It sounds great. I’m just so interested – when you say that a scent and a wallpaper triggers off something that’s more than a food, do you come at that from a scientific point of view, or is it purely emotional?
No, no. It’s just through your emotion. If you’re given a bunch of flowers, how do you feel? You feel pretty… what’s the word? I don’t know the word. It triggers of a sense of pleasure. You have these gorgeous dainty little flowers on a plate, it triggers off something, so it should surely have the same effect. Even I get flowers – occasionally my wife will go and buy some flowers and put them in the apartment, and I’ll come home and think wow… it does wonders for a lot of reasons, and it’s gotta do something to food. Or to the brain, whilst you’re eating, there’s gotta be a connection there somewhere. It’s not a scientific thing. I’m not a mad scientist that sprays yoghurt on sorbets, or makes snowmen from – what was that thing from TV the other night? The MasterChef final?
I didn’t watch it, sorry!
No, I was told – someone was telling me about this snowman that was made, it was crazy. With kind of, almost, well it was molecular style cooking.
And that’s not a style that appeals to you?
Look, it’s interesting, but I think it’s just a one-off thing. You couldn’t sustain it. You look at the way elBulli’s history’s turned out, and I don’t know if they’ve had repeat customers, but the place did not ever make any money. It certainly got the world’s attention, and it captured the imagination of a lot of chefs, but at the end of it all, I kind of think that you just lose connection between your hands and the produce itself. Everything’s put into a bag and vacuumed and poached and then if not, things are tipped into a can and frozen and then put into a machine and shaved, so they’re all incredibly fine, it’s a textural cuisine more than anything else and everything’s lost all it’s texture because it’s pushed through a sieve and pulverized. And I don’t know, it’s not for me, it’s not for Middle Eastern food. Maybe it just doesn’t belong to my ethos. I’m sure there’s Middle Eastern chefs out there that play with it.
Well, unless there’s anything else you’d like to talk about – I know you’re pressed for time – maybe we’ll leave it there.
Oh, well, there’s lots to talk about! But I can’t, I’ve really got an appointment at 3.30 and I’ve got to prepare for it. What else can I tell you about–the spice range! Are you familiar with the spice range I have? I have a spice range that was developed about eight years ago, that was purely, clearly, Middle Eastern blends. Wet and dried mixes, and it’s the classic kind of things like dukkah and chermoula and harrissa and preserved limes and lemons, which are doing really well. But I think I’d like to embellish and put them on a bigger stage, because there’s a lot more I could do with these blends that again will introduce people to more interested ways of putting a lamb chop on a barbecue. In the Middle East, they’re renowned for their wild herbs, more so. There’s endless numbers. And they’re weird, as well; bitter, fragrant, grassy, muddy, sweet, sour, peppery, all sorts. And mainly in Turkey, I found that, and in Iran as well.
So you can read the cookbooks, and cook the recipes, but really, what you need to do is travel to Turkey and pick a muddy, grassy herb you’ve never seen, or heard of, before, from the side of the road, to have the full experience?
No, you’d be surprised what’s in your backyard. I don’t know if you’re familiar with purslane, it’s a weed that grows between the cracks of the pavements in most suburbs, if not railway stations. That’s a very important herb that’s used in the Middle East, it’s called ‘butleh’, it’s the most important ingredient in fattoush, I don’t know if you’re familiar with fatuous, it’s a bread salad that they make in Lebanon and Syria. Arabic bread is fried or dried in the oven and it’s mixed with lots of radishes, tomato, cucumber and onions… and butleh, or this purslane. But we don’t use it. I think the Anglicised version is with cos lettuce, or they make a dressing with sumac, which is that beautiful dried berry from the Middle East that’s kind of salty and sour. There are a lot of things in the backyard that you could use in the kitchen if you were familiar with them, with the wild herbs. The Greeks are, and the Turks, they’ll be in the railway yard, especially with wild fennel, you see that growing everywhere. And I don’t know, it’s interesting, why wild fennel grows in railway stations.
Yeah, I don’t know! Maybe this is the next spice range: the Railway Station Spice Range?
[Laughs] Yeah, railway fennel seeds. Yes. Thank you.