Up close and personal

Categories: News and previews

Tim Maddams is a private chef, cookery teacher, presenter and writer of several books, including Game: River Cottage Handbook No15. In advance of his upcoming demo, he waxes lyrical about how markets offer a special connection with both people and food

I believe that the finest food in the world is always the most humble, simple and honest of dishes, cooked with bang-on-season, fresh, local produce. It’s obvious really, when you think about it. The best way to find these golden ingredients is through a good market—it’s only in the last 50 years that most people seem to have forgotten this. Supermarkets rule the roost, and most of us would frankly struggle without the odd supermarket shop for various household essentials, but when it comes to getting hold of food, markets are a great way to interact with local suppliers without having to go and find them for yourself.

I love a good market, and we do them very well here in England, particularly in London where my favourite is Borough Market. I have some very special memories of tipping in there early in the morning and just absorbing the atmosphere, listening to the sounds and sampling the wares. It’s one of those places: it has the vibe, the resonance, a sort of timeless echo that seems to sing to the harmonics of the soul a song of rightness, of truth. But then I am a bit of a foodie weirdo.

Very human places
Markets around the world are very human places. If you’ve ever visited the market in central Budapest then you will have seen and experienced something special, but it’s the same vibe wherever a good market is happening, particularly a food market. The bargaining, the human interaction, the closeness of the foodstuffs. Everything is very up front: “This is what we have to sell. Do you want it?”

It feels good to just be there. I love eating stuff as I make my purchases, being stroppy with the vendors as I negotiate, sharing that moment of joy as I bite into something delicious while the stallholder watches—they know you are about to have a special experience, and they love sharing that joy with you. It’s so easy to cook from the heart when you put the ingredients in charge, which is one of the reasons I hate proposing menus in advance in my work as a private chef—it shuts you off from the possibility of last minute inspiration; it’s a closed loop, it’s depressing.

Need for a connection
Once you get to know a market—its ins and outs, its traders and scallywags, regulars and strangers—you begin to become a part of it. You are investing in it, so it’s partly yours. This is a great way to look at the so often missing connection with food that we need in our lives. It is not found in supermarkets: they are too sterile, too removed from the processes, the dirt, the blood and the sweat that it takes to get good food. We have a deep need for this connection. We need it for our health and wellbeing, we need it for brilliant food without foams, powders and packaging. And above all, we need it for our souls, and for the environment it is connected to. There, I told you I was foodie weirdo...

Join Tim for tips, tastings and recipes on Friday 9th December in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm