Tom Byng: 'My mum was the Elizabeth David of Potters Bar'


My earliest food memory... My mum's spaghetti and home-made tomato sauce. In the 1970s, when I was growing up, most people's [idea of spaghetti was] Heinz Spaghetti Hoops, so my mum was definitely ahead of the curve. She was the Elizabeth David of Potters Bar.

My favourite cookbook... Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson (Ebury, £12). He's a legend among restaurateurs. It's full of uplifting, nostalgic dishes that have a story, and it's written in a really easy-going, gentle, intelligent way. He reflects the kind of foodie I am: I like things that are simple and well done; I'm not one for scientific, Heston Blumenthal-style cooking.

The kitchen appliance I can't live without... A cast-iron Le Creuset saucepan my mum gave me for my 18th birthday. I've had it for 20 years. I broke one of its handles some time in the 1990s but I still use it with one handle and it's never let me down; it's a friend for life.

My culinary tip... When you read recipes, they often tell you to soften an onion for five minutes but never have I softened one successfully in that time. You've got to sweat them on a low heat for at least 10 to 15 minutes.

My favourite food shop... HG Walter, a butcher in West Kensington, London. I used to live around there: it's a great, unsung family butcher with wonderful, friendly service. Even though I live nowhere near there now, I still religiously drive down there every Saturday to get a set list of things: a free-range chicken, eight chipolatas, a dozen organic eggs and some mince. It's such good quality.

My top table... The Anglesey Arms in Hammersmith – one of the original gastropubs. Its cooking has been consistently good over the 20 years I've been going and it has real soul. It also has some great stories: I used to know some of the chefs who worked there who liked a drink and sometimes in the middle of a busy Friday night, they'd say, "Hold the checks," and go outside and have a pint for 10 minutes. That might explain why the service is sometimes a bit slow!

My dream dining companion... Steve McQueen, because I ride a motorcycle and he was the coolest man who ever rode one, as in The Great Escape. We wouldn't even need to talk: I'd probably go with him to one of those diners in the middle of the desert in America where there are only three tables. It would be sunset and we'd park our bikes outside and grab a cold beer and a burger. That would be very cool.

My comfort food... Nothing beats a good hamburger, but another one for me is a classic risotto Milanese, made with arborio or carnaroli rice, chicken stock and Parmesan. I get stressed when I have to cook very precise dishes, but I find that kind of big-pot cooking very therapeutic.

My pet hates... Oysters. They're slippery, a bit rubbery, and don't taste of much, yet there's this cult around them and this idea that they're sophisticated. I had one embarrassing situation where I ordered them when I was trying to impress some people. I ate them using the correct technique of slurping without chewing but I'd put too much Tabasco on and I applied slightly too much suction to the process of sucking it. The oyster went straight down my throat, whereupon I coughed it up and it landed right back on the table in front of everyone.

My tipple of choice... A Bloody Bull, which I discovered in New York at a restaurant called JG Melon. You mix together vodka, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice, tomato juice and beef bouillon: it's a braver Bloody Mary, but definitely an acquired taste.

Tom Byng is the founder of hamburger chain Byron, which is offering a special 8oz hamburger (Big D) sourced from O'Shea's of Knightsbridge until the end of February (byronhamburgers.com)

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