Questions of Taste: Merlin Labron-Johnson

The UK’s youngest Michelin-star chef discusses sustainable fine-dining and cooking for refugees

Growing up in the idyllic countryside of south Devon, Merlin Labron-Johnson has always been surrounded by organic and sustainable farming. Responsibly sourced and socially conscious food continues to drive his cooking, whether that’s at his newly opened restaurant in Mayfair, The Conduit, or through contributing to the UN’s Chefs Manifesto. Awarded a Michelin star at a mere twenty-four years old, he has recently opened three critically acclaimed restaurants in as many years. 

Having worked in some of the finest kitchens in Switzerland, France and Belgium, Merlin is perhaps best known for his head-chef role at Portland – which he founded in Fitzrovia in 2015 – and which went on to receive a coveted Michelin-star only nine months later. Softly spoken and down to earth, he also manages to find time for charitable endeavours through bi-monthly cooking at Massimo Bottura’s non-profit Refettorio Felix and workshops for asylum seekers via Help Refugees.

Port was lucky enough to sample some dishes at The Conduit – sourced from small-scale farmers and fishermen predominantly within the British Isles – including lamb buns, golden beetroot and sea bass, before talking to Merlin about sustainability, experimentation and the importance of charity.

Can you tell me about some of the partners you’re working with at The Conduit?

One of our dishes has vegetables from a small farm in Devon where I grew up. This particular farmer has a project which works with kids who have been through the care system – foster care or borstal – and they re-engage and inspire them through outdoor work, teaching them about food and animal husbandry. They learn how to sustainably rear livestock and grow vegetables which are beneficial to the environment and local community. The byproduct of their work is genuinely the best vegetables I’ve ever eaten anywhere, so for the last four years they’ve been a source of inspiration for most of my menus.

Often strict guidelines focus creativity, is it refreshing having the producer dictate what goes on the menu?

When you limit yourself with what you can work with, you force yourself to think outside the box and cook things you wouldn’t normally cook. English produce can be repetitive, the same thing all year round. We have thoroughly unglamorous ingredients like swiss chard, kale and beetroot, but I like that challenge. When you actually produce a dish with these ingredients that’s really good it’s deeply satisfying and much more rewarding. It’s the job of a chef or a craftsman to take something quite basic and humble and use your skill to turn it into something special.

How are you building sustainability into the restaurant?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to reduce food waste it is to make sure you don’t produce it in the first place. As a chef you have a responsibility to write a menu that either has no waste or creatively moves it to another dish, closing the circle. Up until recently we used leftover coffee grinds from the whole club to make a dough for celeriac’s, for example. As for the supply chain, it’s all about having a good relationship where you can influence the supplier to choose more sustainable methods for transportation and packaging. If turn to your fish supplier who you spend half a million with every year and say: ‘we don’t want polystyrene boxes anymore and if you don’t sort this problem we’ll go somewhere else’, they don’t want that to happen. People at the top level within the hospitality industry need to use their buying power and influence to drive change.

                

What do you love to eat on the menu at the moment?

I like to cook game in season as it’s one of the few meats that is arguably sustainable, because it’s wild. We do a dish with mallard, wild duck, which uses the whole bird. We take the heart, legs and liver and make a sort of rillettes pâte, place it on top of yesterday’s bread that’s been fried in the duck fat and slice the breast on top with a little bit of watercress and horseradish. Add a sauce made from the bones as well as blackberries, and other fruit we’ve preserved from the summer, and you’re done. That dish embodies what the kitchen is all about, using everything from the animal and inventive preservation. It’s not a very healthy dish!      

How we currently farm and consume is wreaking havoc to the environment. With the global population expected to grow to 9.7 billion by 2050, are you optimistic about the future of food?

The short answer is no, I’m not optimistic. Something’s got to give as the population is growing too fast for us to come up with a solution that feeds all those people that is not only sustainable, but has no negative impact on the climate or economy. The problem is that bad quality food is cheap to produce. A lot of the world’s hungriest people can’t afford to have a choice – that problems not going away. The dream would be for communities to become self-sufficient. Food wouldn’t have to travel, it’s plant-based, the people producing it would get a fair price. That’s very difficult to achieve on a large scale, but I don’t think that that means we should just give up. You can definitely make a difference, even if it’s only by 3%. In France it took a few politicians to pass a law whereby it was illegal to dispose of edible food waste and now it has to be given to charity. Bit by bit we can improve, but at the same time the problem’s getting bigger and bigger as we make these incremental improvements.

Why do you give time to Refettorio Felix and Help Refugees?

