april foodie profile: anna colquhoun


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 anna colquhoun, a chef who is currently eating her way round Europe, Turkey, north and west Africa, collecting recipes, stories and other culinary notes. Keep an eye on her progress via the Culinary Anthropologist.

1. what is your food job?

i have recently finished an internship at alice waters’ restaurant, chez panisse, in california. before that i taught cooking classes and was at culinary school in san francisco.

2. what are the best and worst bits of it?
  • best bits: playing a (small) part in the most incredible team-work i’ve ever seen; the chef pronouncing something i made ‘delicious’; butchering goats.
  • worst bits: my alarm going off at 5.30am; leaving the restaurant at the end of my four month internship.
3. how would you sum up your approach to food?

americans eat one meal out of five in a car. the western industrialised food system is fast ruining our planet, our social and economic relations, our bodies, our understanding and appreciation of these things, and ultimately our happiness. there are plenty of things wrong with the world, and cooking lovely food isn’t going to lead to world peace, but life for many could be a bit better if more people cared where their food came from and how it was made, had some basic cooking skills so they needn’t rely on processed food, and took time to eat together. plus, cooking is a creative outlet and a hopefully healthy addiction. food can be so delicious and also so bad. it’s more fun to eat the delicious stuff.

4. has your job affected how you cook and eat?

yes, in that i’ve tried lots of the restaurant dishes at home, and in that my home cooking better reflects the seasons and makes good use of local and organic produce. no, in that i’ve always loved cooking. however, i can now do it a bit better!

5. what is your most useful kitchen utensil?

a big, very sharp, chef’s knife.

6. what’s your usual stand-by recipe?

even if i’ve not shopped, i can almost always make some kind of spaghetti dish using things lurking at the back of the fridge and cupboard - capers, olives, lemons, chilli flakes, olive oil, anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs. it’s delicious.

7. which food says “home” to you?

roast leg of lamb with tonnes of garlic and rosemary.

8. do you have a guilty pleasure?

i have two, which i indulge all too infrequently - soreen malt loaf and camp coffee.

9. do you use a list when you’re food shopping?

it depends. quite often i dream up some over-ambitious plan, write mammoth lists, then get frustrated when it takes hours to find everything. other times, especially if i’m going to a farmers’ market, i’ll just turn up and see what looks good.

10. how tidy is your kitchen?

not bad. but this is largely due to being married to the kindest and most efficient dish-washing man you’ve ever met.

11. what inspired your love of food?

my mum loves good food and cooked a lot, usually british or french stuff, which taught me loads. my dad had an allotment which provided most of our fruit and vegetables - and half the neighbourhood’s! he was into making his own bread, yoghurt and elderflower cordial, all of which i helped with, probably grudgingly at the time, but i’m grateful now.

12. what is the first thing you remember cooking?

cheesey jacket potatoes! bake potatoes, cut them in half and scoop out the insides, mix with grated cheese and fried bacon bits, then mound it back in the potato skins and finish them under the grill. i made them again and again and was very proud of myself. i’m still a big fan of the potato-cheese-pork combination.

13. what is your top cooking tip?

first of all, buy good quality ingredients. second of all, cook them with love. and don’t forget to season as you go – it makes all the difference.

14. what is your signature dish?

pommes anna! until i’m grown-up enough to have a signature dish i shall have to borrow this one. sadly my namesake was not a great poet, painter or princess, but rather a 19th century prostitute. the chef adolphe dugléré created this dish in honour of anna deslions, a favoured regular at the café des anglais, paris. anna was rumoured to have provided services to 3 kings, 12 emperors, 18 princes, 34 dukes, 2 princesses and several actresses in the upstairs private dining room. she was the most loved and respected whore in paris.

15. what’s your worst cooking disaster?

there have been loads… setting fire to myself while making soup in the restaurant... serving christmas dinner at 1am on boxing day... forgetting to put the flour in my first ever batch of cookies…

16. do you have any food heroes?

alice waters, for the passion and energy she puts into revolutionising our approach to food. nigel slater, for his love of all things simple and delicious. michael pollan, for writing so much good sense about food.

17. do you prefer eating in or eating out?

do i have to choose?!?

18. what is the perfect foodie gift?

something homemade, like preserved lemons, chocolate-dipped candied peel or a maturing christmas pudding.

19. what’s your unfulfilled foodie ambition?

i have loads:

  • to dine at the french laundry, we could never get a reservation
  • to eat my way around the world
  • to cook every recipe from my favourite 100 cookbooks
  • to set up my own little cookery school
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