Beyond Recipes

Umami Journal explores the culture, history and ancient methods of food

The history of food is rich and fascinating; it betroths a shifting timeline that sees seasons, cultures and discoveries affect the very ingredients that enter the fridge, pot and mouth. In a time before now, the meals that were consumed were much determined by the weather and geography, meaning that palettes were in some cases limited and dependable on supply. But equally, they were in synchronicity with the environment. Now – with advanced technology, globalisation and travel – we have ingredients and cuisines at our finger tips. The immediacy and expectation of what arrives on a plate has overshadowed its roots, diminishing the thought and consideration that comes with its origin and meaning. How often do you spend a moment to observe and appreciate what you eat, and more importantly, learn where it comes from?

Umami Journal takes its readers beyond the recipe as it delves into the culture of food, looking at its history as it celebrates ancient methods of eating – as well as the new. Sustainability is therefore intertwined with Umami’s ethos, where vegetarian or vegan sourced ingredients make up the entirety of its menu. Not to mention its delectable illustrations created by London-based multi-disciplinary artist Diogo Rodrigues which further exemplify its attention to craft. Here, founder and editor in chief Poppy Mist discusses the relationship between food and culture, the importance of sustainable cooking practices, and her favourite dishes published on Umami Journal to date.

Who makes up the team, and what led you to set up Umami Journal?

I’m the founder and editor in chief. Growing up with a mother who was a chef, I have always been passionate about food and cooking. I have a background in anthropology, specialising in migration studies, and have a particular interest in how the movement of people shapes food culture. I launched Umami Journal during the pandemic as an attempt to bring these passions together.

Diogo Rodrigues is the illustrator. Originally from Northern Portugal, Diogo’s background in sculpture is the foundation of his later works, with current expressions focusing on illustration and tattoo art – particularly influenced by Japanese and tribal imagery.

What does Umami Journal stand for, what’s your goal?

Umami Journal is an online platform that takes people beyond recipes, investigating their cultural nuances and history. Every recipe has a story, whether that’s related to the style of cuisine, a particular ingredient, or the dish itself. We also feature other types of articles that celebrate ancient methods of eating whilst simultaneously recognising new, innovative techniques and ideas, and have recently begun curating events as well.

What is sustainable eating, how does this translate through the ingredients and methods you use to cook?

Consuming less animal-based products, and eating more local produce are both vital to tackling climate change. All of our recipes are vegan and/or vegetarian and aim to utilise seasonal produce as much as possible. My aim is to produce delicious vegetarian recipes where people won’t miss the meat.

Can you pick out a couple of favourite recipes and tell me how they’re sustainable, how they’re made and their history?

One of my favourite recipes at the moment is Koshari, Egypt’s national dish. Its origins emblematise the country’s cultural history. It consists of a marriage of Arab, Indian and Mediterranean flavours, a hearty blend of rice, lentils, chickpeas and macaroni, topped with a rich tomato sauce and finished with crispy fried onions. 

Imam Bayildi, otherwise known as ‘the priest fainted’, is a classic Turkish dish that comprises whole stuffed aubergines, tomatoes, peppers, Urfa chilli flakes and spices. I have such fond memories of my grandmother making it for me when I was a child. Although its exact origins are unknown, it dates back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, and the name ‘İmam bayıldı’ translates as fainting priest, referring to a Turkish legend in which an elderly Imam fainted after eating the dish, apparently due to its abundance of olive oil.

Besides cooking delicious meals following your recipes, how do you hope your audience will respond to this project – do you hope they’ll switch to more sustainable food habits, for example?

I definitely think people should eat less meat, but I’m not one to impose my beliefs on others as I think this is incredibly polarising. No doubt, not all dishes have been historically plant-based, and I’ve had to adapt them. But I think this is part of food evolving! 

Ultimately, I want to get people thinking more about the historical and cultural context of food. It’s constantly evolving and this is really exciting. This is largely influenced by migration which should be celebrated.

What’s next in the pipeline?

