march foodie profile: neil armstrong
as you’ll know, this year i want to make space on my blog to explore the huge range of food-related careers that exist and how they affect the way that people cook and eat.
this month we’re hearing from neil armstrong who lives and works in london. he also publishes a fabulous variety of food-related podcasts, recipes and photos at gastronautics.
1. what is your food job?
i am director of food for a new healthy fast food restaurant opening in central london in october. i am also in the process of writing a garnishes bible for quarto publishing.
2. what are the best and worst bits of it?
- best: i really enjoy the creative process involved in working on a project, especially the collaboration with designers, architects, suppliers etc. that are all part of making the idea a reality.
- worst: while i feel very fortunate to be working in one of the world's great gastronomic capitals, london is a logistical nightmare and travel to and from meetings is really frustratingly snail-paced.
3. how would you sum up your approach to food?
when i was at school i was often distracted in class and found it hard to concentrate or "get into" many subjects. as soon as i realised that i could spend my life cooking and playing with food and get paid for it i was hooked and i've never looked back. to sum it up though i would say that i am particularly fascinated by food in relationship to what it means to other people.
4. has your job affected how you cook and eat?
i worked for several years as a chef in france from which i learned many good and often complex techniques.
after france i worked in italy and learned the importance of using excellent produce and keeping things simple.
i then spent four years teaching at a west london cookery school where i had to taste large amounts of heavy classical food; this coupled with visits to the orient have taught me the value of eating a lighter, healthier diet without compromising on visual, taste or textural satisfaction.
5. what is your most useful kitchen utensil?
my trusty 10" cooks knife.
6. what’s your usual stand-by recipe?
soup - brothy miso-type soups with shredded fresh vegetables or whatever is in the fridge.
7. which food says “home” to you?
seafood in general but especially raw oysters which remind me of being by the sea where i grew up.
8. do you have a guilty pleasure?
to be honest, if i am on my own and just want a kind of a snacky satisfying munch then my favourite is to take linseed ryvita, top it with sour cream, sweet pickled herring and finely slice red onion. i just love the sweet-sour-crunchy-smushy effect of this but it is of course not something to eat if you want a kiss from your beloved.
9. do you use a list when you’re food shopping?
it depends- if i'm just doing a regular shop for the house then i'll browse for what takes my fancy or looks best. on the other hand when i'm doing a dinner party or recipe test for work then you would be mad not to have a list.
10. how tidy is your kitchen?
very. i feel really, really unhappy in a dirty kitchen.
11. what inspired your love of food?
my parents are both very natural cooks and were very adventurous in their approach to food and both shared the cooking for the house and usually made things from scratch.
12. what is the first thing you remember cooking?
probably a cake that didn't work properly. this and playing around infusing tea flavours with my granny in glasgow.
13. what is your top cooking tip?
prior planning prevents piss poor performance.
14. what is your signature dish?
i always get asked this.... and it makes me feel uncomfortable as i always cook for someone ie. with a client/audience/guest in mind and i would be unable to produce one singular dish which could satisfy all these people at all times in all situations. to me the creation of a signature dish seems a very selfish thing to strive for.
15. what’s your worst cooking disaster?
as a student i decided that a brussels sprout and apple soup would be a winning combination. now that i am a professional cook i still have one in ten recipe tests that don't turn out right - but that's why you test them first, right?!
16. do you have any food heroes?
if i have to name a tv chef then that would be rick stein for being himself and conveying his love of food without any gimmicks.
in real life then i would refer to the cooks and chefs that have taught me how to cook especially frank ferigutti and xavier vidou and patrick van hoorn.
17. what annoys you about food culture in britain?
i don't think we should knock it too much. it is miles better than it was 20 years ago and our international reputation as culinary heathens is changing for the better. if i was to single out one thing it would be the general ignorance and lack of interest in food provenance.
18. do you prefer eating in or eating out?
i love both equally and enjoy a balance when the cash-flow allows.
19. what is the perfect foodie gift?
cooking a meal for someone. your time, thought and effort are so precious that it is the ultimate gift.
20. what’s your unfulfilled foodie ambition?
one day i will own and run my own cooking school. i know i could be very happy doing that.