Silvena Rowe: 'I make secret visits to KFC and hope I'm not recognised'

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My earliest food memory... Picking tomatoes at our family's villa in Bulgaria. They were the most amazing tomatoes: so sweet and with the most incredible smell. I used to tear them apart with my hands, sprinkle a little bit of salt on them and eat them just like that.

My store-cupboard essentials... Cumin, sesame seeds, pomegranate molasses and honey. I also have 11 types of spice blend. Making them is like witchcraft: the most potent one is za'atar, which is made from cumin seeds, sesame seeds, fresh oregano and sumac.

My favourite cookbook... My preference varies depending on day and mood, but I absolutely love Mario Batali's books, particularly The Babbo Cookbook, which comprises recipes from one of his 17 restaurants. He's one of America's best cooks: he does the most exciting, modern and yet simple Italian cooking. I also always love Claudia Roden: she's a fantastic food historian and I find her writing style so beautiful and elegant.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My Ottoman pestle and mortar, which is 300 years old and has been passed down through my family. It's made from pewter; the design is perfect.

My culinary tip...Keep it simple: in the words of George Orwell, "The fussier the food the more fingers have been in it" – and nobody would want to eat food with too many fingers in it, would they? Also, whatever you do, keep a pot of stock in your fridge, whether chicken or beef or vegetable. That way, you have the means to make an amazing risotto, or soup or the base of any stew: I even boil my potatoes in stock and it's mind-blowing: it makes them into a princely dish.

My favourite food shop... The Turkish supermarket TFC: there are a few branches around London but I go to the Catford one. I get everything from there: the best bread, the best tomatoes, the best peppers, the best beans and at the moment I'm buying lots of fresh vine leaves for stuffing.

My top table... For the food, Nobu has to be my favourite. I want [my new restaurant] Quince to be seen as a Turkish Nobu, because just as it put a modern spin on traditional Japanese cuisine, I'm doing the same with flavours from traditional Ottoman cuisine. Also, I love Zuma for the atmosphere – it's so buzzy and you can people-watch – and also China Tang, because it has that decadent opulence about it, as well the best duck I've ever eaten outside of Hong Kong.

My desert-island dish... A piece of orange baklava, as I make it at Quince, filled with pure orange purée. It's very light and crisp and entirely sugar-free. It's based on a recipe dating from the 16th century, when it used to be a favourite of Roxelana, who was the favourite concubine of Suleiman the Magnificent.

My guilty pleasure... Kentucky Fried Chicken. I'll make sneaky visits to KFC at 1am on the way back from work and I'll get myself two pieces of chicken and the Zinger burger. I try not to do it very often, and I always hope I won't be recognised, which I was a few months ago. They said, "Oh my god, it's the chef from TV." Thank god they were drunk.

My comfort food... A soup recipe I got from my mother and grandmother: it's basically chicken soup made with chicken consommé and yoghurt and lemon, and I finish it off with half a bunch of parsley. The owner of the May Fair Hotel has fallen in love with it, so I make it every day for us both. It's not going to go on the menu as it's special to me and I want to keep it that way.

My tipple of choice... Ayran, which is a Turkish drink made of diluted yoghurt with water. It's beautiful and so good for you. It's a bit like a lassi.

Silvena Rowe is a chef specialising in eastern Mediterranean cuisine. Her new restaurant, Quince, is at the May Fair Hotel, London W1 (quincelondon.com)

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