We recently collaborated with HOME by Ronan Mckenzie to host an event titled Walls Have Ears. This featured a multi-sensory journey into the ancient art of the tea ceremony presented by tea sommelier and R&D chef, Genevieve Lenette, and musician Cassidy Hansen. Blending ancient tradition with modernity, this improvisatory event utilised a synthesis of abstract sound and traditional movement as a medium, in order to investigate how an age-old ritual manifests within an unconventional setting. I’m hoping to do more events and supper clubs, and write more features on exciting and innovative producers and cooks.

All imagery courtesy of Umami Journal

Mango Season

Andrea Hernández Briceño, who’s part of this year’s Latin American Foto Festival, uses her medium to raise awareness of food insecurity in Venezuela

Alfred Flores, 5, holds a bunch of quenettes in Patanemo, Venezuela, on July 17, 2020. “He’s a demon”, everyone says. This just means that he’s a restless kid, not that he’s possessed by the devil or something. His family lives from the land, since they don’t earn enough to buy food in a supermarket. They trade what they hunt and grow with other people from the area. When he was born, life was different. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.

Launching this month is the fourth edition of the annual Latin American Foto Festival, hosted by The Bronx Documentary Centre and featuring large-scale photographs throughout the Melrose community. Within, and available to view online, the festival sheds light on a collection of notable image-makers, including Venezuelan photographers Andrea Hernández Briceño and Rodrigo Abd. Both of whom reflect on humanity’s relationship with nature, particularly focusing on the country’s fragility with oil industry, economic decline and the climate. Other photographers involved are Florence Goupil, Cristóbal Victor Peña, Pablo E. Piovano, Victoria Razo and Carlos Saavegdra.

Andrea, in particular, is a visual storyteller based in Caracas who’s “interested in many things, but especially in everything that touches the social sphere, migration and women’s issues.” After graduating from a Mass Communications major with a specialism in journalism, she continued her education at the International Centre of Photography in New York with a scholarship in Visual Journalism and Documentary Program. After which she decided to return to Venezuela, kicking off her career in the arts and forming part of the collective of women photographers united by Latin America, named Ayün Fotógrafas.

While back in Venezuela, Andrea started work on a photography project entitled Mango Season – delving into the annual dry season in which fruits begin to fall from the trees in all their sweet and generous abundance. Mango season, for many in the country, is a lifeline, and The United Nations’ World Food Program has reported that one-third of Venezuelans are suffering from food insecurity. Coupled with the pandemic and oil shortages, the country is in crisis. Below, I chat to Andrea to find out more about her work and what she hopes to achieve through her colourful and impactful imagery.

A working horse bites its tail during a break from carrying cocoa beans in a farm in Patanemo, Venezuela, on July 16, 2020. It is owned by the Flores family. They live from the land, since they don’t earn enough to buy food in a supermarket. They trade what they hunt and grow with other people from the area. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.

What’s your ethos as a photographer, and what stories do you strive to tell?

The stories that move me the most are the one’s where I can clearly convey the dignity of the people that I’m portraying. I believe that this connects the audience to the people portrayed and feel very satisfied when I think I’ve achieved it.

I’m a storyteller and one of the biggest and most transversal stories now is food insecurity. It affects more than 90% of Venezuelans. 

Can you give some more context into the mango season in Venezuela, how is it celebrated?

The mango season lasts about four months and during this time, people have a little bit of food guaranteed. It is not exactly celebrated because we used to think of the mango season as a problem: when they fell, they could break a windshield or dent the hood of a car, they also rotted on the floor and brought flies and disease. But today, its meaning is changing to something good. They don’t rot anymore on the floor because there’s always someone that picks them up.

Luis Alfredo Flores, 11, poses for a portrait in a cocoa farm in Patanemo, Venezuela, on July 16, 2020. This land is worked by his family. They live from it, since they don’t earn enough to buy food in a supermarket. They trade what they hunt and grow with other people from the area. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.

How has mango season changed over time, has it been affected by climate change and the pandemic?

Climate change hasn’t affected the mango season very much. These trees actually bear fruit during the dry season.

For the last six years, the mango season has changed its meaning into something good because of the social, political and economic crisis. So when the pandemic began, it just felt as if another element was added to the whirlwind of terrible living conditions (we also have fuel shortages now, ironically in an oil producing country). But it shifted my perspective and made me think of a different way to make this abstract story into something visual: it made me look for moments that showed the beauty, strong will and dignity of Venezuelans in this adverse situation.