Growing up in Devon I wasn’t so exposed to suffering and poverty as you are in London. Having lived in the countryside my whole life, it was a shock moving and seeing so many people struggling, and also feeling powerless to help them. I think there’s a London mentality that you’re always too busy or don’t have time. It’s not that people are insensitive or mean, we just underestimate the value of giving something small, or a small gesture.  

What really changed it for me was going to Calais about three years ago and seeing 10,000 refugees in the Jungle. There was a tiny kitchen out there with about five volunteers – they weren’t trained chefs – and it was amazing to see how a few people had gotten together to help, how powerful it was. Once I’d been there and seen that, it’s hard to walk away.

When cooking in refugee camps, what are the challenges catering for 1,000 people a day? How does it compare to a professional kitchen?

Firstly, it’s very difficult. You don’t have a budget of more than 20p per person and it’s mainly dry or tinned ingredients with some fresh stuff. You want it to be a one pot dish because you a thousand starving people lining up and want the queue to move quickly, but you also want it to be nutritious and wholesome. You cook a lot of pulses, rice and stews. Dahl is perfect. With people from over 25 different ethnic backgrounds all in one camp, you can’t always agree on what everybody likes!

Merlin Labron-Johnson is curating an upcoming chef’s banquet on March 21st to raise funds for Help Refugees, joined by Nuno Mendes, Skye Gyngell, Imad Arnab and Thomasina Miers

Questions of Taste: Gary Foulkes

Gary Foulkes, head chef of Michelin-starred London fish restaurant Angler, explains why British seafood is the best in the world  

The British have a strange relationship with their island. Separated from the European continent by 20 miles of sea, the concept of Britain as something different and other has done much to define the current political atmosphere. And yet, unless you live near the coast, you could be forgiven for thinking that Britain’s towns and cities are locked within a vast landmass, such is the diminished status of the sea and, in our diets, of fish.

The national preoccupation with meat is something that Michelin-starred chef Gary Foulkes struggles to understand. As the head chef of the fish-dedicated restaurant, Angler, he is naturally convinced of the culinary potential just off our shores – as he tells me, with a certain degree of pride, British fish is among the best in the world. And it’s this passion for local, sustainable and high-quality seafood that is manifest in the food served at Angler, on the top floor of the South Place Hotel in the City of London.

Having taken some time out from preparing the lunch service one morning, Foulkes and I sat down to discuss the seasonality of fish, his life changing round-the-world trip and the world-beating quality of British fish.

What was your earliest memory of food?

My nan was a terrible cook, so my granddad used to do all the cooking – stews and pies mainly. Just tasty, delicious, home-cooked food.

How did you go from there to being a chef?

I’m not sure, really. I got sent on work experience to a hotel and did a day in each department: in the restaurant, with the porters, on reception. My final day of the week was in the kitchen, and I remember everyone enjoying what they were doing. At that age, fifteen, sixteen, it’s all about having a good time, so I thought: “Yeah I’d quite like to get paid to go to work and have a good time.” That’s how it all started.

And then you went to Manchester?

Yes, I worked for Gary Rhodes in Manchester. Rhodes is a fabulous cook, his food is very ingredient-led, and he treats ingredients properly and cooks them properly. That was quite a big thing for me. It’s something I learnt when I was young, and I still think that’s the best thing to do.

You’ve said before that it was at The Square in Mayfair that you really started to understand food. What was it that made you feel that way?

It was the whole ethos of it. It is very seasonal and everything’s based around the ingredients, and cooked correctly. If it wasn’t good enough, it didn’t get used. It’s a huge thing when you see, day in, day out, the passion that goes into producing the dishes, and the work in sourcing the right ingredients for the dishes.

While working at The Square you took some time out to travel – what was the motivation for this?

About a year and a half before I went travelling properly, I took six months out and went to Asia. While I was away I came to the realisation that it wasn’t long enough to do it properly. I came back to London, married my wife, and decided to do some real travelling. We took three years, and off we went.

How did that develop your work as a chef?

You see so many cultures and different ways of life, as a person, and as a chef you see so many ingredients you haven’t seen before, and how people treat those ingredients. You see things and think, “I could use that in my cooking, I quite like that technique.”

What initially drew you to Angler?

I’ve always enjoyed cooking fish and shellfish because fish is so seasonal. There’s so much you can do with it – especially turbot, for instance; you can steam it, you can roast it, you can cure it, you can have it raw, you can serve it on the bone, it’s very versatile. So there’s always something constantly changing. I’m also quite impatient, so if something’s been on the menu for a couple of weeks I feel like I’ve seen enough of it! It’s constantly changing and developing.

