How We Met: Peter Gordon & Tim Lott
'We agree on a lot of things, but Tim is wrapped up in his head and I'm a bit more earthy'
Sunday 02 January 2011
Tim Lott, 54, is an acclaimed writer, who made his name with the award-winning memoir 'The Scent of Dried Roses'. He has since published five novels and regularly writes for the national press. He lives with his wife and four children in north-west London
It was around the end of the 1990s that I met Peter. One of the things I had always wanted to do, along with being a novelist, was to be a travel journalist, and I was offered a great trip to New Zealand and Fiji – it was a wine and food tour, and Peter cooked for us along the way. I was struck by what a gentle man he was: self-deprecating, intelligent and very likeable. He was quite theatrically gay – he wore this kilt, which is allegedly something to do with his Scottish heritage, though he's about as Scottish as I am – but we got on very well in a quiet, undramatic way.
We go to each other's book launches and restaurant openings, and he came to mine for dinner the other week: whenever we see each other, it's always very easy. We also went to each other's weddings – his was just off Primrose Hill. It was the first time I'd met all of Peter's friends and it was telling – normally [in those situations] there's a handful of people you don't get on with, but I didn't meet anyone I didn't like.
Irrespective of my enormous affection for him, I have amazing respect for him as a chef. If you go to [his restaurant] The Providores, the menu has these very long descriptions of dishes in which you rarely recognise half of the ingredients – it's as if they're throwing everything but the kitchen sink in there. But he's got this amazing ability to combine flavours in a way you've not experienced before. His personal warmth also somehow infuses the whole atmosphere of his restaurants – there's an informality about them, and you're made to feel very comfortable.
Peter and I are very different. I'm much more mouthy than he is. I'm bookish; he's not a great reader. He's gay and I'm not. And he just seems to like people, whereas I don't like people that much. But if there is a link between us, it's that we're both quite genuine – what you see is what you get. I also admire his quiet dignity. To do what he does, you have to have a strong, almost Zen-like self-assurance in the middle of all that chaos and react very positively to stress. Peter keeps going, doing what he does with a certain love and grace, and that's a lovely thing to see.
Peter Gordon, 47, is a New Zealand-born chef and food writer, best known for introducing fusion cuisine to the UK. Having worked as head chef at Notting Hill's Sugar Club during the 1990s, he set up the award-winning Providores and Tapa Room in 2001, and opened a second London restaurant, Kopapa, at the end of last year. He lives in north-west London
The first time I met Tim was 1997 or 1998. Air New Zealand put together a press tour of New Zealand, and wanted a chef to go with them. I'd read The Scent of Dried Roses, which I thought was a lovely book, and wondered what Tim would be like. I'd expected him to be serious and dark-haired, but he turned out to be this cheeky blond guy, cracking jokes. He was often digging at New Zealand, because at the time it was quite old-fashioned, but he and the other journos ended up falling in love with it: one of the loveliest moments was when we went to Hot Water Beach, where there are hot springs bubbling under the sands and you can dig a hole and the water comes up. Tim was like a little kid.
We got on really well, so, after we came back, we kept in contact. For a while, I was working in Notting Hill at the Sugar Club and he was living in the neighbourhood so we'd catch up round there. Recently, we haven't seen as much of each other as we should – I work all the time – but we meet up in Providores over a glass of wine or a bite, and recently I went to his house for this amazing three-course meal which his wife prepared. I definitely owe them dinner: I think Tim's a bit miffed he wasn't invited to the soft-launch of Kopapa, but that's bedlam, so it'll be nicer to sit down with them once it's properly going.
Tim and I agree on a lot of things, but he is very wrapped up in his head, and I'm a bit more earthy and hands-on. I don't get too philosophical: to me, things are what they are. In terms of our conversation, nothing is out of bounds. Since we've known each other, big things have happened in our lives: I went through Tim's relationship break-up [with his first wife], and Tim went through my break-up. As with his writing, he wears everything on his sleeve, but not in a show-off way.
Tim has experienced a lot of sadness, but he's also lots of fun: cheeky, sardonic and slightly camp, in a nice, funny way. A few years ago, Tim was the chairman of the Prince Maurice literary prize in Mauritius, and he asked me to be the chef for that. Hanging out there, I saw a slightly hedonistic side to him – we were in this five-star resort and I went slightly stir-crazy, but he loved it. Because his brain's usually at full tilt, I think it was a mental balm. If I have a favourite memory of him, it's probably floating around the pool at the [Hotel] Prince Maurice with a big grin on his face, totally serene.
Kopapa is at 32-34 Monmouth Street, Seven Dials, London WC2 (tel: 020 7240 6076, kopapa.co.uk). Tim Lott's next book, 'Under the Same Sun', will be published by Simon & Schuster later this year
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