Do you have any personal anecdotes or stories to share about mango season?

At the beginning of the pandemic, everything stopped. It felt as if we were suspended in the air. There was so much free time. So I went almost every day at my parents house. They have a big backyard with mango trees and they had just put some seeds for grass. I talked a lot with my dad; about love, family and expectations. We sat there drinking coffee or something stronger in the afternoon, watching the grass grow. Literally.

The Choroni cemetery in Venezuela, on January 30, 2021. This photograph (a damaged negative, a happy accident) This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.

In terms of your imagery, from what I’ve gathered you’ve shot in quite a colourful and joyous manner – which is a contrast to the important topics addressed. Is this intentional, perhaps to make harsher topics more digestible?

The collective imagery of Venezuela is quite different to this body of work. My country is almost always portrayed as a sad, miserable place because there is a crisis going on. I’ve also added to this imagery because it is real, necessary and important for our history. But I also think that it is essential to show the in-between moments of calm, joy and connection. It is a different way to portray our humanity. I think it makes the audience feel a little bit closer to us because they can see themselves in the magic of everyday life and nature.

As your work’s now part of the Latin American Foto Festival, what do you hope to achieve? What can the audience learn about Venezuela, nature and the environment?

Being part of this festival has been a dream of mine since I came four years ago. I thought it was an amazing way to bring the power of photography into a community. With this work I hope to broaden the horizons of the people that look at Mango Season. I wish to make it easier to recognise the humanity in others, even if they are in far away places. And I also hope to bring the people that I photographed In Caracas, Patanemo, Choroní, San Antonio de Los Altos and Chuspa closer to the people in The Bronx and the US. It’s just a dream, but I think it can come true because my dream of exhibiting at this festival came true.

View from the highest mountaintop in Choroni, Venezuela, on January 30, 2021. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.
A girl straightens her little sister’s unicorn hat in Galipan, Venezuela, on October 4, 2020. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society.
A fisherman sits on the “malecón” in Choroní, Venezuela, on January 31, 2021. This image is part of the Mango Season chapter of the project The Nature That Inhabits Us with the collective Ayün Fotógrafas. ©Andrea Hernández Briceño / Emergency Fund for Journalists by the National Geographic Society

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

 

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.” 

The Unlikely Chef: Harry Gesner

At his Malibu beach house, the influential Californian architect introduces Julia Sherman to a signature dish set to feature in her new cookbook 

Photography by Julia Sherman
Harry Gesner’s architecture heightens your awareness of the sun, the horizon, the water, the overwhelming improbability of being perched on the edge of a cliff. His work is an homage to the earth itself. He sketched his most famous project, the Wave House, directly on his handmade balsa-wood surfboard, bobbing in the ocean and looking back at the land that was his to adorn.
 
I first learned of Harry when I stumbled upon the little-known Scantlin House (referred to now as the Trustee House), which remains hidden behind a grove of trees on the Los Angeles Getty Museum grounds. It was built in 1965 and features a swimming pool that reaches under a rock wall and into the living room, an indoor waterfall and fern garden, two fireplaces, and sweeping views of the city. As soon as I stepped foot in this mysterious building, I accepted my mission to find its creator. 
 
Harry stopped surfing a couple of years ago (in his eighties), but he swims in the Pacific Ocean every morning. He has adventured around the world, befriended the most eccentric of characters, and loves to tell a good story. When I finally finagled my way into Harry’s Malibu beach house, a cylindrical building anchored by a cavernous central fireplace, he put on his chef’s hat (literally) and got to work. 
Harry Gesner’s Red Fresh Dates, Marcona Almonds, and Upland Cress Salad
Serves: 4 to 6
  
For the dressing
 
1 teaspoon flavourful honey such as buckwheat
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon minced shallot
3/4 teaspoon grated tangerine zest 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
 
For the salad
 
2 cups (360 g) fresh whole dates
1/2 cup (55 g) chopped salted Marcona almonds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head Red Ruffles or Red Oak leaf lettuce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
1. Make the dressing: Dissolve the honey in the vinegar in a large salad bowl. Add the shallot, zest, and mustard and stir to combine. Add the oil to the dressing in a slow stream, whisking to emulsify. 
 
