You’re in the UAE in part to promote your latest book, Savour. Can you tell us a bit about it?
The focus is on salads, from side salads to substantial mains and huge platters that you place in the centre of the table. I love Savour. Every time you finish a book you love it, but there’s something about this one in particular.
What is it you like about the writing process?
Before I wrote my first book I wasn’t very good at English. Because I’m a chef, the publishers asked me who I wanted to write it, but that just seemed wrong. So I went out, bought a computer and taught myself how to type. I still do everything myself, including cooking all the dishes in my kitchen at home. Whenever I create a recipe for a book I think if my mum and dad couldn’t make it, it’s not going in there.
Which element of your career – being a chef, writing recipes, appearing on television, doing cooking demos – do you enjoy the most?
I really like the mix. But my favourite place to cook is still at home for friends. I try to make sure I have a proper dinner party three times a month with 16 or so guests. Recently I recreated a dish I’d seen when I was a kid: a crêpe with a soufflé in the middle, you fold the crêpe over the soufflé and it all puffs up. It had been in my head for 50 years and I finally made it. So much fun.
How do you cook when you’re at home?
If I’ve been at work for evening service I tend not to eat when I finish, but if I just work in the day I’ll nearly always cook once I’m home. I’m a fan of soupy, stewy, risotto-type dishes because you can more or less open the fridge and throw everything in. My cupboards are full of things like miso paste, pomegranate and date molasses, soy sauce, sumac and cumin.
How much time do you spend in New Zealand these days?
I live in London but go home six times a year. I have two restaurants over there and a business making relishes, chutneys and dressings.
How would you describe the food scene in New Zealand?
It’s great, really great. As with many chefs of my generation I left when I was 18 and was away for a number of years. We all went to Europe or Australia to learn about food and came back much later to set up restaurants. Partly as a result of that, today’s young chefs don’t have to leave or go away for so long; they can travel a little then come back and be part of an incredible food scene with amazing produce.
You’re known as the ‘godfather’ of fusion cooking. How do you define this?
Fusion cooking means that when I go into a shop and there are ingredients from all over the world, I can buy a bit of everything. I’m not limited by rules or cuisine. Food evolves and for me fusion is about looking at an ingredient and not thinking it’s Greek, Thai, Chinese or Italian, but viewing it as spicy or citrusy, sweet or aromatic. I’m not restricted
in any way and can view ingredients by flavour alone.
Christmas is coming up. What food do you associate with this festive season?
In New Zealand we have a fish called whitebait, a skinny little knitting needle-shaped fish. When I was younger you were allowed to bring five kilos of frozen whitebait over from New Zealand to England, so at Christmas that’s what we’d do. Then we’d all go round to our friends’ houses and cook it.
To read more about Peter, his cookbooks and restaurants, visit peter-gordon.net