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April 5, 2014

Preserving Chilies with Thomasina Miers

The Wahaca Restaurateur Pickles Peppers and Reminisces to Tarajia Morrell

Thomasina Miers has championed Mexican cuisine in Britain since she fell in love with the sights and smells of the country at age 18. In the last of our Preserving miniseries, the chef leads us through her early enchantment with Mexico’s flavors and the vigor that those peppers impart. Co-founder of Wahaca restaurants, author of Mexican Food Made Simple and the imminent Chilli Notes: Recipes to Warm the Heart (Not Burn the Tongue), Miers lovingly riffs on the range of possibilities of the ‘chili effect’ and how her zeal for spice and zeal for life are one in the same.
What is it about preserving that appeals to you?
Thomasina Miers:
Often the process improves the flavor of the food we are preserving. So cured ham, particularly when acorn fed, is an astonishingly delicious food; a marmalade or jam sometimes better than the original product—helped along by a little sugar. A pickle heightens the flavor of the vegetable with its acidity and also can lend other flavors through the spicing you use.
What is it you find so inspiring about Mexican food?
It is a cuisine of contrasting textures and temperatures, of the diversity of different food from different regions. Most of all it is fresh with bright, vivid tastes.
What's the most important lesson from your time in Mexico?
Never underestimate the power of terroir, or how food tastes in its own setting.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I would have loved to have danced. Or written more, if I had the patience. I’d have loved to have painted if I’d had the talent, or sung if I’d had the voice….
When you’re feeling lazy, what’s the simple, comforting but delicious meal you might make yourself to enjoy alone?
Welsh rarebit, or cheese on toast or sautéed greens on toast with chilli and garlic and a fried egg on top.
Guilty pleasure after a long shift?
Aphrodisiac (edible or not)?
Good music, a keen understanding, a meeting of minds, a spark of recognition.  A cocktail.
Last meal?
The best steak, the best chips, the best mayo, a delicious salad. Some very good wine. Great company.

Preserving part one: Squash with Skye Gyngell; Preserving part two: Lemons with Angela Hartnett.

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The Carnal Arts

Francis Bacon Inspires a Crimson Portrait of London’s Newman Street Tavern

Photographer Joss McKinley’s depictions of the sinewy foods stored in the underground meat room of London’s Newman Street Tavern chime with some of Francis Bacon’s distorted, blood-red works in today’s juxtaposed series. Bacon’s psychologically charged and carcass-filled canvases reflect on a disadvantaged period in post-war England. The artist saw beauty in the butcher’s shops and abattoirs he visited—a feeling that might be shared by the curious clientele who regularly tiptoe downstairs for a peek into the glass-walled basement of the metropolis’ newest gastronomic destination that is a short walk north from Bacon’s old haunt, Soho. “We try to know as much about where our food comes from as possible and we’re not shy about that,” says Head Chef and Partner Peter Weeden, whose versatile menu offers celebrated seafood dishes such as escabeche of scad alongside carnivorous options like blackface lamb and barley stew. With dry air circulated at a temperature of 36.5-37.4F (2.5-3C), the subterranean room’s contents are reduced to 85 percent of their mass within weeks, intensifying their complex, gamey flavors. The function of the establishment’s hanging meat display is as instructive as it is aesthetic. “We’re a kitchen that makes everything,” explains Weeden. “The meat’s visibility is important so that everyone realizes it’s part of that process.” McKinley’s close-ups evoke the “savage, distressing and historical” qualities he recalls experiencing in the presence of Francis Bacon’s paintings—just in time for Phaidon’s release of a new monograph dedicated to the British artist as part of its Phaidon Focus series. 

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Tom Aikens’ Urban Agriculture

Snapshots and Thoughts on Seasonal Cooking From the Michelin-Starred Chef

Tom Aikens’ Instagram pictures reveal the gastronomy pioneer’s close relationship to the dishes he creates, which often begin in his West London rooftop garden. Earning his first Michelin star at the tender age of 26 as head chef at London’s Pied à Terre, Aikens continues to make a name for himself as one of the greenest food pros in the UK, using fresh and seasonal produce in ingenious yet simple recipes, this year ranging from sumptuous cooked watermelon to langoustine with coco beans. Born in Norwich to a family of wine merchants, Aikens trained under culinary visionaries Joël Robuchon and Pierre Koffman before opening his acclaimed eponymous restaurant in London’s Chelsea in 2003. His welcome additions to the city's culinary scene have since included Tom's Terrace at Somerset House and the intimate Tom's Kitchen, where an open cuisine showcases the chef's refined take on home-grown fare. Here Aikens shares the spoils and joys of urban farming. 

What’s growing in your garden right now?
At the moment I’m growing herbs: thyme, rosemary, different types of salvia, dill and fennel.

What else can city-dwellers grow?
Herbs and salads are easy, but you can also grow more substantial things like carrots, leeks and onions. 

How do you use your own produce when cooking at home?
I use all the herbs and flowers I grow in my cooking. I make homemade ricotta which I serve with various herbs I’ve grown. It’s nice to see something you’ve planted develop into something you can then use in your cooking. Once my crop has grown I use them and replant very quickly.

What is so important about growing for yourself?
It's a good way of de-stressing—not that I talk to plants or anything, but it's nice to be among things that are growing and blossoming. It’s very rewarding.

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