, London E8. 'Leon: Baking & Puddings: Book 3', which Ptak co-authored with Henry Dimbleby, is out now (£20, Conran Octopus)