Tartare of yellowfin tuna with hass avocado, wasabi and shiso

I didn’t realise fish were so seasonal

It’s really like vegetables or fruit. For instance, red mullet is better when the water’s slightly warmer, so they’re at their very best during the summer. Then when it gets colder in the winter the red mullet will drop off, and you’ll get something like monkfish coming in, because that’s a cold water fish and it’s best in the spring tides when they’ve been feeding. Turbot goes into summer and starts to roe, so it makes the fish a bit smaller and it isn’t as good as it was before. I only use Cornish lobsters, and they’re at their best in the summer, so that’s when I use them – I don’t use lobsters outside of June, July and August.

Has the quality of British fish always been of a standard to serve in Michelin-starred restaurants?

Since I’ve been cooking, yes. I just think that more people are aware of it now. Obviously things like peaches are not going to be as good in Britain as they are in Italy, and you’re never going to grow mangos here, but Britain has some fabulous produce. You go to Orkney and the langoustines and the scallops are the best in the world.

We’re fortunate in that we’re close enough to use it and appreciate it, but I think a lot of it has come from British people being more interested in where their food comes from and how it gets used then they were a decade ago. Today there are farmers markets where you can find produce you’re not going to get in a general supermarket, and foraging has become a big thing, with people getting into wild garlic and elderflower. I think the ingredient quality has always been there, but people are now more aware of it.

What’s next for Angler? Do you have your eye on a second Michelin star, perhaps?

Everyone says: “Oh it would be nice, but I’m not chasing it,” but of course everyone’s going for it, they just don’t want to say. I’d love to get two stars, but I’m fully aware of how much hard work and dedication goes into getting to that point and maintaining it. So we’ve got hard work in front of us but it’s definitely something I’d like to achieve in my career.

anglerrestaurant.com

Questions of Taste: Alex Atala

The multiple Michelin-star chef and Jiu-Jitsu brown belt talks sustainability, success and the riches of São Paulo

There are few chefs as wedded to the land that they sprung from than Alex Atala. After years of travelling Europe, acquiring the skills he would later use to storm the global gastronomical league table, Atala returned to his roots to prove that Brazil’s cuisine was worthy of international attention.

For over a decade D.O.M., the restaurant Atala founded in the Jardins neighbourhood of São Paulo, has consistently appeared in the prestigious San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list. But the critical acclaim has not compromised its founding principles of celebrating all things native and authentic. Using previously marginalised techniques and ingredients, Atala has reinvigorated Brazilian cooking and raised the region’s culinary status. It is no exaggeration to say he is adored, from South America’s toughest critics to the greengrocers of São Paulo.

Having conquered fine dining, Atala has his sights on greater challenges. With the number of people on earth thought to rise to around 8.6 billion in 2030, feeding an ever more insatiable world could be one of the greatest challenges of this century. To confront this, together with his food diversity organisation the ATÁ Institute, and chef Felipe Ribenboim, he will soon be holding a symposium called FRUTO to discuss the issue.

To find out more, I caught up with Atala to discuss success, sustainability and the food scene in São Paulo.

D.O.M. is currently ranked as the 16th best restaurant in the world

After years of living abroad – what called you back to your roots?

I’ve been connected with Amazonian cuisine, ingredients and flavours since my earliest childhood. I believe that its this richness that comes from the forest and other Brazilian areas that forms the backbone to all my work. Brazil is so vast – almost the size of a continent – and there’s a huge diversity in many aspects. In just one country, there are so many different ways to deal with food, in both terms of the culture towards food and the produce available.

For decades, Brazil resisted fine dining, almost feeling that the national cuisine was ‘unworthy’ – what changed?

It’s not something that happens overnight. It is largely the result of an effort by all the Brazilian chefs that defend our gastronomic culture on a daily basis, even with all the difficulties we have to deal with, such as the lack of support from the government and the lack of structure for family-run agriculture and the indigenous and riverside communities that survive by cultivating these ingredients. The government needs to recognise the work of these young and talented chefs. They are the true ambassadors of this brand called Brazil.

Pupunha heart of palm fettuccine with Yanomami mushrooms

What are your hopes and fears with FRUTO?

Food waste and over consumption have always been two of the main concerns of the D.O.M. Group as a whole. And lately these concerns have led to launching the FRUTO congress, which the ATÁ Institute is organising in January 2018.

One of the most tangible and possible ways to solve these problems is to use 100% of the ingredients we have. That is the main guideline in both Açougue Central and Bio, the two newest additions to the D.O.M. Group. In both these restaurants we show people that it is possible to use the whole ingredient. For example, in Açougue (our meat-speciality restaurant) we receive a whole bull carcass every week and, of that carcass, we use everything: meat goes to grill, oven or pan; bones are used for broths; fat is used to deep fry other ingredients.

