Introduction

Introduction

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844003372

Fresh, ripe, seasonal ingredients are at the core of my cooking. There is a wonderful sense of anticipation, as well as a comforting familiarity, if you cook with the seasons. For instance, knowing that sweet, juicy damsons will be here for their short two-week stay around mid- September, or that the complex flavour of blood oranges will bring a warm glow to the barren winter months of January and February is deeply reassuring.

It is June as I write and the first cherries are making their short appearance – bringing with them happy childhood memories. Come autumn, Kentish cobnuts will be available and beautiful walnuts arrive from Périgord. Cooking with the seasons provides a sense of life’s continuity – a feeling that everything is just right with the world... an ease with ingredients naturally follows.

At the nursery, we source ingredients as locally as possible and I urge you to do the same. Seek out quality suppliers, ideally supporting your local greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher and/or farmers’ market. It is a good way to learn more about the food you are eating and helps you to make a connection with the earth, seasons, environment and the people around you. I find it impossible to make that connection through supermarket shopping alone.

Good food begins with good ingredients, carefully sourced and at their seasonal best, but what really makes a good cook? Certainly, it has to do with practice and accumulated experience. As with any skill, the more frequently it is performed, the more confidence and knowledge will be gained. It is also important to begin to understand the rationale behind certain techniques – to appreciate what you are doing and why.

However, it is perhaps even more crucial to develop a feel and intuition for food and cooking. Then heart, hands and head work together to produce something worthwhile.

A recipe is simply a documentation of a cooking process. Its function is to provide a list of ingredients and an idea of the method and structure of a dish, which is invaluable to the inexperienced cook. But merely following a recipe is ultimately an unfulfilling experience, unless you learn to apply all your senses – taste and sight of course, but also smell, touch and emotion. Only then will you begin to understand the very nature of the dish.

I don’t see food as a work of art. Certainly, thought and composition are important. Food on a plate should appeal to the eye as well as the palate, but never at the expense of flavour. When clever technique and fragile structures are all that are considered, a dish will live only for a short time in the memory.

My greatest learning experience in the last few years has been working with a kitchen garden. At Petersham, our garden is modest, but it has provided me with a direct and immediate appreciation of the seasons, as well as an awe-inspiring respect for the richness of the earth. I have learnt to feel a deep respect for the abundance that nature provides.

For me, to cook is the most natural thing in the world. To work professionally as a chef can be very demanding, exhausting and incredibly stressful – probably one of the least glamorous jobs for a woman! Yet I love it today as much as when I first started and I still dream about food when I sleep! I can’t think of anything more exciting than to welcome in the new season’s ingredients.

Above all, for me, cooking is an act of love and giving. It is about breaking bread with family and friends, about conviviality and shared experience. As you glance through this book, I wish that you may begin to feel a little of the joy and deep sense of fulfilment that cooking has brought to my life. I sincerely hope that if you’ve not yet experienced the joy of cooking, it is waiting for you just around the corner.

Happy cooking!

Ask yourself questions about produce before you buy: “Where does it come from?”, “Is it fresh?”, “In season?”, “Grown locally?”, “Does it really inspire me to cook?”, “Does its very appearance make me hungry?”.

Tasting food as you cook is very important. To rest assured that a dish will be fine because you have followed a recipe is an incorrect assumption. Taste, pause and consider what the dish needs. More often than not, it will be attention to seasoning, or perhaps a little lemon zest or finely chopped parsley to clean up the flavours... or possibly nothing at all!

Food only ever really sings if you have put your heart and soul into it. Taste as you go along and feel free to put your own stamp on a dish – I cook what I feel is right.

A love of eating and a real appreciation of great produce – combined with a generosity of spirit and the desire to share with others – is at the core of beautiful food.

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