2. Make the salad: Remove the base of the dates’ stems. Smash the dates with the broad side of a chef’s knife to crack them. Remove and discard the pits and toss the fruit in the bowl with the dressing.
 
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Toss the almonds with the oil and spread them on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown. 
 
4. Wash and spin the lettuce and tear it into bite-size pieces. Toss it in the salad bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat with dressing. 
 
5. Sprinkle the almonds on top of the salad and serve immediately.
 
This is an excerpt from Julia Sherman’s forthcoming book, Salad for President: A Cookbook Inspired by Artists, available May 16. For more information, click here. 

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 

Questions of Taste: Tong Chee Hwee (Hakkasan Group)

As Chinese New Year celebrations begin, Michelin-starred chef Tong Chee Hwee talks to PORT about the importance of competition, using tradition to create contemporary Chinese dishes and learning from a master

Set up by Alan Yau OBE, the Hong Kong-born restaurateur behind the successful high-street chain Wagamama and the Yauatcha dim sum eateries, the Hakkasan brand has become synonymous with high-end Cantonese fine dining around the world, having first taken root in London’s West End 16 years ago.

Although the commercial accomplishments may be attributed to Yau (who sold Hakkasan and Yauatcha to Emirati investors in 2008), Hakkasan’s reputation for crafting modern interpretations of traditional dishes from southeast China is surely owed to the ongoing efforts of executive head chef Tong Chee Hwee.

After working for 18 years under “master of Cantonese cuisine” Cheng Hon Chau in Happy Valley Singapore and Malaysia, Chef Tong came to London to set up Hakkasan in 2001, and quickly earned a Michelin star within just two years. Building on this, Hakkasan has since ballooned into something of an empire, with outposts in New York, Mumbai, Las Vegas, Doha and beyond.

Today, Chef Tong bases himself in HKK, the group’s City of London restaurant whose mission is to “celebrate the true diversity of Chinese cuisine”. It’s in HKK that Chef Tong and his team experiment with new creations which, if successful, are rolled out to the other restaurants in the Hakkasan network.

Here, we sit down with Chef Tong to discuss how he created the Emperor’s Feast menu to celebrate Chinese New Year, competing with top international chefs and why he’s passionate about using Western ingredients in his cooking.

Inside HKK, Worship St, London
Inside HKK, Worship St, London

What memories do you have of celebrating Chinese New Year from your childhood? What food would have been around the family table?

I remember the delicious meals my Hakka grandmother used to cook during Chinese New Year celebrations. She had such a talent, and she passed that talent on to my mother.

Prosperity toss salad with raw fish, Pen Cai or Big Basin Feast, roast duck or chicken and dumplings are the most popular and traditional to commonly serve during Chinese New Year. My grandmother always cooked them for family. Now I always cook for my family, I am most happy when cooking for them and watching them enjoy the food when everyone is gathered around the table.

What sets HKK apart from the other restaurants in Hakkasan Group?

Hakkasan focuses on modern Cantonese cuisine, whereas HKK is modern Chinese cuisine; the reason behind HKK is to further improve the standard of Hakkasan. I found that Cantonese and Chinese cuisine in London lacked the individual fine dining standard, and HKK is a restaurant that combines quality Chinese cuisine and French fine-dining service.

What are the biggest challenges of creating Chinese fine dining for a diverse London palette?

I think the biggest challenge for me during these 15 years is that I’ve seen lots of international cooking, with international chefs coming from all over the world with new dishes and new cuisines. We as chefs and restaurants are now forced to offer something new and interesting to meet consumer’s needs. They expect it. But, for me, it’s a great improvement and I look forward to this continuing in the future.

' Touch of the heart' from the Emperor's Feast: lobster and pickled Chinese leaf dumpling, king crab with XO sauce dumpling, sea bass and shrimp dumpling
‘Touch of the heart’ from the Emperor’s Feast: lobster and pickled Chinese leaf dumpling, king crab with XO sauce dumpling, sea bass and shrimp dumpling

At what point in your career did you feel that you had mastered your craft?

