My life in food: Russell Norman

‘I have mostly learnt to cook by stealing ideas from chefs I’ve worked with’

While teaching English and drama at a school in Stanmore, Norman spent his weekends working front of house at Joe Allen in Covent Garden. Restaurants proved his true calling and he went on to manage Circus and Zuma, later becoming operations director at Caprice Holdings. In 2009 he opened his first restaurant, Polpo, an Italian bacaro, with Richard Beatty. He now has four more, including Mishkins, “a kind of Jewish deli”.

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

I like a very sharp knife and a very good chopping board. It needs to be heavy and the wood must yield just a little when you chop. I have several boards I use, including a real beauty that I’m still seasoning. It was a gift from my neighbour, Piers, who machined and carved it from a single piece of English oak. The least used things in my kitchen are the oven gloves. I have a dozen or so classic Irish linen bar cloths and if I need to get something out the oven I use one of those instead. 

 

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

I’m a simple soul, so I’d pop to Waitrose and spend £1.20 on a packet of spaghetti, £2.40 on a small jar of Cantabrian anchovies, 20p on two onions, £1.50 on a small rustic loaf and the remaining £4.70 on a bottle of young Soave. Then I’d go home and prepare the Venetian classic bigoli in salsa for two.

 

What do you eat for comfort?

I’m a monster for Double Deckers and can polish off two or three in a single sitting. I’m partial to spicy tomato Wheat Crunchies, too.

 

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

That is the Sophie’s Choice of carbohydrates. It’s impossible to answer. As Aristotle said, “A man being just as hungry as thirsty, and placed in between food and drink, must necessarily remain where he is and starve to death.” If you held a gun to my head, though, I’d probably say bread.

 

What’s your desert island recipe?

Insalata caprese (excellent tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil, salt, extra virgin olive oil) with bread to mop up the juices. I could happily eat this and nothing else forever, I think.

 

What’s your favourite restaurant?

There’s a tiny place in Venice called Alle Testiere and I really can’t think of a better restaurant anywhere. The cooking is simple and unfussy and the wine is local and inexpensive.

 

What’s your favourite cookbook?

I use the first and second River Café books on a regular basis. I am a fan of the Harry’s Bar Cookbook too and love Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy. But my favourite cookbook, for sentimental reasons, is Alistair Little’s Keep It Simple.

Who taught you to cook?

I learned to cook as a student by making every mistake there was and since then I have mostly learnt to cook by stealing ideas from those chefs I have worked with. Even now, I pick up tips on a weekly basis and I’d say my cooking is only as moderately successful as it is because I keep my repertoire relatively small.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future