Things are very similar in Bio. The menu provides healthy dishes, with quality ingredients, in an attempt at conscious consumption. The Canastra cheese is maybe one of the most delicious cheese varieties currently produced in Brazil. In Bio, it is used as a cream to compose the fruit and Canastra salad, and its peel, which would usually go to waste, is used in pastry to provide the final crunchy topping to the Dulce de leche pudding. 

The reason for all of this is simple: we want to help raise awareness in our clients. It is possible to use the whole ingredient and for there to be no waste – you don’t need to buy more than you are going to eat. And it is important that not only chefs consider this but that all of us as individuals are aware – we can be the turning point for everything. Eating today is not simply feeding, it is a political, economical, biological, social and cultural act.

That is exactly how the idea of FRUTO was born. A congress divided into three axes (social, cultural and biological) that will bring together thirty of the most important minds in the fields of sustainability, science, gastronomy and industry to discuss alternatives on how to bring quality food to a world population that could reach 8.6 billion people by 2030.

Can you give me a good example of ATÁ in action?

I believe our work alongside Instituto Socioambiental (ISA) with the Baniwa chili deserves to be mentioned. The Baniwa are an indigenous people living in 200 communities across Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. They produce the Baniwa chili, a unique product made with a variety of native peppers that are dehydrated, milled and mixed with a bit of salt to form a potent spice. It didn’t get to the market because we didn’t know about it and the Baniwa people didn’t have the structure to commercialise it. Today, thanks to the partnership between ISA and ATÁ, that chili can be found in Mercadinho Dalva e Dito, at our stands at Mercado de Pinheiros, and in dishes at D.O.M. and Dalva e Dito. Because of that, many Baniwa people prefer to work producing the chili instead of working in mining, for instance.

Is there an ethos behind D.O.M? Could you define it in one sentence?

Creativity, with Brazilian soul.

Manio beiju pancake

 

How do we begin to re-establish a meaningful connection between humankind and the natural world?

We must revisit our relationship with ingredients and nature itself and understand that there is no point in only protecting the rivers, seas and forests. We can only ensure the defense of our biodiversity if we also protect the humans that make their living from that which the rivers, seas and forests provide. The food chain is a powerful tool to support those people. That is our job in the ATÁ Institute. We work on several projects to strengthen all points of the productive food chain. The more we understand and develop that relationship, the more space and demand the market will have.

Photography Rubens Kato, Ricardo D’Angelo and Sergio Coimbra

 

The Mythical Beef Sandwich You Need in Your Life

Chef and food writer Samin Nosrat reflects on the panino bollito, a masterpiece of understated Italian fast food

I started at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, in my home state of California, in 2000 with one adult travel experience under my belt: a year abroad in Europe, where the choices I made were informed by the cost of train tickets or the availability of creaky hostel beds. Food never entered the equation.

But from my first moments in the restaurant, when I sat through a menu meeting where the chef shared the origin story of each dish on that day’s menu, I saw how travel begets memory, which in turn begets great cooking. Each day – and each new menu – brought new stories of the far-flung restaurants, roadside stands and dear aunties and grandmothers whose food had inspired our cooking.

Many of the memories the chefs shared were of extravagant meals, but the ones that struck me most involved revelations about the simplest foods: a pot of beans cooked in coals, pasta made with dandelion greens, polenta fortified with cheese and thick cream. I knew that the next time I travelled, it would be in pursuit of those powerful, simple flavours.

So three years later, when I secured an apprenticeship in the kitchen of a tiny trattoria in Florence, I immediately started dreaming of all of the storied dishes I’d hunt for on my days off. I’d eat porchetta, thinly sliced roast pork seasoned with sage and garlic, and ribollita, the Tuscan bean, bread and kale soup that’s so thick it’s served on a plate.

One dish in particular, however, incited such universal obsession among the cooks at Chez Panisse that it had taken on an almost mythical quality: the panino bollito from a stall called Nerbone in Florence’s central market. While parts of it sounded great – the drizzle of salsa verde, the price: two euros – parts of it sounded terrible; it was, after all, essentially just boiled meat on a bun. What, I wondered, was mythical about that?

“The counter guy will dip the bun into the beef broth if you ask nicely,” the chefs told me. “It’ll put the best hamburger you’ve ever had to shame,” they said. I was doubtful, but I left it on my list.

A week after I arrived in Florence, I made my way to Nerbone. While I waited in the long line, I rehearsed the Italian under my breath until it was my turn to order. “Un panino bollito con tutte due le salse. Bagnato, per favore.”

