My earliest food memory… Memory and family stories confusingly fuse. My mother said that when I was tiny I liked only peas and blackcurrants and she would have to balance one or other on top of anything else to get me to eat it. I do remember quite vividly picking and eating quantities of raw peas from the vegetable garden. I was probably about four years old at the time. We had returned from India where I was born and were living in Surrey.
My store-cupboard essentials… Along with the obvious, olive oil, vinegars, risotto rice, etc, Colman's English Mustard powder, fish sauce, anchovies, mirin, wasabi powder, buckwheat flour, oatcakes and sardines in olive oil. The last two can be put together to make something reasonably healthy to eat when the fridge is bare.
My favourite cookbook… A lot of the cooking I do is when staying in our house in the Peloponnese, which we've had for the past 20 years. The Glorious Foods of Greece by Diane Kochilas is a thoroughly researched compendium of regional dishes that I am working my way through. Octopus – my vote for the protein of the future – is something I focused on this year. I am completely in tune with Skye Gyngell's approach to food, which is suited to a Mediterranean repertoire of ingredients and I often go to her A Year in My Kitchen for inspiration.
The kitchen gadget I couldn't live without… My sister Beth Coventry. I rarely embark on cooking for numbers of people without her by my side. She is skilled, calm, conscientious and much more eloquent than a food processor. She is willing to approach things in a steady, meticulous way while going along with my more flamboyant ideas. Being from the same family means – in our case, anyway – liking the same sort of things to eat.
My top culinary tip… If you're following a recipe for the first time, especially one from a book that has Fast, Quick, Express, Instant or 30 Minutes in the title, allow about three to five times as much time as you might imagine – or it is suggested – it will take. Be especially wary of pasta recipes that suggest you boil the pasta and then go on to say "Meanwhile…". Get everything cooked or assembled first, then boil the pasta.
My favourite food shop… The basement food hall at Fortnum & Mason. The sense of history – knowing that they sent out supplies during the Napoleonic Wars – adds a frisson that other shops lack. And the fresh-meat counter is excellent. However, perhaps needless to say, it is not where I do my weekly shop.
My desert-island dish… Rice and dal. I could eat that elemental combination every day without getting fed up. I could probably also find something on the island with which to make a chutney.
My dream dining companion… The late Alan Crompton-Batt in the early days of his invention of the restaurant PR. Energy, knowledge, wit, appetite, daring, danger, flirtation, soppiness; he was ideal – and always remembered everything the next day.
The strangest thing i've eaten… Bear's paw at an imperial banquet in Hong Kong. It tasted almost hideously meaty. Also, live ants from Jutland, scampering around on cabbage leaves before being mired in puddles of crème fraîche, which was served by Rene Redzepi when he brought Noma to Claridge's this year. Their vaunted flavour of lemongrass eluded me.
My pet hates… Writers about food who use words such as mouthwatering, moist and tasty.
My tipple of choice… Ouzo. It softens the edges of life. 1
Fay Maschler is restaurant critic for the 'London Evening Standard' and will chair the London Restaurant Festival (tomorrow to 15 October, londonrestaurantfestival.com)
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