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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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Mr. Chow: Preparations

A Hypnotic Short from Norbert Schoerner Celebrates the Relaunch of London's Legendary Canteen to the Stars

“Food and romance go hand in hand, or mouth in mouth,” says lauded German photographer and filmmaker Norbert Schoerner of his latest short, an avant-garde ode to the art of noodle-making at London’s famed Mr. Chow restaurant. “They both release endorphins,” notes the director. “And it’s tough to decide what’s stronger.” The work celebrates the reopening of the Chinese dining institution, on the 45th anniversary of its original launch on Valentine’s Day, 1968. Since then, the home away from home of Beijing cuisine has become a veritable phenomenon, recognized internationally for its authentic hand-pulled noodles, made nightly in front of restaurant guests by experts who have been honing their expertise for decades. Casting model Caroline Ford for scenes shot at the InterContinental London Park Lane Hotel and spliced into footage of Mr. Chow’s noodle maestros, Schoerner taps into an unspoken visual language of desire and culinary craft. According to the lensman—a veteran of the pages of Vogue and The Face who has exhibited internationally, collaborating with Comme des Garçons and Alexander McQueen—images of food “can be cold and off-putting. Or they can be sensual and delectable, enticing the audience to take a closer look and making them want to sample the goods.” Ultimately, though, the shared beauty of eating and intrigue may be in the anticipation of consumption. “Preparation and foreplay are on par,” he notes. “It's the build-up that counts.”

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The Delicacy of the Hand

Chef Nuno Mendes and Designer Julia Muggenburg Concoct a Surreal Shoot for The Gourmand Journal

Translucent potato noodles, rich purple beetroot and cured salmon sushi mingle with delectable accessories in this preview from the culinary title The Gourmand’s second issue, due out later this month. The vibrant shoot took place at the London home of German-born jewelry designer and Julia Muggenburg, who in addition to modeling and providing the rings for the composition, raided her wardrobe for brightly colored, multi-textured clothing with which to compliment the dishes, devised by Michelin-starred chef Nuno Mendes. “Sushi often has this quite surreal and shiny surface texture, so to have this crazy leather jacket with it was just something that immediately worked,” says Belmacz founder Muggenburg. The concept was a shared passion between her, stylist Annette Masterman and the photographer Amber Rowlands, with the trio enlisting Mendes, followed by the Cowshed who provided the nail art. In the back of their minds was the infamous “Chicken and Jewelry” shoot that Helmut Newton did for Paris Vogue in the 90s, when a model pulled apart a chicken while wearing couture baubles.  “Here, you see only hands,” Muggenberg explains. “But they say so much.” We caught up with Nuno Mendes to hear his thoughts on preparing food fit for a fashion shoot.

How did you take a culinary approach to a style shoot?
I wanted to both mimic and contrast with Julia’s incredible wardrobe and jewelry. For me it is a delicate and beautiful thing—it is dainty and I wanted to showcase food in the same way. Like food, it is a garnish that we apply to the body in the same way that we use ingredients to decorate dishes and so we wanted to continue with this same idea—we garnish to extend its value. 

How much preparation did it take?
It is easy to get carried away but we quickly realised that less was definitely more. I chose simple yet strong ingredients either in shape, texture or color and used these striking yet natural elements to do the talking.  Because of the visual nature, everything had to be perfect, so each ingredient had to be as vibrant and fresh as possible.

Do you feel like an artist, as well as a chef?
Yes I do. We also try to create a singular experience, one is that reflective of who we are and one that inspires. Of course, cooking starts with technique and the knowledge of the ingredients you are working with—but it is also a very creative medium. We want to make something unique that people can’t find anywhere else.

The Gourmand will hit newsstands internationally on December 18.

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