“Contributing editor, Rosie Birkett is one of the UK’s most cherished new voices in food, recipe and travel writing. She is a regular on Sunday Brunch, a Guardian contributor and the author of two books: A Lot On Her Plate (2015) and East London Food, a collaboration with photographer with Helen Cathcart.”
- What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
Crouched around a bonfire with my sister and neighbours, aged about four, making inedible stew and smoky tea over it. Our favourite pastime as kids was running off to the nearby orchard and making fires and dens. Very rarely was what we cooked edible, usually fashioned together from whatever loose ingredients we could pilfer from our parents shed, along with nettles and vegetables from my dad’s patch. But that smokey tea! Lapsang souchong eat your heart out.
- What’s the most memorable thing you’ve cooked?
I really loved my latest menu for carousel which featured smoked eel dashi with supple smoked eel and wild hackney marsh umeboshi. Umeboshi are salted fermented plums and have the most incredible plummy, almond flavour – salty and sour and fruity all at once. Everyone loved it – even people who weren’t sure about eel. I learned to make basic dashi – a Japanese stock made with kelp and bonito flakes with a kaiseki master on a recent trip to Japan and we infused it with a stock made from the smokey eel bones, piqued with ponzu which is soy and yuzu.
- What’s the most memorable meal you’ve eaten?
It’s impossible to say as my career has meant I’ve been incredibly lucky in that regard and eaten at some of the most wonderful restaurants and far flung countries. Noma was unforgettable but so was street food eaten in the streets of Hanoi cooked by women crouching on their haunches. I adore Mexican and Vietnamese food in particular, and feel like my senses are really heightened when I travel. Most recently a simple meal of boiled chicken with nsima in a female tea farmer’s house in Malawi. She slaughtered the chicken especially for us and cooked it guts in, producing a very bold sauce that we dipped the nsima (a starchy maize based food similar to polenta which is commonly eaten across Africa) in.
- Who would be at your dream dinner party?
David Bowie, Steve Coogan, Lena Dunham and Jon Hamm.
- What’s your favourite food? / favourite drink?
I couldn’t pick a favourite food. I love drinking nice craft beer, that’s probably what I drink the most.
- What’s the best thing you learnt at a cookery school?
I really loved learning how to fillet fish and prepare seafood. Also pastry and game cookery.
- What’s the one thing you would like to tell any would-be cook?
Just cook as much as you can. Learn from books, videos and working in restaurants. You never stop learning but once you’ve got a basic understanding of how to cook you can do so much! Experiment and trust your gut, and cook what you like to eat.
- In one sentence how would you say about the the row surrounding so-called ‘clean eating’ and the recent backlash?
How would I say? 🙊
I’m pleased that we’re moving on from the clean eating phase because there was a lot of misinformation mixed in with some more sound nutritional advice and there are far more interesting and important conversations to be having around food other than focusing on weight loss, but I do think the movement has opened up the world of food and cooking to a new audience, which is probably a good thing. I’m more interested in food being delicious and joyful, in provenance, seasonality and reducing waste and our impact on the environment through the way we cook and interact with the food system. I think you can be healthy by eating a balanced diet and enjoying delightful, well cooked food.