The Gannet Q&A

Oliver Rowe

24th June 2016

Oliver Rowe is a London-born chef and author who works with seasonal ingredients. From 2004 to 2010, he ran a much-loved restaurant called Konstam at the Prince Albert in King’s Cross, where he focused heavily on produce that was local to London and northern European culinary traditions. His new book, Food for All Seasons, is a personal and informative wander through the year, exploring the narrative of seasonal food against the backdrop of his own experiences.

1. If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

There are so many meals I would love to go back to, for so many reasons. It is the occasion of food, the connection it creates, that I love almost as much the food itself. If pushed though, maybe the meal cooked with a group of international chefs gathered at the amazing Tuscan farm of an old friend after Salone del Gusto in 2010. Good friends, the finest of food and incredible surroundings.

2. What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Probably cucumbers. I didn’t like tomatoes back then so cucumbers were my refuge when it came to fresh vegetables and salads. I liked their freshness, their coolness… And macaroni cheese. My mum made the best macaroni cheese – still does.

3. What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

It’s often easier to know what your greatest failings are than your talents, but I would say that mine is instinct. I was taught to cook by Sam and Sam Clark [owners of Moro] in a kitchen that fostered an instinctive approach and I have always tried to remain true to that. I think you can have all the technique in the world, but if that isn’t underpinned by instinct, and creativity, then I think the food you produce will be dull, soulless.

4. What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

While I was developing a soup recipe for the Guardian a while back I made a butternut squash, watercress and ginger soup that was absolutely delicious. I am quite busy and so I eat out much more than I should and living alone means I’m not usually motivated to cook big meals, so I make lovely breakfasts and light lunches a lot. I made scrambled egg with home-made labneh and smoked anchovy on wild-yeast sourdough recently which was also pretty divine.

From my working breakfast this morning with @borsch_and_no_tears as we start getting ready for our Mr Fox #KinoVino tomorrow! Eggs scrambled with some home-made labneh, topped with smoked sardines from @brindisaspanishfoods

A photo posted by Oliver Rowe (@oliver_rowe_london) on

5. What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

I love the sounds that cooking makes so I quite often don’t have any music when I’m cooking at home, and often work professionally in open kitchens, but if I am listening to anything it’s either Radio 4 or a wide range of music from William Basinski to the Beatles – recently we were prepping whilst listening to Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev. The album that has probably rocked my world the most in the last year or two is Jungle, by Jungle. Never tire of it, or the videos.

6. What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

My ingredient obsessions change with the seasons so it can sometimes be quite a quick cycle of change. I’m recently over asparagus and am looking forward to gooseberries. Peas have been dominant in June.

Podding peas, podding peas, podding peas… Summer's labour. Ready for my launch tonight – chilled pea and bacon soup from my book! #FoodforAllSeasons.

A photo posted by Oliver Rowe (@oliver_rowe_london) on

7. Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

My 10-inch Victorinox cherry handle chef’s knife that I’ve had for somewhere between 10 and 15 years is one, but also any of the small wooden handled Victorinox or Opinel paring knives that I have to keep replacing. Other than that I love my pestle and mortar, bought in 2001 at the Thai supermarket on Fulham Palace Road, a good pair of tongs, and increasingly my handheld yellow lemon squeezer. Who doesn’t love a Microplane too?

8. What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

I have food-splattered recipes more than books. These days I work mostly from my own recipes or am working on new ones, but I can always easily find Julia Childs’ crème Anglaise recipe, or the spinach soufflé in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable book. The BBC recipe database would be splattered if it wasn’t online.

9. Share a useful cooking tip.

Learning about blanching and how to do it easily and quickly is very useful. Lots of salted boiling water, a spider or small sieve for scooping and well-chilled water to scoop into. Beyond that, give your food attention, stir it when needed, learn from the process every time – give it some love, there’s no substitute.

10. If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

It’s becoming harder and harder to answer that as we become more and more familiar with food from all over the world but I would be hard pushed to exclude myself from Italian food. I also love Japanese food… The freshness and simplicity almost intimidates me, I respect it so much.

11. What food do you most dislike?

There is little food I really dislike… Carrots need to be really good to excite me and I’m marginally indifferent to raw celery, but neither of these are actual dislikes. There are flavours at the limits that I would say I’m still in training on, like the highest of high game birds, but most food is good with me, as long as it hasn’t been burnt, or cooked really badly.

12. What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

My favourite movie food scene is most of the last part of Babette’s Feast. I love all the shots where she’s cooking, like Robert Freson come to life. But the scene I like the most is the one where the general says that she was once a famous chef in Paris, and the one at the end where she reveals that she spent all her 10,000 francs on the meal she cooked for the village.

13. Name a favourite restaurant in your neighbourhood.

I love Moro – it’s where I learned to cook so the food makes so much sense to me, but over the years I’ve had so many delicious meals at St John Bread and Wine that I think, as a diner, it’s my favourite. I love Oldroyd in Islinton too. So bijou, with great service and delicious food from a tiny kitchen. In my neighbourhood my favourite café is The Fields Beneath and we all love Patron in Kentish Town.

14. What most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant?

Definitely waiting staff walking around with their eyes down. If you can’t go to a table straight away then it should usually be possible to acknowledge them. As a diner we become like babies, we’re very reliant, for this reason small things can make a huge difference.

15. What’s your biggest food extravagance?

Eating out! It’s rarely really justified, but I do love it – my wallet would be much happier if I did less of it.

16. Describe your average breakfast.

Eggs in some form, coffee, bacon or an avocado if I’ve got them, toast, but I’m weaning myself off eating too much bread. Or I sometimes make myself a bowl of porridge instead.

Visit Oliver’s website:

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Posted 24th June 2016

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