We did a hell of a lot of food-related activities over the last 12 months for Grantourismo. And my best moments of the year didn’t occur while seated at a voguish restaurant…
1. Tasting cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. It’s not just the French who have fabulous cheeses! And yes, we had some great meals in London too. Just wish the bank would have stopped phoning us after each credit card transaction…
2. Macarons coming out of the oven perfectly at cooking school in Paris. I really want to believe I can replicate these at home. These macarons were picture-perfect – and we made dozens of them. If I’d known we were going to cook so many, I could have paid for our flights to Japan by selling the left-overs in Tokyo, where they were going for outrageous sums of money. There’s probably a black market for them.
3. Pierre Gagnaire telling me that couscous was the classic Parisian dish. Trust a guy who has a Michelin three-starred restaurant to be contrary and come up with something so humble when I asked for his thoughts on Paris’ quintessential plate for my series The Dish. But after we told him we’d just been to Morocco he reconsidered – thankfully suggesting I cook Côte de Bœuf, which became the most read food post of ours for the year!
4. You want fresh tuna? You got it! A vendor at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Markets, clearly mistaking me for some famous chef, carved me off a beautiful piece of tuna to dip into some soy sauce accompanied by a heartfelt quote: “It’s amazing that just yesterday this fish was swimming in the ocean.” A sublime moment.
5. A masterclass in Italian simplicity. When Maria taught me how to cook her simple pasta sauce in Puglia, which according to Lara was “better than any sauce you’ve ever made”, I was a little crushed. I swear it was just the concentrated flavours of the cherry tomatoes that had been hanging in her kitchen for months, and were now hanging in ours. At least that’s my excuse. She then taught me to make real pizza, in an oven built into the side of our house. Show off!
6. Exploring the evolution of a dish with a Michelin-starred chef in Barcelona. Jordi Artal’s of Cinc Sentits restaurant in Barcelona explained how he turned a childhood treat into a dreamy dessert. I don’t know what makes me more jealous – just how beautiful his dishes are, or the fact that he wasn’t a trained chef before opening his restaurant…
7. Cooking with the Countess in Venice. A big beautiful kitchen. A great bunch of people. Drinking Aperol in the morning. Me being put to work because of my big mouth about how I cook. Plenty of flowing wine and fun conversation. This is how I’d like to host dinner parties. Enrica Rocca rocks.
8. Realising every mole sauce I’d ever tasted was bogus. I’ve never liked any of the mole sauces I’ve tried over the years on our travels in Mexico, but at the wonderful cooking class I did in San Miguel de Allende, Cook Marilau had a batch of her secret recipe mole that we used for the dish sarapitos which contains an ingredient I don’t even like – plantains. It blew my mind.
9. Swapping recipes with Desak in Bali. Our cook, Desak, at our beautiful villa in Bali made wonderful versions of local Balinese dishes – and gave me her secrets (here and here). I reciprocated by teaching her a few dishes of my own that she could make for the owner and other guests when they reached Balinese cuisine overload.
10. That moment when I learnt that it’s sometimes better not to cook. Amidst the haze of a lingering bout of jetlag, we ate some sublime food in Tokyo. Halfway through the second week Lara asked me what dishes and eggs I was going to cook. I had no intention of cooking. There was just so many types of Japanese food experiences we had not yet explored. And we had not even set foot in an eatery mentioned by Michelin. What can you say about a place when you look forward to the food on a train? I’d have to be in Tokyo a month before bothering to sharpen a knife.