as part of my ongoing efforts to find out more about different food-related careers, and how they affect thE way that people eat and cook, let me introduce you to alan rosenthal.
alan is setting up a new food business called stewed! which creates wholesome stews and slow cooked dishes inspired by flavours from around the world, using seasonal and when possible, local, ingredients. it is now LESS THAN TWO MONTHS SINCE alan'S FIRST FARMERS' MARKET (PICTURED ABOVE) AT WHICH HE WAS SELLING HIS PRODUCTS RATHER THAN JUST ANOTHER PUNTER.
1. what is your food job?
i changed careers last year. having always been an avid cook, i decided to leave my job in retail and make a leap of faith. after some training and a brief stint cooking in france, i set up stewed!. we’re all about slow cooked traditional dishes brought up to date and made with love and are aiming to sell our products in farmers’ markets and high end retailers. i hope we can establish a new and successful food brand!
2. what are the best and worst bits of it?
starting up a company can be lonely and stressful. you doubt your idea all the time. also, cooking the same dishes over and over again can get tiresome. however, seeing my brand come to life was so exciting. it was an amazing thing to sell my first pot of stew to a hungry punter!
3. how would you sum up your approach to food?
i love trying new things and experimenting with new ingredients. i’m intrigued by asian food stores and regularly buy things that don’t have any english on the label, so it’s all a gamble. i marinated some steak last night in a japanese sauce and some soya. it had a wonderful aniseedy flavour and was fantastic on the griddle pan. whether i can buy it again though is another matter – i don’t remember the label!
4. has your job affected how you cook and eat?
no, and i don’t get bored cooking at home just because so much of my job involves cooking. i enjoy eating good food which means i’ll always prefer to rustle something up rather than buy something off the shelf. which is funny because i am creating a business about ready meals - although of course they are meals that i would be happy to buy!
5. what is your most useful kitchen utensil?
it’s boring but it’s got to be the wooden spoon. what would we do without them?! that and the citrus fruit zester which is perhaps slightly more glamourous but not much! i love them, you don’t get all the bitter pith when you use one and citrus zest is so delicious in so many things. the other week i had to zest 85 oranges and cannot imagine what i would have done without my handy zester!
6. what’s your usual stand-by recipe?
i tend to have stand-by ingredients that i can use when i am in a desperate situation rather than a stand-by recipe. it takes so little time to whack a piece of fish or meat in the oven or frying pan with a few good flavours – a marinade of pomegranate molasses and honey with some caraway seeds or maybe some lime juice with a bit of chilli, soy, ginger and fish sauce.
7. which food says “home” to you?
roast beef and yorkshire pudding. i never cook this but my mum does so i associate it with meals at home and growing up.
8. do you have a guilty pleasure?
cheese! i love it and tend not to buy it as i’ll scoff the lot in one sitting with some membrillo or fig jam which i also love.
9. do you use a list when you’re food shopping?
no, not usually. i go by inspiration, unless i’ve got a clear idea of what i’m making.
10. how tidy is your kitchen?
my home kitchen is tiny, you could not swing a cat in it – well, unless it was a very small cat! so i need to keep it tidy otherwise there is no space to do anything.
11. what inspired your love of food?
my mum is a good cook and i am sure that helped. as a kid i always loved eating and cooking. i think it must have been my way of being creative. i didn’t really paint or do arty things as a child, i just wanted to cook all the time.
12. what is the first thing you remember cooking?
i remember cooking a spanish omelette when my parents were out. it had potato, red peppers and peas in it. i was very young and followed a recipe but i didn’t know what it was supposed to be - i remember the potato was completely raw. it was a disaster!
13. what is your top cooking tip?
taste things as you go along. remember you can always add things but it’s very hard to take things away. don’t assume a recipe is right. follow your own taste buds. also don’t be afraid, cook with gusto!
14. what is your signature dish?
i don’t really have one – i do all sorts of things.
15. what’s your worst cooking disaster?
apart from the spanish omelette mentioned above it was probably serving up sushi prawns when they were not meant to be sushi. as part of a tasting menu for 12 people i made a crab and prawn tortellini with a prawn bisque and crab remoulade with a grilled king prawn. the dish looked stunning but i didn’t cook the prawns enough – it was such a shame as everything else looked and tasted great. the moral of the story is to trust your instincts - i had a feeling they were not quite ready but i took a chance.
16. do you have any food heroes?
as a kid i always liked watching gary rhodes. he made me laugh and there is something quite mesmerising about his precision. i also think jamie oliver is great and enjoy the way he cooks in a relaxed fashion and with soul. clarissa dickson wright is another cook i grew up watching. i met her once and she was so good to talk to about developing a career in food. she said how hard the food industry was for chefs and she’s not wrong! it’s a tough job if you choose that path.
17. what annoys you about food culture in britain?
the food culture here can be extremely elitist. having lived abroad, i’ve seen cultures where you don’t have to be a top earner to enjoy good food and drink. in australia going out to eat is part of the culture and everyone does it. i loved being able to go out to eat over there for very little money and more often than not have a great meal. in the uk you pay a lot for food and i never feel it is consistently good. there also are very few mid-range restaurants where you spend £15 to £20 on food and drink. this, or less, is the norm in places like melbourne.
18. do you prefer eating in or eating out?
i like both. however, i prefer to have company when i am eating out. i like to share food and can find eating alone quite frustrating. i enjoy entertaining at home though and often have a few people around for dinner.
19. what is the perfect foodie gift?
it depends who it is for! for me or for someone else? it’s always nice to make someone a birthday cake. i remember a cake i made at university which was about 10 inches high – a 2 tiered chocolate mousse cake with sponge layers and strawberries all the way around. it brought a big smile to my friend’s face!
20. what’s your unfulfilled foodie ambition?
i’d love to go to thailand or vietnam and do a month long cookery course over there. i love thai and vietnamese food and think it would be an amazing thing to do.