My market: Luke Mackay

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Helena Smith talks to some of Borough’s regular shoppers to find out their favourite Market haunts and ingredients—and what keeps them coming back. This time, demo kitchen regular Luke Mackay

Regular visitors to Borough Market might well recognise Luke Mackay—he hosts the demo kitchen, where chefs and food experts use the Market’s seasonal bounty and demonstrate dishes, providing onlookers with recipe cards and guidance about what to buy where. Last week the tables turned and Luke was the cook, channelling his love of autumnal produce into four dishes using squashes. But Luke’s connection with the Market goes way back. Here he tells us what first drew him to Borough Market.

“I studied literature at university, but when I left I started moving in food circles and heard about Borough Market. The first time I visited I was blown away—not so much by the food, but by the atmosphere: it was a cold morning with mist rising, there were smells of cheese and mushrooms, the sight of fish on ice and the powerful steel girders, combined with the camaraderie and energy of the sellers. I remember buying an aged comté with salt crystals. I was brought up in Northern Ireland and my exposure to cheese was Dairylea and plastic cheddar. The taste of the comté was incredible.

In essence, the Market is the same now as it was back in 2000, but it was less global when I first started shopping here. The focus was on French, Italian and British ingredients: there was no Croatian food for example, and you couldn’t get jerk chicken seasoning.

A yacht in Antibes
As a 21-year-old, Borough Market opened my eyes to what cooking could be; that chicken had offal that could be used, and that I could gut and fillet fish myself. I was like a sponge, talking to fishmongers, butchers and the cheese guys, and it made me realise I wanted a career in food. I started catering for the BBC, specifically Children in Need, but as an organiser not a cook. Then I did a season as a chef on a yacht in Antibes. I had blagged my way into the job and would read Larousse Gastronomique under the covers each night with a head torch. I took off to Malawi for a few months, then did some ski and boat seasons, then I started working as a private chef and took my wine exams. A constant was Borough Market: it was always somewhere to come, to de-stress and to learn.

Ten years ago, my professional relationship with the Market began, with cooking demos in the car park, which have now expanded into the Demo Kitchen (which I am now the host of but ocassionally also the chef - see my recipe for Acorn squash with sausages & fennel, something I made on stage last month). I also began to write about my relationship with the Market, and about the traders.

Eclectic and magical
De Calabria is one of my favourites—it’s eclectic and magical; a real treasure trove of food. Eating their anchovies is an ethereal experience. Paul of the fantastic Sussex Fish works harder than anyone I know. I love the bread at Olivier’s Bakery and Karaway, who do Russian rye breads with a London twist. Keen’s whey butter from Neal’s Yard Dairy is salty, creamy and rich—amazing for cooking and spreading. Elsey and Bent is brilliant for fruit and veg, and I buy heaps of soft fruit for my kids from Jock Stark’s trestle tables. The Market is rightly famous for cheeses: John Thrupp at Mons Cheesemongers is one of my favourite traders. He’s passionate about Alpine cheese.

I still come as a customer and do at least half my grocery shopping here, and for private catering jobs it gives me credibility as a chef that I shop at Borough Market. I genuinely love the place. I get a tingle when I walk through the gate, just like when I first came here nearly 20 years ago.