Yianni Papoutsis: 'A Las Vegas buffet is one of my favourite places to people-watch'

 

My earliest food memory... Eating pork souvlaki on the street in my home town in Greece. Pork souvlaki is basically small chunks of marinaded pork cooked on a charcoal grill and served with salt, pepper, lemon juice, chilli flakes and a dab of mustard on a bit of greaseproof paper. It's still a favourite of mine, though I've never seen it done properly in England. Another one of my childhood favourites was fried fish served with this thick garlic sauce called skordalia. Apparently, I used to eat the sauce straight out of the bowl.

My store-cupboard essentials... Crushed garlic, white onions, shallots, sea salt, good-quality olive oil, tomato ketchup and HP Sauce. I also have a cupboard for the things I use in my food development, which I tend to do at about two in the morning. At the moment, I've got some marshmallow fluff which I've been experimenting with: when it's heated up, it's hotter than the surface of the sun. It's like sweet napalm.

My favourite cookbook... Culinaria Spain. It's not written by anyone famous – it's part of a series of Culinaria books, which I think you can get for most regions of the world – but it has some fantastic recipes. I've actually got an olive and almond farm out in Spain, and I travelled around a lot of the country over the course of a few years, and that book has helped me recreate a lot of the tapas dishes you find in out-of-the-way places.

My top culinary tip... You can always add more but you can never add less of something, so when you're using spices or herbs or seasoning, start with small amounts, keep tasting and work up. Also, a burger should be just pure, good-quality ground meat: if you add bread or eggs or anything like that, it becomes a meatball.

My favourite food shop... Khan's Bargain Ltd in Peckham, [the part of south London] where we introduced the Meatwagon [the renowned burger van with which Papoutsis began his empire]. It's a warehouse with the most insane amount of foods from across the planet, everything from Polish pickles to 25 different varieties of paneer and big bags of chickpeas, as well as all your usual canned and dry goods and fresh fruit and veg.

My top table... Goodman [Steak Restaurant]. The Mayfair branch is about 200 yards from my house, and I probably go there a couple of times a week. The cuts change every day, but the quality is always amazing.

My desert-island dish... Ideally, it would be a Las Vegas buffet, because they contain everything you could possibly imagine. They're one of my favourite places for people-watching – you get all sorts, from people who have been up for four days on a binge to little old ladies coming down from Florida. I never know what is more shocking: how much stuff people pile on their plates or that they manage to eat it all.

My dream dining companion... Hunter S Thompson, because the after-dinner activity would be right up my alley. The dinner would go on four days, and you'd end up in a different country to where you started. We'd go somewhere I didn't like very much, so I wouldn't be bothered about not being allowed back.

My guilty pleasure... My guilty pleasures are probably diametrically opposite to others': the occasional Greek salad, furtively put together in the kitchen and eaten in the office when no one is looking.

The strangest thing I've eaten... Lutefisk in Norway – it's dried cod soaked in lye. It has the texture of slightly melted jelly and the flavour of a cod-liver oil capsule. Repugnant is the word for it.

Burger expert Yianni Papoutsis is owner of the Meatwagon van and MeatLiquor restaurant. His latest establishment, Meatmarket, is now open at Jubilee Hall, Covent Garden, London WC2

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