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Russell Norman: 'I find something really therapeutic about making risotto'


My earliest food memory...Marmite sandwiches on sliced white bread. I used to press the bread down to the thickness of a coin, and I remember that really lovely transformation of texture from fluffy white bread to something quite dense and getting that little salty hit in the middle.

My store-cupboard essentials... Carnaroli rice, passata, fennel seeds, dried porcini mushrooms and Maldon sea salt. And Cadbury's Double Decker [bars] – when you're doing an online shop, a screen will pop up saying, "Have you forgotten something?", listing things you've previously bought. Mine always features multipacks of Double Deckers, and I can never resist adding them.

My favourite cookbook... Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy. Her writing is wonderful and she's incredibly thorough – I love this book in particular, because Italian food is my default setting at home. I also use The Harry's Bar Cookbook. I'm not really a fan of Harry's Bar – I think it's a complete tourist trap – but it's a good cookbook. Their recipe for minestrone is my standard, and I also love their evil recipe for croque monsieur, which effectively involves frying the bread that houses the ham and cheese.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My ornamental brass Turkish coffee grinder. I got it in a market in Fethiye in Turkey about 10 years ago and it's hideously ugly but brilliant. Though it was designed for coffee, I use it for grinding pepper, and it's the first thing I reach for when I'm cooking.

My culinary tip... For any recipe that requires chopped onions, add a finely chopped celery stick, too. It's a subtle way of adding texture and lightness: as you fry the onions, they'll soften, but you'll still get that little bite from the celery.

My favourite food shop... Gennaro Delicatessen, which is a great Italian deli near to where I live in Lewisham. They're incredibly friendly – and great at sourcing a wide range of ingredients.

My top table... All'Arco in Venice, although there isn't actually a table – it's a tiny family-run bar which is standing-room only, but they cook some of the best food in the whole city. I discovered it 10 years ago, and it's on the list of places that inspired [my first restaurant] Polpo [which is based on Venetian bacaros]. My favourite dish is the baccala mantecato, or creamed salt cod, which they spear on to little discs of grilled polenta or toast.

My guilty pleasure... Truffles on scrambled eggs. I also once had truffles on macaroni cheese in New York and that was pretty spectacular as well. The guilt comes from taking such an expensive and revered ingredient and ruining it by putting it on something so cheap and proletarian. But it works!

My comfort food... Risotto: not so much the eating as the making of it: I find something really therapeutic about the whole process of starting with very hard rice and chopped onion and everything getting gradually softer as the process goes on. There should be a book called "Zen and the Art of Risotto Making".

My pet hates... Scaffolding – when dishes are built up into a tower on a plate. I can see why people do it – they want to add a bit of drama – but when it gets out of hand, it's just crazy. If I'm in a restaurant and something arrives that has been meticulously built up, the first thing I do is pick up a fork and knock it down.

My tipple of choice... I'm a sucker for Campari. It's best used in a Negroni, which is equal measures of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth but we also do a Campari Spritz [in my restaurants], which is Campari with a glug of white wine and a splash of soda. I associate it with Venice, and therefore Polpo.

Russell Norman is a London-based restaurateur. His latest restaurant, the Jewish-style deli Mishkin's, is at 25 Catherine Street, London WC2 (tel: 020 7240 2078, mishkins.co.uk)