Maria Elia, author of Full of Flavour and The Modern Vegetarian: 'When I was a child, I was fascinated by the sheer energy of a kitchen'


Elia's career has included stints as head chef of, variously, Delfina, The Whitechapel Dining Room and latterly Joe's in Knightsbridge. She is a familiar face on TV in Market Kitchen and is author of two cookbooks, Full of Flavour, winner of the Female Chef Gourmand Award and The Modern Vegetarian, which has just been re-released by Kyle Books.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

It's got to be my knives. I know all chefs say that, but I love them. Whenever I go abroad I pick up a new one. I went to Vietnam in January and I picked up this miniature machete-type affair. It has a peeler built into the blade. So you can peel your carrots, then chop them up. It only cost me £1.50. You know, I don't have any unused bits of kit. I hate gadgets – when we got a Thermomix at Delfina I made my chefs read the manual and then teach me the bare minimum.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I would probably go to a Lebanese kebab shop. There are loads opening at the moment but I think my favourite is Maroush. The food there is great, if a bit expensive. It does a great chicken sandwich with lots of yoghurt on it.

What do you eat for comfort?

If I wanted something quick, I would have a bit of chocolate and a cup of tea. But if I had more time, a roast is unbeatable – lovely pork belly, maybe, with roast potatoes that are hard on the outside and soft inside. So delicious.

If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

If you have potatoes you can do so many things. Jersey Royals right now, for instance, just those with butter and salt are great. Cyprus potatoes made into chips are fabulous, too. So as much as I love sourdough – the crust, the soft centre – I would choose potatoes, simply because I would have a wider choice.

What's your desert island recipe?

Fresh pasta would be what I'd want. I'd shave truffle on to it and parmesan. It is simple but the flavours are just so intense. And that, with al dente pappardelle, is a perfect combination in every way. It brings back such memories from Italy – tasting those ingredients in the sunshine, with great wine, is such an experience.

What's your favourite cookbook?

I adore cookbooks, I have so many – I'm filling up my whole flat with them. Daniel Humm's cookbook from Eleven Madison Park in New York is great. It is so beautifully shot and artistic. But I also like Greg Malouf's books. His work has a lovely narrative, the stories of travelling and how he came across a dish, a flavour or a person I find really fascinating. I like to sit down with cookbooks and read them for inspiration, rather than follow them as recipe books.

What's your favourite restaurant?

Well, I haven't been here yet but I'm booked to go to Radio in Copenhagen later this month. I'm hoping that'll become a new favourite. In London I love 40 Maltby Street. I went the other day, ordered one plate and a glass of wine and I think I stayed for about six hours.

Who taught you to cook?

As a child, I would go to my dad's restaurant and watch him working. If I didn't go there, I would never have seen him, you see. It was fascinating, as a child, the sheer energy of a kitchen – it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I suppose I fell for cooking then. But I also picked stuff up from family friends. Pretty much every weekend we would be at some Greek wedding or other and they would serve loads of mezze – that itself was an education.