When you follow your dreams, it’s easy to get put off by the obstacles. And when it comes to the world of food and cooking, the competition is pretty stiff. Everyone will warn you about the barriers and the egos and the struggle to get noticed. But the most important thing if you believe you have something original to say about food or you think you can make people happy with your cooking, is to have the courage to believe it.
I could never have dreamed even a year ago that tonight I’d have a wait-list of 30 people for the Barn pop-up restaurant or that through the post this morning I would be receiving a royalty cheque from my publishers. So, we’re serving people on trestle tables in an old shed and the cheque wasn’t huge but it’s more of a restaurant than I ever dreamed of and I’m proud as punch of 960 book sales in four months.
The point is that the foodie world is busy and over-subscribed but no more so than any other. And finding a voice in that increasing Babel is hard work but you are judged by your actions and I’ve been able to enthuse people about food and satisfy their appetites with my approach to cooking, so I feel like it’s been a very good year.
Writing Cooking without Recipes achieved two things. First, it enabled me to fulfil a lifetime goal to write a book – a whole one! No more half-written outlines and empty notebooks. And secondly my ambition to show people that it’s their skill and imaginations that are important in the kitchen, not someone else’s. For the first time, here is a complete, though far from perfect, description of what I believe are the important principles of cooking. In retrospect, the book should show up in the self-help sections of bookshops because it’s really a step-by-step guide to building the self-confidence to cook-it-alone.
What’s important for a cook is to understand have an affection for your ingredients. It doesn’t matter how good the recipe, if you don’t really know what you are cooking or why, what emerges will always be about someone else, not you. There is a reason why whatever our grandmothers cooked for us was delicious. It was all about love.
Creating a kitchen out of an old garage with nothing but a single waterpipe has been a challenge beyond delight. What cook doesn’t dream of creating their perfect kitchen? When I saw the space in Upper St, I could just picture a vibrant, exciting space with so much potential. Borrowing, begging and bargaining for anything to get us going, we made surfaces out of old pallets and found a cooker in a scrap yard and the fridge was given to us by a generous Islington customer. After that it was just plain sailing. Wrap it all up in a bit of gingham with a vase of spring daffodils and our guests have just loved to bring all the joy they can to the space.
Taking the ideas about cooking and ingredients from the book to The Barn has also been a massive learning curve, but the excitement and energy that comes from believing you can do something and then making it happen is better than all the salary slips I’ve ever had. I make no pretence to being a chef – master or otherwise – but like many people I love sourcing the best ingredients I can and people like Robert Barker, Marky Market and Tony Booth who help me find them seem to revel in the pleasure I take in their produce. And in the end people seem to like what we cook and so we’ve been booked up weeks ahead.
And I now too have a wonderful business and kitchen partner who just came back into my life after five years of home-cooking on a little Greek island, and a new assistant who is passionate about what we can do to help the community through food and cooking. All in all creating the Barn has just brought a little more of my food dreams to reality.
I have many other goals to achieve – how to bring my love of theatre into the work we are doing, but here I just wanted to show my appreciation for amazing things that have been happening in the life of PipsDish and urge you too to get out there, believe you can do whatever it is you dream of and make it happen.
Watch out for our first theatre dinner performance, featuring the talented mezzo-soprano Lucy Stevens, launching her new one woman show Kathleen Ferrier – Whattalife! On 22 April www.lucystevens.com