gastronomy

Inside the world’s top kitchens, where leading chefs, mixologists and winemakers reveal their secret ingredients

Latest In gastronomy

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?
TM:
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?
TM:
Never underestimate the power of terroir, or how food tastes in its own setting.
 
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
TM:
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?
TM:
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?
TM:
Whiskey!
 
Aphrodisiac (edible or not)?
TM:
Good music, a keen understanding, a meeting of minds, a spark of recognition.  A cocktail.
 
Last meal?
TM:
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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Spotlight

Dinner Musings

Acclaimed Author and Critic Stephen Bayley Hails the Sophistication of No-Frills Eating

As 2013 kicks off a proliferation of new gastronomic trends, the question is not simply where to dine, but how to dine—and British design critic and cultural commentator Stephen Bayley responds with a personal morsel of culinary philosophy written exclusively for NOWNESS. One of the UK’s most authoritative voices on contemporary aesthetics, Bayley is a Contributing Editor at GQ and has authored more than a dozen books including Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things, Sex: A Cultural History, A Dictionary of Idiocy, and his latest release, Ugly: The Aesthetics Of Everything. As a food-and-wine enthusiast he also appears regularly in Vanity Fair, The Financial Times, and The Daily Telegraph. His thoughts on the future of dining are here accompanied by an illustration courtesy of Toronto-based Frank Viva, who regularly drafts covers for The New Yorker:

Dinner Musings:

“Restaurant” is an idea whose time has gone. But it has had a good run since the concept of serving food to complete strangers emerged just after the French Revolution, when chefs dispossessed of their roles in country houses looked for work in Paris. Only people with severe psychological problems nowadays want fawning service by paramilitary regiments of liveried flunkies and all the preposterous cloche-lifting and crumb-sweeping and bowing and scraping that go with it.

The more sophisticated you are, the less likely you are to want the faux-sophistication of a traditional restaurant. You will prefer a dive, a burger stand, a bodega, a bacaro, a cervezeria or a winkle stall. Obviously, no one wants to eat filth, but style and success in the matter of eating out are matters of social competition and cultural modeling, not gastronomy or nutrition.

Thus, Russell Norman’s Polpo formula is exactly right for the tenor of the times. The Beak Street, London, HQ has been roaring since it opened three years ago. The food is cleverly conceived, but, to be honest, a bit erratic in its execution. Service is charming, but hopeless. And I always go back. That Russell Norman came from a family involved in architectural salvage and once taught drama are significant. The Polpo interior is high-concept crud, but achieves an intimate theatricality, which is endlessly attractive. It doesn’t feel like a laboratory. It feels like a party.

And no one except insiders knows who cooks at Polpo. This is exceptionally clever because the suggestion, quite correctly, is that the restaurant as a whole is much more important than the sun-dried ego of the annoying big-head chef. If Polpo’s chef walks, who’s to care? The menu is a reliable formula, which any semi-competent could replicate. It’s the ordinary thing extraordinarily well done.

This is what I want to see more of this year: the higher ordinariness. Less fuss. In food as in all things, simple is not the same as commonplace.

As the novel and biographies tend to decline, so travel and cookbooks are in ascent. There’s a fundamental link between the two genres. At a silly level, people buy books about places they never intend to visit (I recently bought a 50s classic about eastern Afghanistan) and books about food they never intend to cook (I have one example of preposterous French ambition with a recipe calling for five liters of veal stock and two of single cream).

But, more interestingly, food and travel, especially food and travel literature, are about journeys. Real or conceptual, it doesn’t matter. As Picasso said, if it can be imagined, it’s real.

So it is with restaurants. Eating out is an invitation to a voyage. You don’t get fed, you get transported. I only ever eat the cooking of places I want to visit. I only drink wine made in places I want to be. Yes, of course, I know about the excellent wines coming out of New Zealand. But I want to pull the cork on a dark red fantasy about a sun-baked cabanon in the Minervois with Laetitia Casta expected for lunch. I don’t want to unscrew the top and release a Sauvignon Blanc nightmare about sheep-farmers in knee socks, creaking Land Rovers and bungalows.

On the small Soho street where I have my office I can go to a Seville bodega, a US Interstate Diner, a noodle shop resembling the canteen of Nanking Technical University, a New Zealand dive bar and a barbecue pit that would look at home in West Texas. Never mind what you actually eat and drink, these premises are mind-altering substances.

Yes, this sort of architectural fantasy threatens to become kitsch, but if kitsch involves appropriation, collages, quotations, reflections, echoes, pastiche, fakery, charlatanism and ventriloquism, then kitsch is very interesting.  In this interpretation, Venice, Paris, London and Rome are kitsch. Turns out, it suits me very well.

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Spotlight

Swallow: Mexico City

The “Anti-Foodie Food Magazine” Presents Sought-After Recipes from the Vibrant Central American Metropolis

Hearty pork stew, Veracruz-style snapper and a fresh take on the ultimate Mexican comfort food sopa de fideo seco are some of the first recipes ever to be published in Swallow Magazine, the gastronomy title with an aversion to all that is predictable in food coverage, and a taste for all that is avant-garde and under-documented. The dishes featured in this special preview from the latest Mexico City-themed issue pay homage to the inimitable flavor and energy of the Distrito Federal’s culinary microcosm. “The city itself is a glorious combination of both the high and the low, the old and the new,” says Swallow Creative Director James Casey. “On one hand you have rarefied beaux art mansions and streets that look like turn of the century Vienna, and on the other you have a city full of chaos, color and clashing sensibilities.” Casey highlights the acclaimed fish restaurant Contramar which "serves some of the most amazing seafood I’ve encountered. It’s all super simple, with light Mexican flavoring—lots of lime, chilies, amazing tortillas all washed down with bottles of white wine.”

Ceviche Contramar

Serves four

½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Juice of 4 limes plus juice of 15 additional for the mackerel
½ cup white wine vinegar
4 skinned fillets of mackerel, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 serrano chilies
2 tablespoons coriander
Salt 
Pepper
1 habanero chili, thinly sliced

Marinate sliced red onion in lime juice and white vinegar for about three hours to lightly pickle. Set aside then combine mackerel, serrano chilies, celery, and coriander in a large bowl and mix well. Add the lime juice and let sit for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in the pickled red onion and top with rounds of habanero chilies. 

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