Samin Nosrat. ©Aya Brackett

I’d studied Italian intensively before arriving but when the man at the counter replied in Tuscan dialect, I froze. Stubbornly refusing to admit that I had no idea what he’d said, I blushed, nodded and paid the cashier. He handed me my sandwich, which I took to eat on the steps of the market. I took a bite.

How could this strange-textured, off-tasting thing be the dish that inspired so many sighs at Chez Panisse? I forced myself to continue to chew, and then to swallow. There was no way this was the brisket I’d heard about. I went back and hovered near the sandwich stand, studying the signs, until I finally figured out what the man at the counter had been trying to tell me: He’d sold out of brisket. All he had left was lampredotto, a Florentine specialty. With my vehement nodding, I’d signalled that instead of brisket, I’d be fine with tripe.

Though embarrassed by my mistake, I couldn’t give up. I returned to Nerbone the following week. I arrived early to beat the lunch rush, ordered my sandwich and, just as before, I took it to the steps. I took a bite and swooned. Suddenly, I understood. The tender meat melted in my mouth. The bun had absorbed twice its weight in savoury broth, which amplified the flavour of the meat. Any other sandwich composed simply of bread and meat might have threatened tedium of taste.

But this one was enhanced by the kick of chilli oil and the punch of an acidic salsa verde. Not only was the panino better than any burger I’d ever tasted, it was the best sandwich, of any kind, I’d ever eaten.

I grew obsessed, eventually moving to an apartment almost solely for its proximity to Nerbone. I ate there so often that I got to know the cooks. I convinced them to let me into the kitchen so I could learn their secrets. They showed me how to season the meat generously with salt. They taught me that the pot of meat must never boil, but rather remain at a simmer for hours. And they demonstrated exactly how they make their textbook-perfect salsa verde: not by painstakingly chopping parsley and celery and gently blending it with olive oil and vinegar, but by throwing everything into a food processor and pressing the ‘on’ switch.

Two years later, I returned to Berkeley and started cooking at an Italian restaurant. I put a bollito sandwich with chilli oil and salsa verde on the menu, and waxed poetic about Nerbone to the staff. A few years later, one of our young cooks moved to Florence to study and cook. As I printed out a list of my favourite spots in Tuscany the night before he left, I gave him a few tips: “Watch how the Italians use olive oil. Eat everything you can. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t understand Italian.” And finally, I warned, “Watch out for the lampredotto at Nerbone.”

Photography Mattia Micheli

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

Kombu: Chris Denney & 108 Garage

Chris Denney, head chef and co-founder of 108 Garage, reflects on his favourite ingredient, kombu

The whole umami thing, the fifth taste, really started to become popular around 10 years ago. People were talking about the inherent properties of umami, the savoury taste that you find in Parmesan or Marmite, and it brought a lot of Japanese chefs and their cooking into the light.

This is when I discovered kombu. A type of seaweed, it doesn’t have the most typical flavour – it’s so light you almost don’t realise you’re eating it. But it’s a very clever engineering tool: You can use it to elevate a peach or detract from a note of cherry in a cream, or even make it into a butter to eat on sourdough. At 108 Garage, the restaurant I founded with Luca Longobardi in autumn last year, we make a pickle with the kombu in five-litre batches at the start of the week.

We use it a lot because our menu is constantly in flux and it lends depth and structure to our dishes. It’s almost a given now that all restaurants should be designing their menus seasonally, but there are always slight differentiations – a tomato at the beginning of a season is different to a tomato at the end of a season. Hence, we use things like the kombu pickle. As in the recipe below, it’s a great balancer; we can add some acidity to the peaches and level the butterscotch if it’s too salty, no matter what stage the produce is at.

DUCK, PEACH AND KOMBU PICKLE

(FOR 4 PEOPLE)

INGREDIENTS

20cm2 kombu
350ml rice wine vinegar
80g castor sugar
150ml carbonated water
4 ripe peaches
250g white miso paste
80g diced unsalted butter
100g muscovado sugar
80g black sesame honey
1 piece (approx 200g) white radish
1 large duck breast
Malden sea salt

KOMBU PICKLE

Bring the ingredients to just under a simmer (boiling will destroy the flavour of the kombu) and leave for 50 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover with cling film and leave to infuse for a minimum of two hours. Pass the mixture through a sieve before leaving to cool to room temperature in a plastic container and storing in the fridge.

PEACH

Thinly slice the peaches into crescents and bring 150ml of the kombu pickle to just under a simmer. Place the sliced peaches into a plastic container, pour over the pickle and leave to macerate in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours.

