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Food and Drink

My life in food: Florence Knight

Head chef, Polpetto

After a course at Leiths School of Food and Wine, Knight initially worked as a pastry chef at Raymond Blanc’s Diamond Club at Arsenal FC. It was there she was spotted by Russell Norman, founder of the Polpo group, who gave her the kitchen at Venetian-style bacari Polpetto at the French House in Soho, which is to re-open this November. Her book, One: A Cook And Her Cupboard is out now (Saltyard Books, £26).

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

I have two things I use most. A Bialetti coffee pot, which is in use from first thing in the morning until early afternoon, and also my wooden spoons. I use them for everything– stirring, knocking things off high shelves, and very occasionally giving people a sharp tap with. Least used are my oven gloves, I always end up grabbing a tea towel from the back of my apron strings instead.


If you only had £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I struggle to walk past the stall on Berwick Street in Soho without buying a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese egg tart) at the moment. So I’d spend my money on buying one of those every day for the week.


What do you eat for comfort?

In the winter I crave slow-cooked, stewy things. There’s nothing I like better than a ragù that has been slowly simmering for hours, or lamb left in the oven overnight. But saying that, sticky toffee pudding with custard is a strong favorite on days when I feel blue. When the sun shines, then it’s all raspberry sorbet and bowls of ripe cherries.


If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

I think it would have to be potatoes. Not only are they wonderfully varied but you can do so much with them. They can be boiled until tender and served with butter or olive oil, mashed, fried, roasted, made into gnocchi or even sliced and baked into dauphinoise, added to salads or simply slow-baked and smothered in butter. I’d be so sad never to smell freshly baked bread again, though.


What’s your desert island recipe?

A simple bowl of chickpeas and seasonal greens topped with a soft poached egg and bread to mop up all the juices. I could happily eat that over and over again.


What’s your favourite restaurant?

Who you’re with and where you are play as much a part as what you eat in a restaurant. A little taverna on the coast of Kefalonia called Odysseus run by a mother and son has many happy memories for me. No menu, all the ingredients are bought from the surrounding villages. The fish is brought straight out of the harbour that morning, carried past the customers who sit under the olive blossom, and they serve amazing honey cake and yoghurt for dessert.


What’s your favourite cookbook?

My favourite cookbook is my slightly battered and now spineless, Aga cookbook from 1989. It has my late father’s handwritten notes for every Christmas dinner he cooked from 1990. He tried everything to get as things as perfect as it could be. The book is littered with comments like “left leg of turkey a bit too pink” and “potatoes not quite crispy enough”. He even recorded the temperature outside.


Who taught you to cook?

My school home economics teacher, Mrs Benson, taught me to cook and trained me in the basics, taking me through to the City & Guilds examinations. She showed me that cooking could be more than just a passion and that I could make a career out of it.