By the time I was six or seven, my parents were happy enough to let me cook for them when they were busy - omelettes and pasta pomodoro con Chianti were staples of my repertoire. My omelettes are a lot better now, and my pasta pomodoro is no longer made with a stock cube and tomato puree, but I still learnt lessons back then. The effect and type of heat certain things need, the kind of cut I wanted for that veg, what herbs make straight-up omelettes something worthy of a Big Apple-style brunch. I genuinely think that it was my parents' tolerance and appreciation (well, at least they could put their feet up for a bit) and my capacity to sponge new information that makes me the cook I am today. Take thousands of meals and hours, almost unlimited access to every resource imaginable through books, social media, TV, radio and food festivals, victory in a regional cooking competition (balsamic and honey riff on lamb, loganberry crumble and evaporated milk custard. I was eight.) let that simmer for a few years, then add a desire to get serious, some big research, a whole new style of cooking, a year in a professional kitchen and liberal quantities of having to cook for myself, and that makes the hungry, asbestos-fingered, rare-in-the-middle, independent master of blade and fire I am today. There's still so many memories waiting to be made and so much more to learn, eat and share.
Merci, Papa, for being French. I am the last person you will hear argue that France has a better food culture than anywhere else, or better food or wine. But my family in France is the old-school, three course lunch with wine every day, bread on the table, recipes through generations stereotype everyone has. They have given me a love of great food both rustic and elegant, of coffee and liqueur after a five-hour lunch, of brioche for breakfast with homemade jam and most of all, they've given me heritage to die for. From patisserie woman Tata to indulgence and appreciation of my uncle Francois, my French heritage means that I can appreciate everything I eat for what it is. The simplest salad in summer is a crisp, refreshing and generously-dressed bowl of greenery and herbs, perfect with a fruity rosé. Winter suppers are well-seasoned terrines, fantastic soups and crusty bread, and a gateau of some kind. Every meal shared with others is an occasion: a chance to get together around a table, to eat and drink until we are full, and to then put the world to rights over coffee in the Hellem boules and some artisan chocolate. Food is a celebration, an occasion. Eat it. Love it. Live it.