Peter Gordon’s six delicious salad recipes
Chilli-roast sweet potatoes, smoked mackerel with beetroot and more delicious recipes from the New Zealand chefs new cookbook
New Zealand and Britain might be many thousands of miles apart, but when it comes to salad, the two nations remained as one well into the 1980 s. Comprising lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and perhaps( if you were really lucky) a little grated cheese or pickled beetroot, such a dish was only ever served with ham or for the seriously upwardly mobile chicken. We used to have ours with a mayonnaise made from condensed milk, malt vinegar and mustard, tells Peter Gordon, the Kiwi chef who has lived in London full-time since 1989. For years, I thought that was what mayonnaise was. He grins. My stepmother would have one head of garlic in the kitchen, and that would last us about a year. She would rub the salad bowl with an unpeeled clove, and then use it again six months later.
For old times sake, Gordons new book of salads for all seasons, Savour , includes a recipe for a condensed milk mayonnaise, even if he has swapped the mustard for the rather more modish wasabi paste. But, otherwise, it regards the past as another country: no iceberg lettuce, and surely no grated cheese. In fact, at this point, even a nicely roasted aubergine drizzled in tahini is starting to look a touch last century. This, his eighth book, dishes up a dazzling, Technicolor new world of umeboshi( a salted sour Japanese fruit) and shimeji mushrooms, of jicama( yam beans, apparently) and truffled honey. However, should you be impression intimidated what is freekeh again, and how exactly is it different from fregola? rest assured that there is also a recipe for a couscous and poached salmon number you could probably knock up in your sleep.
Salad is a main course now, he tells. But it should still be an achievable thing, something you are able to rustle up. His favourite recipe in the book is for burrata and heirloom tomatoes with a mango dressing which, presuming you can get your hands on the relevant ingredients spongey supermarket toms are not going to cut it here is the very definition of doable. It voices ridiculous. Mangoes dont grow in Italy, do they? But it comes together with such harmony. Its delicious.
Gordon, who brought his still-mourned restaurant the Sugar Club to Notting Hill in 1996, made his name with unlikely combinations; anyone whos come to dread the word fusion must lay much of the blamed at his doorway, for all that he did it so much better than most( and still does, perhaps: his current restaurant, the Providores, in Marylebone, remains full to bursting every night ). Fusion is everywhere now, he tells. But back then, it actually wasnt, even in Australia. As an apprentice cook in Melbourne, his college lecturers, weaned on French sauces, were dismissive of Gordons weird ideas, bear of the Damascene moment when he savor silken tofu for the first time; and it was the same when he arrived in London, doing transformations at the likes of Launceston Place in Kensington.
The whole culture was different then. It was terrible. These nasty basement kitchens with no windows, the chefs and the waiters never talking. In the years between arriving in London and finally opening the Sugar Club an incarnation of a restaurant he and his then partners had run in Wellington he learned a lot, the main thing being that its best not to work for arseholes. No one in Britain had heard of Gordon and his laksa, which was difficult, but perhaps also served only to harden his conviction that one day London would go wild for coconut, daikon and all the rest.
Gordon lives alone in a small, groovy terraced house in London Fields, and youve merely to take one look at its kitchen to know that he is a cook who loves to cook in his free time as well as in the working hours( this isnt always the case ): the counters are laden with bottles and bowls; on the hob is a grenade-like bit of kit in which coffee beans may be roasted over a gas flame. These days, he spends about 20 hours a week at the stove at the Providores, dividing the rest of his time between his other restaurant Kopapa in Covent Garden, Crosstown Doughnuts in Soho, of which he was one of the founders, and his New Zealand eateries, Bellota and the Sugar Club( mark four ). Even so, at least once a week, therell be eight people at his table here. Feeding people is in his nature.
Where did it come from, this love for the kitchen? Hes not sure. He grew up in Whanganui, a coastal township on New Zealands North Island. His father was an engineer who liked to render his own beef fat. Everything was cooked in it. I used to dislike it. The first time I savor fish and chips that had been cooked in sunflower oil, it was a revelation. When he was seven, the familys deep fat fryer fell on top of him; his burns were so bad, he required skin grafts. But though this only added to his disgust of the oil inside it, it didnt set him off cooking: I lost a year of school, but I frankly have no bad memories of that time.
It was while hitchhiking through south-east Asia after college that he got interested in the kind of ingredients with which he is now associated. When I was at the Sugar Club[ in Wellington ], a Malaysian family used to come in for my laksa. It wasnt authentic but they loved it. The owners of the Sugar Club had taken a punt on him, because at this point( 1986 ), hed never run a kitchen on his own. They gave me free rein, and I did everything. We made our own bread, chutney, goats cheese and we dried our own tomatoes this was before sun-dried tomatoes became something you dont talk about.
In his 50 s now, he shows no sign of simplifying his life any time soon. The portfolio does need managing, he tells, pulling his fingers through his hair distractedly. I do want to travel for work less. I started learning the cello, but didnt have the time for the lessons. But Alastair has this property in the Australian shrub that hes always thought would make a good cookery school, so Alastair is his partner, Alastair Carruthers, a leading lawyer and champ of the arts in New Zealand, who is moving to London later this year to be with him, a huge bargain for them both. Will he always have a restaurant? Yes, of this hes certain and likely in London, a city he has come to think of as his own. Ive lived here longer than I ever lived in New Zealand. Its still so exciting to me. Even when its hard, its a privilege to be here.