My Life in Food: John Burton-Race
'Grilled lobster with butter and garlic, eaten on the beach, would be my ideal meal'
Friday 06 July 2012
After a childhood spent in Singapore, Burton-Race worked in various kitchens in Britain, eventually rising to the rank of sous chef at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. In 1986 he opened his own restaurant, L'Ortolan in Berkshire and later JBR in London. Both were awarded two Michelin stars. Today he is a brand ambassador for Adams Foods and heads The Restaurant Experience, a food festival.
What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?
A potato ricer is my most used piece of equipment. You get your cooked potatoes, dry them, and then whack them in one at a time through it. The result is like vermicelli, and totally free of lumps Least used? I once bought, I'm ashamed to say, a garlic crusher – and it is a total and complete waste of time. Much better to just give it a bash with a knife and then chop it finely.
If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
I'd go down to the fish and chip restaurant next to where I fish, on the beach in Torcross in Devon. It's called The Boat House. I'd have a haddock and chips and a pint of beer. If not, I'd buy a whole sea bass and cook it in a salt crust.
What do you eat for comfort?
Chocolate. I've always got some about the place. I like chocolate with about 70 per cent cocoa solids. I think all this 80 per cent stuff is ridiculous, so bitter and sour, you might as well not bother. Or, maybe, my wife's Cornish pasties.
If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
I'd go for bread; preferably French. I have a little bakery in Dartmouth I go to. It's run by my ex-pastry chef, Julian – fabulous stuff. But you know, you can get some nice French flour bread in supermarkets these days. A pavé is what I have; it's not quite a sourdough and it's not quite a baguette either. Would I miss potatoes? Certainly. Pommes boulangère I absolutely love and would miss.
What's your desert island recipe?
Well a desert island recipe calls, presumably, for food you can easily get on a desert island. So grilled lobster with a touch of butter and garlic, eaten on the beach, would be my recipe. But if I could take a cool box of other things, I'd probably have it with fresh asparagus, Jersey potatoes and hollandaise sauce.
What's your favourite restaurant?
My favourite London restaurant is the Gavroche. But out of London, my most recent find is a little place on Cathedral Green in Exeter, called Abode. Michael Caines owns it and always seems to have a very good chef. I went this week and had the grazing menu – it's probably the best value in all of England.
What's your favourite cookbook?
I like cookbooks, I have hundreds. And do you know what? The pictures are enough for me, they give me ideas. The photography is very important. If I had to choose just one I would pick an old one by Nigel Slater called Appetite.
Who taught you to cook?
My mother and grandmother were good old-fashioned cooks, so I learnt at their knees. My grandmother would never buy biscuits, she would just make them – she was that type of solid cook. Raymond Blanc was, of course, inspirational, too. Also, growing up in Singapore, we had lots of local cooks at home and I would go and cook with them – they couldn't really say no when I asked them, despite me making a bloody mess everywhere.
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