MISO BUTTERSCOTCH

Bake the miso paste on parchment paper for 12 minutes at 180 degrees until slightly burnt at the edges. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Melt the sugar and honey on a medium heat, gradually introducing the butter, before adding the miso paste and finally 120ml of kombu pickle. Pour into a piping bag or squeeze bottle and chill until required.

PICKLED WHITE RADISH
Peel the radish and slice into fine medallions. Place on a tray, season with salt and bring 100ml of kombu pickle to just under a simmer. Pour over the radish and leave for a minimum of two hours.

DUCK BREAST

Lightly season the skin with salt, place skin side down in a frying pan at medium heat and render for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown. Turn the duck over for a minute, place on a tray and finish in the oven for 10 minutes at 180 degrees. Rest for a further 10 minutes before combining with the peaches, miso butterscotch and radish, and serve.

Photography Tori Ferenc

This is an extract from issue 21 of Port, out now. To buy or subscribe, click here.

An Introduction to Eating Insects

Slowly but surely, the idea of eating insects is being introduced to European countries thanks to insect-based food projects and recipe books hoping to put an end to the ‘creepy-crawly’ taboo 

The concept of entomophagy, as its known, was once almost impossible to fathom in the West, but in the last few years there has been a growing interest in insects as an alternative food source. Very slowly, supermarkets are beginning to stock insect-based snacks, while chefs and restaurants are experimenting with insects as ingredients. 

Two billion people across the world already eat bugs regularly. Countries including Africa, Australia, Thailand and even the Netherlands incorporate insects into their diets, so why has it taken so long to catch on in the UK? The answer is arguably a combination of convention and unfamiliarity, but the reality is that eating insects is no different from eating shellfish. There are more than 2037 edible insects in the world and many contain a vast number of minerals, protein and good essential fats that Westerners have overlooked.  
 
“It is reported there are over 2000 edible insect species on the planet so that’s essentially 2000 different flavours,” explains Neil Whippet, co-founder of Eat Grub, an edible insect source that produces insect-based snacks and hosts food events in London. “People just need to get over the psychology of it. That’s what our company ethos is all about. We’re just trying to be a brand that welcomes people to eating insects.” 
 
In addition to selling snacks, energy bars, and cooking packs containing crickets, grasshoppers, Mealworms and more, Eat Grub also develops new recipes to try at home. These include grasshopper stir fry, buffalo worm fried rice, spicy grasshoppers with beansprouts and chocolate cherry cricket brownies. “Crickets are related to shellfish so if you like prawns, you’ll like crickets,” Whippet says. “They’re high in protein and calcium, plus the protein is complete so it has all nine essential amino acids and they’re high in vitamin B12 and fibre. We call them the original superfood.”  
Bente’s bees, Denmark.
As further evidence of the trend, a new book produced by the non-profit, open-source organisation Nordic Food Lab, On Eating Insects, is the first publication to take a comprehensive culinary view on eating insects and how to prepare, cook and enjoy them. 
 
Inside, Michael Bom Frøst – a sensory scientist and director of Nordic Food Lab – discusses his first experience eating insects. “Through tasting them I learned why we should eat them,” he writes. Many have interesting and unusual flavours that he claims we are missing out on. Frest looks back on his first taste of an Amazonian ant (apparently similar to lemongrass and ginger) as an almost religious experience that he found mind-changing. 
 
By 2050 the world could have a population of over nine billion people and according to research, food production may be forced to increase by 70 per cent. In preparation, we need to develop a more sustainable approach to food. It follows that eating insects could very well be the answer. And for those still struggling with the idea of eating insects whole, products like ground cricket flour can be a softer introduction.  
 
“When people talk about wanting to eat more healthily and sustainably, eating insects ticks both those boxes,” Whippet explains. “And they taste great too which is key for any food product.”
 
On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories and Recipes by Josh Evans, Roberto Flore, Michael Bom Frøst, published by Phaidon, is out now
 
Find out more about Eat Grub 
 
Photographs by Chris Tonnesen
 

Francis Mallmann on Gaucho Grilling

From the wilds of Patagonia to the English countryside, the Argentine chef best known for his appearance on Chef’s Table muses about his roving lifestyle and his love of cooking over open wood fires

It would be easy to roll your eyes at Francis Mallmann. The 61-year-old Argentine super chef, who came to global attention after appearing on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, speaks in gravelly, earnest platitudes. When I meet him in London in June, he sits there, all silk cravat, linen suit and grizzled white beard and doles out lines about freedom and the power of nature. It would be easy to scoff, sure, but the thing is, you’d be hard pressed to prove any of this was inauthentic.

