Nuno Mendes: 'You have to lose your preconceptions: burning stuff is OK'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

My earliest food memory... The smell of toasted Portuguese country bread. I still love it: it's usually made with wholewheat flour, and it's really crusty and slightly sour. I remember eating it while sitting in my grandma's kitchen when I was three or four, reading cookbooks – or looking at the pictures.

My store cupboard essentials... Very good extra-virgin olive oil, very good-quality soy sauce and togarashi, which is a Japanese seven-spice mix which I use in pretty much everything. I also have different types of noodles, ramen, udon and soba; sometimes I buy them and sometimes I make them and put them in the freezer.

The kitchen appliance I can't live without... I have a range of three Masamoto chef's knives, which are very personal to me: one of them is 50 years old and the other two are about 15 or 20 years old and they were handed down to me by chefs, so I treasure them. Also, in the restaurant, I use tweezers a lot: they're a great device for putting things on the plate with precision, especially when you've got very delicate garnishes.

My culinary tip... Burning stuff is OK. Obviously it sounds wrong, but we char lots of things in the restaurant: for example, we do a dish with charred leek emulsion where we take leek ash and make a mayonnaise out of it. You have to lose your preconceptions about ingredients and the way they should be used: cook with an open mind and the possibilities become endless.

My favourite food shop... It's not a shop, but I live right off Broadway market [in Hackney, east London] and I love all the stalls there. On Saturdays, when the market's running, I like to stroll through, see friends and buy as much stuff as possible – from cured or fresh meats to vegetables and cheese and fish – for the house, and sometimes for the restaurant.

My top table... I have two favourite restaurants, Noma [in Copenhagen] and Mugaritz [in San Sebastian]. Both are fascinating restaurants that represent the areas where they are – Noma the Nordic terroir and Mugaritz the Basque country – but in a modern, unique way.

My dream dining companion... My wife Clarise would definitely be my first choice, but excluding her, my friend Minor. He lives in New York, and is a big foodie, but also incredibly entertaining and quite random: when we're at dinner, we'll talk about a million different things.

My desert-island dish... Raw fish with seaweed and rice, Japanese-style. My first experience of raw fish was when I was five or six and I've been obsessed with it every since.

My guilty pleasure... There's a stall in Broadway market called Yum Bun, which does these incredible pork buns: they're rice buns which have been steamed, cut open, then filled with pork belly, which has been slow-cooked and then gently fried and topped off with fresh cucumber, chilli sauce, hoi sin sauce and scallions. I probably shouldn't eat them as much as I do, but they're show-stoppers.

The strangest thing I've eaten... Cod-fish semen. In Japan, it's a delicacy that is poached and served in clusters with ponzu dipping sauce. It's best not to think too much about where it comes from.

My tipple of choice... An Old-Fashioned, with a very good-quality single malt and good-quality sugar. There's an amazing ritual about making them: you have to stir it very gently and add one ice cube at a time to incorporate the sugar. But because they can take about 10 minutes to make, they can be a bartender's nightmare, so if I see a bartender is busy, I won't order one.

Nuno Mendes is the chef-patron of the Michelin-starred Viajante restaurant in east London's Town Hall Hotel (viajante.co.uk ), which has just launched private-dining experiences in the hotel's 98 rooms (townhallhotel.com)

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