Norman Jay: 'I don't like the cult of the celebrity chef that's around at the moment'
Sunday 26 June 2011
My earliest food memory... Farley's Rusks. I remember being given them as a very tiny child and then later my mum used to trust me to go and buy them for my siblings but I always used to open the box and eat them on the way home. In fact, I still love them now, despite being an old man: my girlfriend Jane always teases me about it.
My favourite cookbook... I like Jamie Oliver's books, because he makes it easy for the simple man like me, and also Tom Aikens' fish recipes. But mostly I get inspiration from Jane, who has been teaching me to cook: her food is exceptional, which is why she's managed to persuade me to get in the kitchen after 50 years. My dad laughed out loud when he heard I was learning, but I roasted my first chicken a couple of months ago, I've perfected my prawn linguine, and I'm just working on a fish stew.
The kitchen gadget I can't live without... Sabatier knives. We bought a set a couple of years ago in France. Until then, I hadn't realised there were some knives for filleting and cutting fish and other knives for cutting meat and others for crushing garlic or chopping herbs. They're super-sharp: I was intimidated by them, but I'm getting used to them now.
My favourite food shop... Breads Etcetera. It's a bakery and café in Brixton Market. Whenever I'm in the area, I pop in and I've got to know the guys there quite well. They make the best loaves and cakes and muffins and the smell that ranges through the market from there is amazing. They've also got little toasters on all the tables outside in the café area so you can make your own toast. I still love Portobello Market, too: there was a time when I was younger when I knew every stallholder there; I would often go to do errands for my mum and they'd say, "You don't have to pay me now, tell your mum she can pay me later." That's a bygone era, but I still get a lot of my fresh fruit and veg there.
My top table... I'm quite partial to Carluccio's, particularly the one in South Kensington. I like the ambience and the food – particularly the foccacia – and it feels akin to the traditional restaurants I've been to in Italy. There are a few Carluccio's, but they're not mass-market: they've kept an air of authenticity. Generally, I'm not a high-end dining kind of guy: I'm not spending 60 quid on an art nouveau plate with nothing on.
My dream dining companion... Sepp Blatter. I want to ask him, "Is there really no problem with Fifa?" Vivienne Westwood would be great, because she's very forthright in her opinions, and I like her irreverent attitude. She'd probably be at the dinner table wearing no bra or knickers under some amazing creation of hers.
My comfort food... If I'm working or writing, I'll sit there with some Sugar Puffs, which I'll eat straight from the box. I find they help me concentrate through the early hours, which is when I work best when I'm doing creative stuff.
My pet hate... Cheese. I don't know if it's the texture or the smell. Jane always points out to me that not all cheeses are alike – if you don't like one record, that doesn't mean you should hate music – but I'm afraid I can't deal with any of them. Also, I don't like the cult of the celebrity chef that's around at the moment: cooking should be about the food, not an excuse to show off.
My tipple of choice...I don't drink alcohol – though I'm learning to put wine in my cooking, because it brings out the flavours – so it would have to be Trinidad orange and grapefruit juice. It comes in a tin rather than a carton and not many places in England sell it any more, but my dad gets me a couple of tins every month or so, and I make them last. If I'm feeling really stressed, it puts my head straight.
Norman Jay will be DJing at Jamie Oliver's Big Feastival on London's Clapham Common, from Friday to 3 July ( thebigfeastival.co.uk)
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