We spent five minutes with the renowned cook, writer and life enthusiast - the inimitable Nigel Slater chatting about travel, entertaining, his last supper, favourite tulip and more...
What would be your last supper?
If this is to be my last meal, then I would probably be very, very fussy about it. It will be calm and contemplative, and I will not be hurried. I would like to eat sushi please, with each piece prepared in front of me by a sushi master and passed over the counter as soon as it is made. No chopsticks, I will pick each piece up with my fingers. It will be Autumn, the room will be cool and quiet and I will eat with only one other person. A tender and gentle final supper with someone I love.
If you could go on holiday now for two weeks, where would you go?
I have had to cancel my last two annual trips to Korea and Japan, and it is looking like I may have to cancel the next. So, I would like to go there please, and as soon as possible. There will be no real plan, just hand me a rail pass.
This is such a difficult question because it depends on who will be with me and what the occasion might be. I love the long counter at Sabor in Heddon Street, the alley behind Regent Street, where Nieves Barragan and her team cook small plates of simply wonderful Spanish food. You can watch your food being cooked – it comes to you sizzling – and you can order dish by dish rather than the whole meal at once. The whole place is vibrant and the atmosphere is utterly joyous.
We’ve spent hours watching your cookery show on TV, mesmerised by the beautiful kitchen and garden you present from, is this your home?
Thank you, but I have to admit it isn’t mine. Like pretty much every television kitchen, it is a set. This is almost always for practical and safety reasons. The crew is often large and there is an enormous amount of equipment. There simply isn’t room in most domestic kitchens. Designing and building sets is huge fun, especially when gardens are involved too. It is the perfect opportunity to build your dream space. I am usually quite hands-on with the design and all the cooking equipment and books are my own, from home.
What did you have for supper last night?
Ha. A fridge-raid of leftovers from recipe testing. Many of my meals are like this. (To be honest, the majority of them.) Last night’s supper involved cold rice noodles with a tomato, chilli and lime dressing, followed by a slice of ricotta cake we had spent all day testing. Oh, and I had the most gorgeously ripe honey mango that left juice stains down my T-shirt.
What are you excited about now?
Travel! The thought of packing my suitcase and getting away. I love packing - I have it down to a fine art. I travel very light and have lists of what to take for different trips in my notebook. It means can pack in minutes and won’t forget anything. Just buying a plane ticket fills me with excitement and hope.
Who is the one person, living or dead, in your profession who you most admire?
My best friend James Thompson. At the start of the pandemic, James left his job in television production in London and set up The Great Oven, a charity that feeds homeless families and refugees. He is currently working in Lebanon where he and his team of local volunteers cook meals for hundreds of people a day. He is exhausted but just keeps on going, cooking day after day.
What’s your favourite Tulip variety and spring garden pot combination?
I adore parrot tulips, the sort you see in Dutch still-life paintings. I particularly love them when they are coming to the end of their lives, when their heads are hanging low and their stems have twisted and curled and their petals are thin and faded, like antique silk. It is often the case that when we think of flowers as ‘going over’ that is when I think they are often at their most beautiful.
In early spring I like to see paperwhites and bare hazel twigs sharing an old garden pot. As the season progresses, I love rust-coloured wallflowers and orange tulips together – particularly Cairo and Prinses Irene. The scent of them together is heavenly. My orange tulips came up bright red this year – I must have ordered them by mistake – which was a horrible surprise as I cannot bear red in the garden unless it is a dark and sumptuous crimson.
Five-minute pasta recipe?
On a chilly spring day, I like to make a quick broth from simmering vegetable stock and white miso paste, adding a dash of soy sauce or ponzu and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, then dropping in some tiny cooked pasta such as orzo (my favourite pasta.) The result is completely inauthentic – and would probably upset both the Japanese and the Italians - but it works for me. Hot clear broth, salty miso and silky pasta – restoring and invigorating at the same time.
Three desert island ingredients?
Lemons, sachets of instant miso soup and plain, ready-salted crisps. The lemons bring life and soul to whatever you are cooking – I would be lost without them. Sachets of instant miso soup are my go-to ingredient for when I don’t know what I want to eat. Miso soup also makes a great start to the day. The crisps are simply my favourite thing to eat in the whole world and I would hate to be without them, especially on a desert island.
A great big homemade tart solves everything and is so easy to make. A thin sheet of puff pastry, spread with soft, slow-cooked onions and scattered with grated Parmesan, a few thyme leaves and baked till risen and golden. Cut into squares and serve with ice-cold beers.
Click here for A Recipe for a Spring Day (spinach ricotta pancakes) from Nigel.
Nigel Slater. A cook who writes. www.nigelslater.com
Photo credit: Jenny Zarins