I began working under my master Chef Cheng Hon Chau. He was known as a master of Cantonese cuisine, and it was under his mentorship that I honed my own skills and techniques. After four years, I became a master chef to run the restaurant [Happy Valley]. It is hard to find the point in my career because I am always learning and improving.

What are the key lessons you’ve learned in your career, which you often pass on to your junior chefs?

First, the UK is a highly global society; you can find food from all over the world very easily. Therefore, positive competition can definitely encourage people and help people to improve their ability to create a better restaurant with a unique style. Second, change your [perspective] and consider yourself as a guest – would you be experiencing well-prepared hospitality and concepts? No matter where they are, in the UK or anywhere else in the world, if customers receive the best service and best quality food what is not to like?

Cherry Wood Roasted Peking duck I
Cherry Wood Roasted Peking duck

HKK’s Peking duck has often been recognised as a standout dish from HKK’s menu. Can you tell me how you adapted it for the Emperor’s Feast menu for Chinese New Year?

For this special Cherry Wood Roasted Peking duck I presented it with the combination of imperial caviar, foie gras, and kumquat as a bite of the soul for the menu. We have plated the dish beautifully to make it feel even more luxurious and with the background of the jade and gold emperor banners I think guests have really enjoyed it.

What is your process for finding the right drink pairings, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, for your tasting menus?

We have a very strong beverage team to find the rights drinks pairings. Our cocktails and wines choices are definitely superior. The beverage team all taste the menu and work together to build a drinks flight that not only works with the [usual] menu, but also the entire Chinese New Year campaign.

How have you integrated Chinese ingredients like sea cucumber and yu fungus into your food?

We are always trying to introduce authentic Chinese ingredients and add innovative elements into our newly designed dishes. We want to offer guests a new experience and surprise them with new flavour combinations that they haven’t tasted before. I used sea cucumber in the Chinese New Year dish ‘Monk jumps over the wall’, which is one of the culinary dishes for Chinese people and dates back to the Qing Dynasty.

This dish contains 18 kinds of main ingredients including sea cucumber, abalone, scallops, dang ginseng, mushrooms, ham, chicken stock and more. Rather than a clear soup, I blended the ingredients to form a thick soup which makes the flavours more balanced. Moreover, the scallop noodle dish with yu fungus featured in the Chinese New Year menu uses a jade coloured chive sauce symbolising immortality.

Chef Tong preparing 'Eight treasure chicken', with guinea fowl, ginko nut and mangalica ham
Chef Tong preparing ‘Eight treasure chicken’, with guinea fowl, ginko nut and mangalica ham

How important to you is using local British ingredients?

It emphasises the point that with HKK we are taking guests on a culinary journey. I like to use lots of Western ingredients to have a nice combination of Chinese food with Western cultures. There are lots of different cultures surrounding food in northern and southern China, and also for Chinese people in different countries as well. That is why I think using local ingredients is a part of culinary culture.

We get most of our ingredients locally. We’re really lucky in the UK, as we have such a variety of local producers. For example, the Dingley Dell Pork we use is from a rare breed of pig originating from Suffolk; the lamb is from the Welsh Rhug Organic Far; and we use local seasonal shellfish and vegetables too.

Can you explain the reason for the names behind some of the dishes, including ‘Emperor’s bite of spring’ and ‘Monk jumps over the wall’?

Spring rolls are hugely variable in today’s Chinese cuisine but the actual story of the spring roll comes from the season of the spring where it was traditional to welcome the arrival of spring and pray for good luck at the start of the new year. They gathered a variety of different spring vegetables and seasonal ingredients to be placed on one plate and rolled into a pancake. The spring pancake has also been used as one of the royal dishes, which emperors offer to his ministers as a reward in the beginning of the spring to welcome the season.Our ‘Emperor’s Bite of Spring’ takes this inspiration and uses authentic ingredients such as sea cucumber but also black truffle.

The reason why the other dish you mentioned is known as ‘Monk Jumps over The Wall’ is there was once a scholar was cooking and preparing this dish next to a temple. The strong aroma of the dish spread over to the temple and one of the monks of the temple, who was meditating, was tempted with the nice aroma and jumped over the wall just to try this dish.

For more info on the Emperor’s Feast tasting menu, visit hkklondon.com/our-menus