My Life in Food: Peter Weeden, head chef at the Newman Street Tavern
'There's something reassuring about cooking beans'
Thursday 17 October 2013
Peter Weeden started in catering to fund an English literature degree. Soon, however, he decided that his true calling was in the kitchen. His first position in the capital was at Quaglinos, and he then spent five years at Coq D'Argent. After that, he distilled his style at a variety of restaurants, coming to focus on provenance and seasonality in his cooking. He is now head chef and partner at Newman Street Tavern.
What are your most- and least-used pieces of kitchen kit?
My most-used piece is my Victorinox filleting knife, which feels weightlessly comfortable in my hand. The least-used is the apple corer that I bought and quickly put into a box, now in the cellar, some years ago.
If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?
I would buy rice and nori from the Japan Centre. I make my own shiso-marinated plum to make Onigiri with. There is something very settling about those balls of rice; they are as delicious in the morning as they are as mid-afternoon snack.
What do you eat for comfort?
Beans. There is something so reassuring about the whole process of cooking them. I bought some white beans – Fagioli di Conio – from Salone del Gusto in Turin a couple of years back. I was told they should be cooked with just water and bay leaves and finished with salt and olive oil, and I've never looked back. I saved a few to grow and they are now the creamiest beans in east London.
If you could eat only bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?
Bread. I make bread every day and just the thought of making it brings a smile to my face. Soda bread with butter melting on it, crusty white with bacon between the slices, baguette with saucisson – there's just so much you can do with it.
What's your desert island recipe?
Red mullet with tomato vinaigrette. I make a vinaigrette with saffron, chilli, toasted coriander and fennel seeds, good olive oil and sherry vinegar, then I add really ripe chopped tomatoes of various colours and textures and freshly cut soft herbs to finish.
What's your favourite restaurant?
One of the best meals I've had this year was a dinner at the River Cafe – borlotti bean and tomato salad with botarga, followed up by a thick lump of turbot, wood-roasted and served with courgette trifolata.
What's your favourite cookbook?
The Cookery Year. This Readers Digest book graced my grandmother and mother's shelves, before resting on mine, where it remains a permanent ally. I still have a battered copy at work that has wonderful illustrations of butchered meat, fish and vegetables and lots of good technical information in the back to which I still refer.
Who taught you to cook?
My parents. I know a properly made béchamel thanks to my mother and my father makes the most delicious cold chestnut stuffing, which I reproduce every Christmas. But I've been a magpie, just stealing the sparkling things I have seen in the kitchens I have eaten and worked in over the past 39 years.
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