It’s a gorgeous evening in London. The setting sun casts a rosy glow across the threshold of the building as I enter. I’m delighted by the space; beautiful high ceilings and huge Victorian windows, it’s going to be a pleasure dining here tonight.
I’m welcomed by a woman, wearing a crimson dress, who hands me a glass of bubbly and a card. “Here’s a question to ask if you run out of things to talk about.” I thank her and move on, I doubt I’ll need the question.
I work my way around a few groups and start talking to a woman in her early 20s. She is clearly nervous. After we’ve exchanged pleasantries, she blurts out her question and looks at me expectantly.
I launch into an enthusiastic speech about my love of food. I tell her about exploring farmer’s markets, cooking, entertaining and eating out. I aware I’m talking too much, and I can’t help but notice that she appears somewhat confused. I comment that she’s probably wondering why food doesn’t play a part in my profession. “Actually, I asked you, what’s your question?” I’m slightly embarrassed as I thought she’d asked me, “What’s your passion?”
My first solo foray into the ‘culinary arts’ was aged 10. I decided to surprise my family by cooking dinner, choosing to make a fried rice dish. I’d always helped my mother in the kitchen but wasn’t experienced or perhaps even old enough to be working alone, evidenced by the fact that I failed to boil the rice before adding it to the other ingredients. I think we ate baked beans on toast for dinner that night. I do know that, decades later, my family still laughs about ‘the rice episode,’ and let’s not even mention the charred chocolate cake.
When I left home I had enough knowledge to ensure I didn’t starve, and a file full of fail-safe recipes. But much as I liked cooking, it wasn’t something I loved.
It was only when I signed up to do two years of hospitality training, post-college, that things began to change. I learned about knives, repetition, onions, carrots and celery – the base for just about every classic French dish. I learned not just about food, but also about far-flung destinations, cultures and traditions. My love of travel started in my belly. I remember one particular night, when I returned home, convinced I’d just experienced the closest thing to eating dinner in Italy. I was desperate to eat and cook my way around the world.
Fast-forward almost 20 years later, and I’m more in love with food than ever. My first stop when abroad is to the local produce market or to a specialty food shop of some description. And I collect recipes of the dishes I try on my travels the way some people collect trinkets. Making them for family and friends once I’m back home is a way of further enriching the experience. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than bringing the people I love together around my table.
I’m not a fancy cook, but I’m a loving and consistent one. And in a world that sometimes feels a little obsessed with food – either with over indulging or avoiding it – and seemingly intent on complicating it, to me it remains one of life’s simple pleasures.