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Gregg Wallace: 'Barbecues push appalling food to new heights'


My earliest food memory... My grandmother's roast lamb. She used to have mint growing inside a disused sink outside the kitchen door, and I'd go and pick it for the mint sauce. My grandmother was a fantastic cook. Her food was wet – she'd swamp her roast dinners in gravy so they were like a stew. I've loved wet food ever since.

My store-cupboard essentials... Butterscotch-flavour Angel Delight. It's so light and fluffy and moreish. In my new restaurant, there's going to be a little shot glass of it as a pre-dessert because I love it so much.

My favourite cookbook... Marcella Hazan's The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking [1992]. It covers the whole of Italy, region by region: there are no pictures, she's bossy and it's just brilliant. My favourite recipe is the focaccia. It's like a gym work-out – you really have to slam [the dough] about.

My culinary tip... Don't ask a chef for a recipe: the better the chef, the worse the recipe. Try taking one from my mate Michel Roux [Jr]. They never work and you know why? Because what exactly is "a squeeze of lemon"? What's "a pinch of salt"? These chefs don't write these things down; they know and feel them.

Favourite food shop... Valvona & Crolla, an Italian deli in Edinburgh. I remember the first time I went; I'd heard a lot about it, but I saw this tiny little shop front with blacked-out windows and thought, "Is this it?". But what they've done is buy up the buildings behind them so you just walk through this amazing cave of Italian produce. Whenever I go up to Edinburgh for the rugby, I always try to stop by.

My top table... Le Gavroche. If you don't want to eat the food, then take it home and snog it because it's amazing. It doesn't get better than their veal chop with a double helping of creamed-morel sauce and pommes purée.

My dream dining companion...Alexander the Great, because the man was nuts. He was the world's biggest overachiever: he came from a country the size of Wales, and he defeated an empire [the Persian empire], the size of the US. I'd dine with him in Persia in a luxurious tent with an army of concubines. It would be a night of spices and strong wines, though I'd just have to hope he didn't stab me in a rout.

My guilty pleasure...A Big Mac, though I don't have them very often since I got married because my beautiful wife looks after me. I've never understood why foodies think that a love of roast quails, say, should exclude a love of fish fingers. I go to Harvester, but every time I put that on Twitter, I get loads of snotty responses going, "I wouldn't expect to find you there." I mean, it has a salad bar and grilled chicken, what's the problem? Is it because poor people go there?

The strangest thing I've eaten...Roast quail with chocolate cake, which was cooked by someone on Masterchef: the Professionals. It was a perfectly good cake and a perfectly good quail, but the quail had cocoa and sugar on it, and the chocolate cake was covered in quail fat. It was their bus ticket home.

My pet hates... Waiters who put their arm [behind] their back while pouring wine. They don't have any idea why they're doing it, nor does anyone else. Why don't they stick their thumbs in their ears at the same time? Also, barbecues: they're part of a plot to destroy food in Britain. In the summer, the worst you used to have to put up with [at people's houses] was a buffet, but barbecues push appalling food to new heights. Men who only go into the kitchen to throw away empty beer cans suddenly think they've mastered one of the most difficult cooking techniques known to man.

Gregg Wallace is a restaurateur and television presenter. His latest restaurant, Gregg's Table, has just opened at the Bermondsey Square Hotel, London SE1