Mallmann practises what he preaches. The chef, born in 1956 in Buenos Aires but raised in the wilds of Patagonia, has long eschewed any semblance of a normal life. In any one week, he can be in five different countries, he sees his wife two weeks a month, has “lost respect” for most of his sedentary friends, and lives mostly on a remote Patagonian island, where he long ago rejected the kitchen for vast fire pits outside.

“I’ve created a life for myself in which I am constantly moving,” he muses. “I’m in love with so many places but surface-level sightseeing is a beauty that passes through your heart, it doesn’t stay. If you really want to know a place, or a country, you have to nurture that relationship.”

Bizarrely, it all began in the ‘60s when he heard The Monkees. Something about their music proved a catalyst for his sense of adventure and he flew off to Paris to study under Michelin-starred chef Alain Chapel. There, he began to learn his craft, but his efforts to master traditional French cuisine were not met without criticism. It took an unimpressed French business man – the head of Cartier to be exact – to tell him his food was, well, lacking. “This is not French food” were his exact words.

This seemingly catastrophic encounter was actually exactly what Mallmann needed to find his own culinary signature. “I went back to my memories of childhood,” he says. “Slowly I started creating this language of cooking with fire that I think represents the naked cooking of South America so much.” One of Mallmann’s favourite ways to cook is in a pit dug out of the earth, a technique he grew up with and one that goes back thousands of years.

He now has 11 restaurants across South America, France and Miami, with a London outpost coming next year. This July, he will be collaborating with Krug for their Into the Wild festival in the English countryside.

So how does this self-possessed wandering chef find himself cooking at a luxury festival for a high-end Champagne house? Set in the grounds of the Grange, a romantic 19th century estate in Hampshire, this is a luxury event, yet it oddly chimes well with Mallmann’s philosophy.

“This will be a beautiful event, outside with big, big fires for the cooking, all in the grounds of this old haunted house,” he says, growing wistful about fire and its power to command a ‘stillness’ from people. “The most important thing for me is not the champagne or the food, it’s sharing the experience of being outside amongst the trees and the music. That’s luxury”

Indeed, Mallmann has a curious irreverence for the hushed worship of food and wine, especially the latter. “I find it very boring, all this talk about wine. It’s like ‘shut up and drink’,” he laughs. “There’s this magic that happens with a great bottle of wine and a great conversation. That’s what I like about wine, as opposed to writing a poem about the bottle.”

This thinking carries over into the very food he eats himself. What he would cook on his last day on earth? “A simple cabbage salad with white rice and a nice bottle of wine,” he says. I ask him where he would be but the answer is obvious: “On my island in Patagonia, in the middle of nowhere.” 

dunhill: Our London

Celebrate the capital through the eyes and minds of an architect, a chef, an entrepreneur and an adventurer, each with a unique story to tell about their city 

This month, dunhill has partnered with Port to present a series of four films exploring London through the eyes and minds of an architect, a chef, an entrepreneur and an adventurer. Chung Qing Li, Michel Roux Jr., Robert Scott-Lawson and Matthew Robertson are men of style and substance, each with a unique story to tell about their city.

Watch the full films from the Our London series here.

Michel Roux Jr. – Chef

Michel Roux Jr. is a Michelin-star chef and patron, and a man of classic taste and style. His restaurant La Gavroche, in London’s Mayfair, is one of the finest in the country. The name Roux is synonymous with French haute cuisine in Britain.

Matthew Robertson – Adventurer

Adventurer and filmmaker Matthew Robertson is a Londoner that finds peace in the wilderness. As the founder of Momentum Adventure, he scours the earth seeking out unique experiences and environments.

Chun Qing Li – Architect

Architect and entrepreneur Chun Qing Li is the founder of China Design Week and KREOD, an award-winning interior design and architecture practice in London. Standout designs include the China International Trade Pavilion built for the Rio Olympic Games 2016.

Robin Scott-Lawson – Entrepreneur

Robin Scott-Lawson is an established entrepreneur and has called London home since he was 18 years old. His London-based agency My Beautiful City specialises in high-end art direction, experiential marketing and event production. 

