Jason Atherton: 'There's something suspicious about selling a burger for 99p'
My earliest food memory... Helping with dinner at my parents' hotel in Skegness. Mum used to cook all the meals and when I came home from school, I'd lay out all the starters on the table – home-made pâtés and terrines or prawn cocktail – then have one myself.
My store-cupboard essentials... You have to have good oil, whether that's rapeseed or olive or peanut. I hate cooking with vegetable oil, and I'm using a lot of Finnish rapeseed at the moment. Also, a good selection of spices and bouquets garnis and spice mixes: one I particularly like is ras el hanout, which is a Moroccan spice blend with something like 26 spices in it, including rose petals and lavender. It's beautiful with lamb.
My favourite cookbook... At the moment it's Quay by [Australian chef] Peter Gilmour [Murdoch Books, £35]. He has such a unique style and vision: his food is haute cuisine but incorporates a lot of Asian and Australian ingredients. A book I go back to time and again is Dining in France by a French food critic called Christian Millau, which I bought when I was 16. It has recipes from all the great French chefs, from Pierre Gagnaire to Bernard Loiseau and Joël Robuchon, as well as a great chef called Marc Haeberlin, who runs L'Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace. I ended up going to work for him there, which was a dream come true.
The kitchen gadget I couldn't live without... My Thermomix – you can blend and heat things at the same time and it's so powerful that no matter what you put into it, it will produce a silky smooth purée.
My favourite food shop... Fortnum & Mason. Food-wise, it encapsulates Britain's wonderful heritage. Also, Borough Market: it's a fantastic space where farmers can showcase their produce, which is really important. There should be three or four markets like Borough around London.
My top table... For fine dining, the Ledbury in Notting Hill, and for casual, Barrafina in Soho. If I'm going Chinese, it's Yauatcha or Bar Shu and if I'm going Japanese, it's got to be Zuma (all central London). If I was forced to pick one, it would be the Ledbury, because if I go there, that means I'm treating myself, so I've done something right. It has a ferociously talented young chef in Brett Graham. His cuisine is so light and delicate, but I also like that it's not too out there: it's still recognisable as food.
My dream dining companion... Auguste Escoffier. I've always had a fascination with him and the fact he was the first chef to become a household name: to this day, 130 years on, we still look to his cookbooks for inspiration. I'd like to take him to El Bulli, where I trained, to show him how far food has come in the past century.
My guilty pleasure... Nando's, I'm afraid. I always have an extra-hot chicken pitta wrap with cheese amd chips – but I only have it once a month or so. I don't generally go to fast-food chains – if they can sell a burger for 99p, I think there's something suspicious going on – but Nando's is better than most: at least it's fresh and cooked in front of you.
The strangest thing I've eaten... Balut, which is an egg with a chicken foetus inside. You put some salt on it, and it's meant to be the best protein you can eat. It's a national dish in the Phillipines, where my wife is from, and a guy comes round on a bike with a little incubator and flips it open, and you can choose an egg aged from four weeks to about 12 weeks. I chose one of the 12-weekers and it was disgusting: the smell made me retch.
The former right-hand man of Gordon Ramsay, Atherton, 39, spent six years as chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Maze. Next week, he opens his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social, in London's Mayfair
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