Mike McEnearney
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Alan Benson

My food philosophy

Some people are slow learners. I unashamedly put my hand up to being such a person. It took 20 years of cooking before I had my epiphany, and since that moment it has influenced every day of my life.

The year 2009 was very big on all fronts in my household. My wife, Joss, and I had been back in Australia for three years and were desperately missing Europe. Joss was also pregnant with our third child, who was due in autumn, and she wanted to be near her family in England. And I – well, I knew it was time for me to make a change and think about opening my own restaurant, instead of working in someone else’s.

So when William was born we made the pivotal decision to pack up our life in Australia and fly back to the UK in search of utopia.

One week before our flight, we had a catastrophe. William got very sick. He was only 6 weeks old and was diagnosed with meningitis. During his time in hospital, it really hit home that there was a lack of fresh nutritional food available to patients. The food consisted of things like dehydrated mashed potato, heavily processed bread, preservative-laden juices and sugared cereals. There was simply no fresh food to heal and nourish – just processed food to poison.

We landed in the UK in July of 2009 to the most glorious summer. The hedgerows were bursting with berries, the sun was shining and life was good. Our aim was to base ourselves at my mother-in-law’s small-holding farm in Wales and travel through the UK in short spurts, looking for our new place to call home. The best way to achieve this was to send our two eldest boys, George and Alfie, to the local village school and take William with us.

On our travels we saw some beautiful countryside, but what interested us most was life on the farm. Joss’s family farm is a truly beautiful property. Some 12 hectares of organic farming land are used to raise specklefaced lambs, Hereford and longhorn cattle and saddleback pigs, and there is one of the oldest apple orchards in Wales as well as a fertile kitchen garden. Joss’s family was self-sufficient and a picture of health and happiness. They cut their own wood for the fires, had photovoltaic cells and wind turbines to generate power, and grew nearly all of their food. I was hooked and I loved it.

To complete the idyll, I built a brick oven next to the wood shed, using a set of Alan Scott plans, and started baking sourdough. I kneaded 30 kg of dough by hand twice a week. I fired up the oven at 2 in the morning and baked 1.5 kg loaves to sell to the locals at school drop-off.

We were living the dream, picking blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries and currants in summer; damsons and early pears and apples in autumn, eating what we could and turning the rest into jam. The garden was a true revelation. I had lived in Europe previously and understood the seasons very well, but growing the produce and eating it straight from the tree was another level. This was my ‘road to Damascus’ moment, a cartoon light bulb going ‘ping’ over my head.

At the time we were at the farm, a local ‘apothecary’ naturopath had also begun to section off four beds in the kitchen garden to create a Hippocratic garden, using the four humours of the body as her guide. Not only were these beds beautiful to look at, they were also stuffed full of medicinal plants and herbs to help relieve medical symptoms. The beds were divided into the humours, or temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. It was fascinating to me that she looked at these herbs as medicinal, while I saw them as culinary. From that moment, the phrase ‘you are what you eat’ became truly profound to me.

For the past decade I have noticed the rise in people’s interest in good health, and so many fads and diets have been and gone. At Kitchen by Mike, and No. 1 Bent Street by Mike, I have always focused on fresh, seasonal food and, in doing so, have unconsciously endorsed and promoted healthy eating and wellbeing. It has shaped what my restaurants have become. My interest in health is neither Western nor Eastern. I simply believe in a balanced diet, eating whole foods and all things in moderation. I also believe in using natural medicines to stimulate and assist the body when it’s not 100 per cent healthy. I believe that food – and by food I mean all edible flora and fauna in its purest form – is nature’s medicine.

This cookbook is intended to inspire and empower those who read it by providing simple recipes with notes on the health benefits of the ingredients. I hope it has the potential to tie together the idea of ‘food’ and ‘medicine’, and will inevitably help guide you towards a more natural and sustainable way of nourishing and healing yourselves.

About this book

Let’s get this out in the open first. I am not a doctor, naturopath or nutritionist. I am an inquisitive chef who loves all things food. I am not claiming to cure cancer or add 50 years to your life, but merely providing notes for each recipe, which list the benefits of quality wholefoods and demonstrate how a small amount of education about the medicinal benefits of ingredients can truly have a positive effect on your overall wellbeing.

Since time began, people have been living in accordance with the seasons and with nature. Right now, with the economic and geographical climates in peril, we have begun to realise the importance of respecting the seasons – and in the process are discovering a simpler, ultimately richer way of life. Waiting for the arrival of each season is like waiting for a birthday – it only comes once a year, so you really look forward to it and enjoy every moment when it’s here.

Cooking food that’s in season is better for you, both nutritionally and ethically. I don’t want to eat (and I certainly don’t want my kids to eat) food that’s pumped full of chemicals to force it to grow, or that has been flown halfway around the world at all times of the year. The bottom line for me is that it’s all about flavour. Food in season just tastes better – the food and its flavour both in their prime.

These recipes are arranged by season, ranging from breakfast ideas to salads, more substantial dishes, sweet things and even drinks. Many of them are simple and take only minutes to prepare; others are broken up into stages to fit in with our busy lives.

The Larder section that I have included is to inspire you to make the most of what’s plentiful each season – and give you a head start in the kitchen. Having a well-stocked larder is a saviour in so many ways. Not only can it halve your cooking time, but it will also save you a fortune as you’ll have preserved the ingredients when they were at their best and their cheapest.

If stored correctly, many of these preparations have a long shelf-life and are invaluable for adding flair to your daily cooking. A good example is to try freezing the ponzu into a granita to serve on top of freshly shucked oysters. Or add an equal amount of olive oil to it and turn it into a dressing to spoon over steamed fish or grilled vegetables. My favourite use for ponzu is as a dipping sauce for sashimi.

You’ll notice that a lot of the recipes cross-reference each other, and I hope this will encourage you to try various combinations.

I know every day what my body is craving and what I need to eat if I am not feeling 100 per cent. The ultimate aim of this cookbook is to assist you in maintaining good health while enjoying real food that will enhance your life.

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