The likes and dislikes of the owner of Soul Food
Food and agricultural minister for the UK. I really think we need to change the way people eat, how we approach farming, and the whole food production system in the country. The way in which food is produced and distributed is rife with issues which desperately need to be addressed.
It is about shaping the way people eat, making sure the farmer gets a better deal, and looking at the type of food being sold in supermarkets. You can’t ignore the supermarkets, so I’d like to look at how we go about ensuring they play a proper role in getting healthier food to the wider population, while also cutting down on food waste.
This is going to sound funny, but working in Michelin-starred kitchens. I've worked in a few: Criterion, Mirabelle, Canteen. It can be brutal—you end up having nightmares about incomplete mise en place. There are tears, tantrums, the stress is enormous. It's exciting, and you learn a huge amount, but you have to be tough to survive.
I actually think I have enjoyed market trading the most, because it is just raw street food. I’m very passionate about food and because we have virtually a full kitchen, I can really explore the boundaries of food you can serve on the street. I’m really enjoying cooking outdoors, on the fly, and I’m really proud of what we serve.
Pierre Koffmann, who has been a legend to most chefs for years. You have to admire his inventiveness, the way he thinks about food and his ability to maintain such a high standard for so many years.
I also really look up to Gary Rhodes, because he was part of the culture change surrounding food in the 1980s. Marco Pierre White, who I’ve worked for, is another hero of mine. They were among a group of young British chefs who changed the landscape of fine dining.
Gary was really vocal about championing British classics. I still remember his take on steak and kidney pie: a grilled steak served with a kidney pie. It was witty, beautifully cooked and made the most of great British produce. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how ground-breaking he was.
To be honest, I’m always thinking about food—it is really a bit sad. If I’m out and have something I like, I’m instantly thinking about what went into making it and what other ingredients it would go with. Will it go with something I am cooking? Is it part of a new trend I need to know about? That kind of thing.
I travel to South Africa a lot, but I want to go to Japan and China. Again, it is about the food culture in those places, I’d love to experience them. I would also love to go to the southern states in America— places like New Orleans, Louisiana—to eat some of their soul food.
I think Johannesburg. I love the city, it is a crazy place where you see and hear things that you won’t see anywhere else. It is a very raw place, loads going on. I remember one beggar saying a member of his family had been kidnapped by ninjas so he needed money to learn kung fu to get them back. Stuff you really wouldn’t believe. Berlin comes a close second because it is really slick, sophisticated and modern.
Favourite childhood meal
Probably curry goat with rice and peas. It is such a traditional dish all over the Caribbean. Almost every island has a version of it and my mother cooked it very well.
Best home cooked meal
I don’t cook at home. I spend eight hours a day cooking, so away from here I go to restaurants a lot, like Roka. It also keeps me in touch with what is happening in the restaurant scene.
Favourite school subject
Least favourite school subject
None, really. I really enjoyed school and pretty much liked all the subjects.
I’m pretty much tee-total at the moment, so something I really like is Fever Tree ginger beer, with the juice of freshly grated ginger added. It is amazing.
Favourite historical figure
Nelson Mandela. His life might not really qualify as history yet, as he died so recently and he's still so relevant, but he was such an inspirational figure and I’d have loved to have sat down with him.
I have always listened to ragga, rap and reggae. I have also listened to grime since the days of So Solid Crew and Dizzee Rascal. I like people like Skepta and Stormzy—although I’m probably a bit old to be listening to them, because this is young people music! I’m always up to date with the current music scene but at the same time, I might go home and put on Gregory Porter or George Benson. It just depends what sort of mood I’m in.
Best thing about London
I think it is the food capital of the world. The sheer variety of cuisines you can find here, cooked very well, is amazing. I don’t think anywhere else can match it. Also, the historical and cultural layers you can find here side by side is wonderful. And it is a safe city: I have travelled a lot and London is a very safe place compared to many other big cities.
Worst thing about London
Traffic. It is a nightmare.
Worst day at the office
When it rains all day and the wind is blowing the rain into the stall. There aren’t that many bad days to be honest, but they are normally weather-related.