I have vivid memories of a kitchen heady with the pungent smell of chilli, onion and coriander; of tasty tortas stuffed with chicken, refried beans and guacamole in my school snack box; of dishes of steaming, savoury enchiladas or tacos for lunch – although it could just as easily be shepherd’s pie, and Sunday was always celebrated with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The contents of my snack box were unequivocally Mexican, but the school itself was French – 1200 students, both from the French-speaking areas and countries (Africa, French Caribbean, Indochina, Belgium and Switzerland as well as France), and from other parts of the world: Lebanon, Italy, Spain, Austria, Britain, Greece, Russia and Israel. Some of us were children of expatriates or diplomats, others were second or third generation Mexican “foreigners”.
Meals at friends’ houses were a real adventure and introduced me to pig’s trotters with parsley vinaigrette and quiche lorraine, moussaka and felafel, blinis dripping with butter, chicken in peanut sauce or cooked in beer, prawns with pineapple or in paella, lamb with almonds and prunes, and pasta dishes baked in the oven – and from this kaleidoscope of flavours and experiences, a lifelong love and excitement about food was born. Sixteen years of running my catering business in London, a subsequent long stint in the travel industry, working extensively in the Mediterranean region, and my current work as a freelance private chef and a food writer have further consolidated this glorious and delicious obsession with food, leading me to immerse myself in the cuisines of the world and to delve into their origins and traditional or indigenous ingredients, thereby acquiring extensive knowledge of food and cooking and recipes from the four corners of the earth. I cannot think of a more rewarding, fulfilling and enriching way to live my life!
And so over the years, I have created my own collection of recipes. My sources have been as diverse as the dishes themselves: memories of my Mexican childhood of course, ideas brought back from my travels, creations born from reading hundreds of cookbooks and restaurant reviews, or sparked by dishes eaten in restaurants; experiments with ingredients in my own kitchen; general culinary research; even a wander around the local farmers’ markets. All of these influences constantly and automatically plant seeds in my imagination – to be mulled over and played around with, looked at in this way and that, tried and retried and accepted or rejected, and finally developed into a fully fledged recipe, to be enjoyed at home with friends and loved ones or fed to clients and their guests.
As my interest in food has developed over the years, so has my fascination with the role it plays in human health and well-being. Food’s health-supporting and health-enhancing properties play a hugely significant role in my kitchen. Food scares and particularly fashions abound, and what is scientifically proven, tried and tested one year is contradicted and turned on its head twelve months later. One expert assures us that a vegan diet will bring us longevity and boundless vitality; another leaves no doubt in our minds that we must eat meat and dairy products to avoid sagging muscles and thinning bones. Over the years, I have tried many different ways of eating and researched which foods and methods of cooking can best support me in my quest for energy and vitality, and for a long, healthy and happy life; and I have tried out and tested different ways of eating, such as vegan- and vegetarianism, macrobiotics, low-high fat and low-high protein, food combining, high-raw nutrition. The knowledge and insight that I have acquired from these experiments, together with my knowledge of ethnic cuisines, have resulted in the development of a two-pronged personal approach to cooking: food that brings joy and pleasure and also nourishes and supports health. Needless to say, this includes a strong commitment to organic food and farming. Furthermore, my conclusion from all my experiments is simple and straightforward: the most energising diet for life as far as I am concerned is very high indeed in crisp and juicy fruit, salads and vegetables, and made up of REAL, WHOLE, FRESH and NATURAL foods, free from chemicals, pesticides, preservatives, modification, manipulation, irradiation and any other rubbish mankind has thought up in order to “improve” flavour or nutritive value – and thereby further commercial interest.
Proper food requires no improvement – nature gives it to us perfect, whole and complete. All we need do is treat it with love and care – so I buy fresh, whole, organic food, I take it home with me, I make it into a delicious meal, and I eat it with joy and gratitude. Above all, my time in the kitchen is FUN. I also try to cook as seasonally as possible. I admit that we eat oranges and bananas at home all year round, that I love mangoes and pineapples, that tomatoes feature in my salads and cooking whatever the season, and that my life would not be the same without avocados. However, when I was doing some research for an article on apples once, I was staggered to find that a major local supermarket stocked eleven different kinds of apple, of which just one was English – and this in spite of the fact that our English orchards were groaning under the weight of some of the best apples in the world. Food that is transported across the world will have been picked while unripe and have little to offer in the way of flavour, texture or true nourishment, however seductive it may look. What is the point of eating strawberries from Chile or asparagus from Thailand in December? They may be firm and brightly hued but they will have travelled in a barren, chilled environment for days if not weeks and never have been offered even the hint of an opportunity to achieve their full potential. But try buying English asparagus in May, or strawberries in July, from a farmers’ market or perhaps a box scheme, and your taste buds will be rewarded with incomparably fresh, seasonal produce which will probably have been picked no earlier than that very morning and will have travelled just a few miles. It will be bursting with flavour, fragrance, juice, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and therapeutic properties.