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My Life In Food: Simon Hopkinson


Simon Hopkinson has been, variously, an Egon Ronay inspector, the chef-proprietor of Bibendum restaurant, a food columnist for The Independent and an award-winning cookery writer. His latest book is The Good Cook (BBC Books, £25).

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

My most used piece of equipment would be my old swivel peeler, which belonged to my father. It is wonderfully worn and comfortable and peels like nothing else. I don't really have a least used piece of kit. I'm almost never seduced by silly gadgets that you buy and never use.

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

One of my favourite things is congee, the Chinese rice porridge – so I'd go to China Town in London and have that with a couple of other bits of dim sum. I've loved it since I first tried it, very hungover, at breakfast at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. I'd had too much champagne the night before, was jetlagged and woke feeling dreadful. I went down and had a large bowl and it was the most comforting thing.

What do you eat for comfort?

I'm rather partial to a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie. You stick them in the oven and the pastry rises wonderfully. It is essential, though, that you serve them with lots of ketchup. And if not a Fray Bentos, then an egg and bacon sandwich on brown Hovis bread.

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

It would be potatoes, I think. I love all those wonderfully old-fashioned things you can do with them. Mash, chips, roasts are all great. That said, I would miss the Pain de Mie loaf I get from Paul. It's a rich white loaf with egg in it and makes particularly good toasted sandwiches.

What's your desert island recipe?

I think rice pudding. Get the creamiest milk you can find, pudding rice, sugar, some grated nutmeg, vanilla and a good pinch of salt. Put it together and slow-cook it in the oven on a low heat for a couple of hours, and take it out of the oven when it's golden.

What's your favourite restaurant?

The Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram building in New York. It opened in 1959 and it is the most staggering place architecturally, with two very grand rooms. The food is very good, too. I can still remember what I first ate there 25 years ago. It was a dish of shad roe – I'd describe it as a revelation.

What's your favourite cookbook?

That would be Richard Olney's The French Menu Cookbook. I came across it about 30 years ago and immediately fell for his prose style and his understanding of serious cooking. I always say that if a cookbook has one good recipe it's worth buying, and this has absolutely loads of them.

Who taught you to cook?

My parents inspired me. My dad was a dentist, my mum a schoolteacher and they were both very good, and quite different, cooks. My mother was quite traditional but my dad would cook lots of foreign food. We went camping in Spain and he learnt how to cook paella. And then he would travel into Manchester, from our house in Lancashire, for spices for his curries. Together they fuelled my healthy greed.