David Eyre: 'I often eat standing in front of the fridge late at night'

 

My earliest food memory...My most formative memory was when I was about 11. I grew up in Mozambique, but went to school in Rhodesia, and getting there involved a two- or three-day journey. On this one occasion, we were travelling through the forest and called into one of the many sawmills along the way, where the wife of the sawmill owner was running something of a truck-stop restaurant. I remember her saying, "You're a bit late for lunch, but we've got some roast pork," and in fact, it was this wonderful suckling peri-peri pork with fried potatoes and a stack of bread, which I ate greedily with my fingers. That was the same day I discovered the joys of cold beer, because that's all they had on offer to drink: if I was to choose a last supper, it would definitely involve those two things.

My favourite cookbook... The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson. My copy contains the inscription "To Mum with love, Christmas 1988"; I bought it for her and managed to steal it straight back! When I was at the Eagle [the Farringdon pub credited with launching the gastropub concept in the early 1990s], pretty much everything in that book appeared at some point on my menus and I still keep it in my restaurant kitchen for inspiration now. I'm also a big fan of Claudia Roden; I have an awful lot of cookbooks, and, interestingly, hardly any of them are by chefs. I'm not really interested in typical restaurant food. My kind of gastronomy is much more domestic – something that's handed down through generations.

My culinary tip... Don't be afraid to use lard as a cooking fat – I think people are unnecessarily scared of it making them fat. You can obviously buy the stuff, but it's much better if you get some pork fat from the butcher and render it yourself. It's got a really high smoking point, and a delicious flavour – it gives a certain distinctive sweetness to what you're cooking. That's what I'll use if I'm frying a steak, for example, or even for making pastry – though I don't use it in pastry at the restaurant because there are so many vegetarians these days.

My top table... I often say that my favourite restaurants are any number of nameless, menu-less places hidden down a track that I've discovered on holiday. I also recently had a superb meal at Quo Vadis [in Soho], whose kitchen was taken over by Jeremy Lee. Particularly memorable was an absurdly good roast leg of mutton – though, like all great restaurants, it's not just about the food, but the charm, ambience and generosity of spirit that you feel there.

My dream dining companion... Elizabeth David, because she was so incredibly articulate and eloquent about food; one of my favourite books is An Omelette and a Glass of Wine [an anthology of David's essays and articles]. I never met her sadly, but those who did hung on to every word she said. Although I'd be more than a little nervous; she wouldn't suffer foolish chefs gladly.

My guilty pleasure... A badly cut doorstep sandwich, with fresh white bread and a bit of ham or some sobrasada, a pâté-like chorizo from Mallorca. I often eat standing in front of the fridge and nearly always late at night.

My pet hates... Molecular guff and all other forms of daft restaurant food: dishes stacked using metal rulers, square or rectangular plates, tiny things placed off centre [on the plate] with another tiny thing opposite and a smudge of purée in between. And I really don't want to eat an orange that looks like chicken livers – or is it the other way around? Also, I don't like fruit and meat together – things like venison and jam or duck and orange – though there are occasional exceptions: the Catalonian combination of rabbit and prunes is quite nice.

David Eyre is executive chef of Iberian restaurant Eyre Brothers, London EC2. He has recently been interviewed for the British Library's oral history archive on food (bl.uk/listening)

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