Valentine Warner: 'As a lazy snack, I'll have tinned sardines, mashed, from the can'
Sunday 29 May 2011
My earliest food memory... A giant aspic jelly with eggs that my mother made. I think I was three at the time and I remember looking at it from my highchair and being riveted by the clear brown jelly and these white things that seemed to be hovering in the middle. Growing up, I had the best of both worlds: my mother was a very adaptable cook – she'd look in the fridge and make something up – while my dad was very operatic and his cooking was very rich with lots of cream and butter.
My store-cupboard essentials... Dijon mustard, anchovies, and lots of different of vinegars, from tarragon and malt to cider and red and white wine, though I generally don't use balsamic: I think it's madly overused in this country, and a lot of it is rubbish. Also, tinned sardines – as a lazy snack, I'll just mash them up and have them from the can – and lots of bags of proper polenta. During the winter, I'll boil some up and eat it with cheese or dried ceps.
My favourite cookbook... Florence White's Good Things in England, which is a wonderful little book from the 1930s. Even way back then, she was concerned with the loss of cooking skills, so she compiled this book full of people's recipes from around the country. Also, I don't know if they count as cookbooks, but my mushroom books: I'm a big mushroom forager, and I need them so I don't end up on the floor with foam coming out of my mouth.
The kitchen gadget I can't live without... A knife I bought in Tuscany from a very grumpy little man who didn't want to sell it to me. I think he just didn't like parting with his [wares] unless he thought you were OK, and I don't think he thought I was, but he probably gave it to me in the end just so I'd go away. He forges all the blades himself, and it's very sharp with a little chestnut handle which is perfectly balanced.
My favourite food shop... Michanicou Brothers greengrocers in London's Holland Park, because it has really good, carefully chosen vegetables and a lot of things I find hard to buy anywhere else, such as marjoram or radishes with some decent heat to them.
My top table... Racine, which is on the Brompton Road [in west London]. The food is delicious, old-fashioned French cooking – and it's the kind of place you'll go for lunch and won't leave until five in the afternoon. I would also say Mitch Tonks' The Seahorse [in Dartmouth]: it's just a heavenly place to eat fish.
My guilty pleasures... Coconut Yop, bacon Frazzles and Haribo sour sweets. They're all things I enjoy on long car journeys; I don't eat them at home.
My comfort food... Cauliflower cheese: I love cauliflower and all the brown bits on top, and I like it with one of those really strong cheddars that hurts the roof of your mouth.
The strangest thing I've eaten... Pig's vagina, in a place that specialised in offal tacos in Mexico. It was tender and giving. I'd definitely eat it again: it's your duty to the pig to eat everything.
My pet hates... Thoughtless, processed food, such as Cheestrings. In terms of flavours, there's only one thing I've come across which I couldn't eat, which is natto – Japanese fermented soy beans. Apparently they taste delicious, but I can't cope with their smell – it's kind of sour and stinky, and I've tried two or three times to get them in my mouth, but I just can't do it.
My tipple of choice... Cider, cider, cider, cider and more cider, but I mean good old brands like Dunkertons and Hecks and Burrow Hill, rather than that orange stuff people think they need to put ice cubes in. I'm also a big fan of Campari and grapefruit juice, though I don't know many others I can share this joy with.
TV chef Valentine Warner has teamed up with Ryvita to create a series of summer recipes. For recipe ideas: ryvita.co.uk
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