Oliver Peyton: 'Fidel Castro is someone I've always been in awe of'


My earliest food memory... Watching my grandparents killing a pig. They were farmers on the west coast of Ireland, and I have a very vivid memory of them killing it and hanging it up in the barn and then bleeding it and gutting it. I was six or seven at the time, but when you're that age, things don't shock you in the way they might later on in life.

My store cupboard essentials... Parmesan, pesto, a sugo tomato sauce, some cheese with a bit of life to it, such as Lincolnshire Poacher, which is a strong cheddar, and Ortiz tuna, which is a really high-quality tinned tuna from Spain. Also, I always have three or four different types of olive oil, because I'm on a never-ending search for the perfect bottle: it's a Holy Grail product for me.

Top cookbook... Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Vegetables (HarperCollins, £19.99). I think a lot about vegetables, and the different ways of preparing them, and Alice was actually someone who inspired me to go into the restaurant business. I remember going to Chez Panisse [in Berkeley, California] in the 1980s and being intrigued by the fact that she grew lots of the food she cooked right outside her door – that was something no other chefs were doing at the time.

The kitchen appliance I can't live without... I love mandolin slicers because you can get such a fine level of cut. I like my vegetables very al dente, and with a mandolin, you can slice them very thinly, then flash [boil] them for 30 or 40 seconds and they're done.

My culinary tip... Prioritise content over style. I think people come to my house expecting gastronomic fireworks, but they never get it, because I'm more interested in finding the freshest vegetables and the freshest fish and the best meat, then doing very little to them.

My favourite food shop... Peck in Milan. It is a food nirvana: they find the best of everything, from wine to ham to olive oil, and their home-made pasta is amazing. I was buying ravioli there last year and I said to the lady at the counter, "How long are they good for?" and she said, "Four or five hours." I said, "But I'm going on an aeroplane," and she said, "No you can't take them on the plane, I'm not going to sell them to you." I love them for that passion.

My desert island dish... White-truffle risotto. If it's done well, when truffles are in their peak season, the flavour lingers with you for weeks.

My dream dining companion... Fidel Castro. I grew up with left-wing politics, and he's someone I've always been in awe of.

My pet hate... Saffron. I hate everything about it, even the colour. Every time I try a dish with saffron init , I can't taste anything else: it kills all the other flavours.

My guilty pleasure... I eat far too much chocolate and ice-cream and I load a lot of sugar into my body. The other Saturday, I brought home a banoffee pie from work; my wife and my kids were out and by the time they came back, I'd eaten three-quarters of it without really realising it. Also, a burrata mozzarella makes me happy as Larry. I'll take a whole one out of the fridge, stand there and crack through it in one go.

My tipple of choice... White wine. I try to search out more unusual wines – I'm into Austrian wines at the moment – but I don't see why you should have to spend a lot of money on a bottle: in most decent off-licences, you can get an extremely good one for less than a tenner. You also have to box clever with wine because you can come up against a lot of marketing bollocks.

Oliver Peyton is the founder and chairman of catering group Peyton and Byrne, which recently launched a restaurant/bar at the Royal Academy of Arts, London W1. Peyton and Byrne's latest cookbook, 'British Baking' (Square Peg, £20), is available from Thursday

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