20 Questions: Christine McFadden
Long-time Guild member Christine has written numerous books but is best-known for Pepper, shortlisted for the Guild Food Book of the Year Award in 2009 and the Cordon Bleu World Food Media Awards in 2010. She lives in the food Mecca of west Dorset, where she runs cookery courses at her home near the famous Jurassic coast (www.thedorsetfoodie.co.uk), and is a staunch supporter of local food producers.
1 How did you become a food writer?
In the 60s, soon after I had fled the parental nest and was living in my first rented flat, I was completely bowled over by the joy of cooking from Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food and Robert Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World. I had not eaten food like this before, and I loved it, especially shopping for ingredients in Islington’s Chapel Market, close to where I lived.
In my 40s I switched from being a graphic designer and did a BScHons in Home Economics. After stints at Ebury Press and Marshall Cavendish I got a book proposal accepted by a publisher.
Another key factor that later galvanised me to change direction was that my work as a graphic designer often involved art-directing food shoots. Here I met people called home economists and stylists. ‘I’d rather be doing that’, I thought.
I was also attracted by food as it is so visually exciting. So it seemed a natural follow-on to my previous career in the design world. Little did I know how hard it is to get work and how badly paid it is when you get it.. But that’s a whole other issue.
2 What are your three favourite cookery books?
3 What is your earliest food memory?
Aged three, sitting on my father’s shoulders in an old-fashioned butcher shop, my head surrounded by sausages and black puddings hanging from the ceiling. I remember the meaty smell of the sausages, and trying to avoid having them damply brushing against my cheeks. Also memorable was the alarming and insistent thud of the butcher’s cleaver on the ancient wooden counter as he chopped up our meat. I also liked all the sawdust on the floor. It seemed very clean.
4 What is your favourite dish?
Grilled Dover sole
5 What is your favourite national cuisine?
6 What is your favourite restaurant?
7 Where did you eat your most memorable meal?
Corrigan’s of Mayfair
. My last meal there was in September, the night before going on holiday to Lyon. Knowing Corrigan’s reputation for robust meaty food, it seemed good preparation for Lyon. I chose John Dory fillets with salted grapes (which turned out to be merely salted raisins) and wild celery (which seemed not that different from good cultivated celery). Apart from the slightly disappointing grapes and celery, it was faultless. Even better was my husband Ed’s medley of hare: a little disk of terrine, a crisp millefeuille, some seared fillet, and a shockingly rich and smooth piece of liver pâté, all bathed in a rich sauce.
8 What is your favourite kitchen gadget?
A cheap plastic runner bean slicer, which simultaneously removes the strings from the edges and slices the bean into spaghetti-like strands.
9 What is the most useless kitchen gadget you’ve ever encountered?
10 What is your favourite food destination?
Syria. I adore Middle Eastern food in general, but after a trip to Syria last year (all the way by train from Dorchester to Damascus), I found the cuisine there to be that much more refined – similar to Lebanese in that respect. I love the spice markets and the colour and aroma of the spices – sumac, za’atar and Aleppo pepper. They give terrific flavours to the relatively simple food – grilled lamb chops, roast chicken, fried fish for example. Note: Lyon would come a close second.
11 What is your favourite comfort food when you are on your own?
Cheese and biscuits, particularly an oozing blue cheese like Gorgonzola on plain water biscuits.
12 What is the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?
Badly cooked skate wing in a restaurant in Amiens. The fish was off, too. Looked like a boiled handkerchief.
13 Are there any foods you would never eat?
Probably locusts or other tickly insects, dog meat, worms.
14 What is the worst food trend of the moment?
Not sure if this can be classified as the worst, but I have my doubts about the trend for foraging for food. I recently took part in an autumn fruit and nut forage, which finished with a light lunch. We were served a particularly vile rosehip soup with wild sorrel floating in it. Beautiful colours, but the soup was horribly acidic and lacking in body. If the end result doesn’t taste good, what is the point of foraging? Fungi are another matter, however.
15 What word would you most like to see banned from food writing?
‘Comforting’ – as in writing about winter food.
16 What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
Eating my late mother’s sherry trifle for breakfast. She used to serve it on Boxing Day in a massive cut-glass bowl. The leftovers would go in the fridge, and my brother and I would creep down early in the morning and help ourselves. I think we particularly enjoyed the sherry-soaked sponge cake at the bottom. I rarely make trifle these days, but on the occasions when I do, I find myself guiltily indulging in a breakfast hit of leftovers.
17 The professional achievement I am proudest of is…
Being short-listed for GFW Food Book of the Year Award
18 If you were in charge of governmental food policy, the first thing you would do is…
Reinstate home economics/cookery classes in schools
19 If you had to stop eating meat, how would you cope?
Probably fine. I go for several days without it anyway.
20 What would be your last meal, if you could choose it?
Roast chicken, crushed roast potatoes, baby broad beans with garlic chives and lemon juice, cooked by someone who knows how to get the chicken crisp and sticky on the outside, and the potatoes just so. Probably husband Ed or my best friend Jenny.
Author: Christine McFadden Email: email@example.com