Watch the full films from dunhill’s Our London series here

A Port Creative production 

Photography: Christophe Meimoon at Quadriga Management
Styling:  Dan May
Grooming: Grooming by Tyler Johnston @ One Represents using Moroccanoil and Givenchy La Make Up
Production: Emma Viner
Interviewer:  George Upton
Editorial Director: Dan Crowe
 
Film Production Studio: Black Sheep Studios
Producer:  Michelle Hagen
Director:  Simon Lane 
DOP:  Tom Sweetland 
Exec Producer:  Dan Keefe

A Moveable Feast: Noma Mexico

Whole grilled pumpkin with a kelp and avocado fudge

Inspired by Mexico’s rich food history, Copenhagen’s most famous restaurant has opened a temporary outpost in Tulum 

Noma in Copenhagen has been voted the world’s best restaurant three times. Since 2003, head chef and co-owner René Redzepi has taken an innovative approach to Nordic cuisine, with items like deep fried moss, edible flowers and ants all making appearances on the menu. While the original restaurant is relocating to Copenhagen’s Christiania neighbourhood, Redzepi has transported Noma to Tulum in Mexico for a seven week residency.
 
Staging successful pop-ups in Tokyo and Sydney, Redzepi and the team at Noma have been on the road for the last two years, but Noma Mexico is the third and most ambitious venture yet. Conceived as an open-air restaurant nestled between the jungle and the beach, it offers a meticulously researched tasting menu based on Mexican ingredients and traditions. For Redzepi, this was an opportunity to pay tribute to a country that has excited him for over a decade.
Noma Mexico
When the concept for Noma Mexico presented itself, Noma’s former sous chef, Rosio Sanchez, was the first person Redzepi asked to join the endeavour. She was brought up in Chicago by Mexican parents, from whom she learned a great deal about Mexican cuisine, ingredients and flavours. 
 
“For the last 6 months, Rosio, a small team and I have been traveling all throughout the country from Merida to Ensenada, from Oaxaca to Guadalajara, and everywhere in between,” says Redzepi. “We searched to find that special chile, to understand the seafood, to taste just a few of the infinite variations of mole, and to find inspiration in the vast and wonderful culture.”
 
To create new and compelling dishes, Redzepi and Sanchez also teamed up with Traspatio Maya – a nonprofit group of 15 Mayan communities situated across the Yucatan Peninsula – who provided them with hyper-local ingredients. Indigenous delicacies such as rare wild bee larva, pure sweet and sour melipona honey from the Calaukmul reserve, white naal teel corn and pumpkin seeds have been used to create an incredibly diverse 15-course menu. Other items include pinuela, tamarind, crickets, grasshoppers roasted in garlic, chile peppers, jackfruit, mangoes and Yucatan limes. Spice also appears throughout, with dishes ranging from cool masa broth with droplets of habanero oil to pasilla peppers with chocolate sorbet boiled in melipona honey. 
 
Noma Mexico is open until 28 May 
 
Photography by Jason Loucas 

Questions of Taste: Douglas McMaster

Meet the pioneering chef and restaurateur behind the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant 
 
Douglas McMaster has to think more creatively than many chefs today. With his Brighton restaurant Silo, the 27-year-old is leading the country’s zero-waste movement. From sourcing to serving, his mantra is: ‘Waste is a failure of the imagination.’ Everything arrives to the restaurant directly from the farmers, cutting out processing, packaging and food miles. Compost machines are used to turn scraps and trimmings into compost that is then used to support the growth of even more produce. Given his uncompromising approach, the finesse of his dishes is even more impressive.
 
McMaster dropped out of school and, for him, the kitchen was the only place to go. He found it an environment he could be himself. ‘It was liberating as I hated that school made me feel like I was just another brick in the wall,’ he says. Since then he has gone on to win BBC Young Chef of the year and has worked at a handful of high profile restaurants such as St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, London. He also ran a pop-up restaurant called Wasted in Sydney and Melbourne where he trialled his zero-waste techniques before opening Silo in 2014. ‘I worked under the grandmaster of zero waste – Joost Bakker. It was his idea, I just made it happen from day one,’ he explains. ‘I believe it is my mission to continue carrying the flag and I love to see other innovators in the industry doing the same.’

McMaster’s menus are driven by season and the environment. ‘If there is a large crop of cucumbers, we put cucumbers on the menu. If the forager finds mushrooms, then mushrooms it is. We don’t dictate nature, nature dictates us.’ Recently, he collaborated with Patron Tequila for a Secret Dining Society event, and alongside Mr Lyan founder Iain Griffiths, presented a zero-waste cocktail pairing menu. ‘We even printed the menus on 100% recycled agave to save the agave fibres from tequila production going to waste,’ he says. 

The Nottinghamshire native is intent on spreading the zero-waste message and believes that even small actions can be effective in making a difference. ‘Start by looking at every purchase as a vote. If you buy fast food you are voting for fast food to exist, if you buy organic food you are voting for an organic future, if you buy something with no packaging you are voting for zero-waste.’ 
 
Silo is located in Brighton’s North Laines
 
Photography by Xavier Buendia