Just Words.

Reflections about life in & out of the kitchen

Menu Surprise: Why You Should Never Order The Same Dish Twice

For menu surprise, I never order the the same dish twice no matter how magical the first bite. Even more than taste, when I sit down to a meal it’s surprise I seek.

menu surprise An economist by trade, I have a profound appreciation for the law of diminishing marginal returns, whereby the we extract maximum value from the first action we engage in, slightly less from the second actions, and so on until the value actually turns negative.

menu surprisemenu surprise

Like most things in life, I’m only able to understand complex theory and concepts through food. Imagine you are sitting down to a heaping tray of al pastor tacos hawked from a small stand in Oaxaca. You devour the first, second and third taco in a state of pure gluttonic bliss.The fourth and fifth take a little longer to get down, but THEY TASTE SO GOOD so you ignore the slight discomfort around the belt. And then every taco after that becomes less about pleasure and more about an obligation to pay homage to the king of tacos. And finally, with a longing gaze at a the sacred plat, you finally accept that one more bite will lead to a less that glorious exit from Oaxaca.
When I experience food no matter the place, format or situation, I can’t forget the law of diminishing marginal returns. Because food for me is not just about taste, although there is NOTHING more important, it’s also about the surprise element that is inherent in the new, and difficult to retain. Whenever I eat, I go into the game with the mindset that it’s the first and last time I’ll be taking by knife and fork to whatever is in front of me. With this take no prisoners approach, I squeeze maximum pleasure from the experience and savour the place, the presentation, the plate, and the entirety of the eating!
Menu Surprise
This immersion into my food means my memories are tinged with hot sauce and olive oil, as well as the unquantifiable element of surprise from the new and unknown. I’m always looking for menu surprise, so when I have the opportunity to order the same dish, expecting to replicate the past gastronomic highs, I know, deep down, that only disappointment awaits.
Because the value of menu surprise scores big on my palate and when I sit down in the same place for the second time, I’m always going to give up the guaranteed for the unknown, a new plate filled with dangerously exciting possibilities.
Food, people and ideas can always be improved on, iterating on the past and creating a better (and more delicious) future. Whether I’m in or out of the kitchen I’m experimenting – the best results made the cut in my latest cookbook. My gazpacho never has the same red hue, my hummus always creamier than the last, and my coffee is spiced with cardamom one day, cinnamon the next and every permutations richer that the last.
menu surprise
I’m not one to be tied to traditions, although Jose Andres taught me to always respect them, and that’s why I’m constantly experimenting and never settling for the tried and true, whether I’m cooking or eating.
Psychologist Paul Rozin offers this tip:
If you want to experience more pleasure before the meal, order something you have had before; you can access your memory of that pleasure. But if you want to create new memories – more pleasure in the future order something new.
menu surprise
For those who don’t want to risk a meal, stick to what you know and order your usual, but if menu surprise forms part of your experience, then choose the unfamiliar and ask the chef to bring you a plate of the unknown.

My Real Chef Hero In The Kitchen

In times like these where cynics rule and fake food is winning, we all need a real chef hero, and lately there is one guy wielding a sharp knife that keeps inspiring me, in and out of the kitchen.

Sure, Anthony Bourdain is every wanderlusting chef’s crush, traveling the world, eating and drinking like a rockstar, and providing a cultural immersion for the food-obsessed.

chef hero

And another real chef hero has to be the action man himself, Action Bronson. When a rapper starts cooking, eating and smoking his way through kitchens and restaurants around the world it’s hard not to want to turn your cab backwards, grow a beard and live vicariously through this real chef hero.

chef hero

But lately I’ve been drawn to another onion-chopping genius. The great Jose Andres is my real chef hero and commands respect in and out of the kitchen. From a commitment to his basic ideals in immigration and migrant rights, to his aspiration to save the world through food, to his authentic and creative vision and delivery of Spanish food in all its glory, and finally his mastery of the fried egg, the huevo frito!

But it’s in his latest incarnation, serving up Puerto Rico real food and real hope, when the USA failed to deliver, that makes him a real chef hero. After Hurricane Maria, he spent over a month in the region feeding some 2 million people and making the basics front and centre of the policy discussion. Look up #ChefsForPuertoRico and get inspired by the power of food, and those that cook it, to change the world.

real chef hero

If we all cooked with the joy for food, people and life that Jose Andres clearly has, then the world would would surely be a much more delicious place. He’s part of the reason I cook and live the way I do, following these 10 essential rules including his core belief:

“I believe in tradition and innovation, authenticity and passion.” || Jose Andres

Immersive Food Experiences are the Future of Travel

After cooking for strangers over the last decade in my shared apartment in Melbourne, from my tiny flat in London, and finally on my ‘count-my-blessings’ rooftop in Barcelona, I’m convinced that immersive food experiences are the future of travel.

immersive food experiences

The first time I traveled, not just tagging along with my parents, but choosing a faraway place, selecting my seat, then poring over how to see, hear, eat and experience as much as physically possible, was as a 19 year old traversing Spain. I had visited my grandparents in their beachside house in Torredembarra and walked up and down Barcelona’s Las Ramblas with my family, but never explored further afield, and definitely not as a free spirit.

That trip saw me fly into Barcelona by plane, catch the train down to Sevilla, make friends and hitch a lift with some girls that were driving down to Tarifa, slowly cycle up the coast to Malaga and then finally board a combination of boats to Ibiza and finally back to Barcelona. The objective for my trip was to experience, and it wasn’t until those final few days in Barcelona, digesting everything I’d seen (and eaten) over the past 3 weeks, did I truly understand which memories would ultimately stay with me: those that involved people or food, and ideally both.

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My Essential Cooking Rules for Living Like a Rockstar

Cooking  rules are always based on a recipe, but translating those steps into an experience that goes beyond the functional act of eating requires chefs to truly believe that only the sky is the limit.

Because the job of chefs, like ‘job of any artist is always to deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon

Here are my essential rules for cooking (and living like a rockstar), because what happens in the kitchen is usually a reflection of what happens in life.

  1. Recipe books are useful as a guide, but in the kitchen, always trust your instincts

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Homemade Olives and your Inner Mediterranean

It’s likely that many a grand idea has been chanced upon while enjoying a glass of vermouth and a plate of homemade olives, at least that’s what set the tone for me when I started writing my Spanish cookbook.

homemade olives

Olives are as close as a vegetable will ever come to joining the charcuterie board – are Mediterranean fundamentals and Spain produces some of the best. Salty, sweet and bitter, no Spanish table is complete without a bowl of these black and green gems.

I love the fluorescent green Campo Real, the bitter Caspe and the tiny Arbequina (the source of every real Spanish olive oil) and of course the meaty black Morta.

Curing homemade olives carried an appeal I couldn’t resist after moving into a Melbourne neighbourhood filled with Greek and Italian second-generation migrants. Their tomatoes competed with thick bushes of basil and shiny purple aubergines, and above them all towered weighty olive trees, from which thousands of the black and green berries would fall every summer.

homemade oliver

Making do with what had fallen, and guiltily stripping several branches (I have made good with my conscience to justify my ongoing urban foraging), I found myself heaving a t-shirt-full back home, whereupon I began to fill my modest ground-floor apartment with jars of olives, curing with lemon peel, chilli, garlic, rosemary and coriander seeds. I nervously shared the results with my suspicious neighbours and was congratulated with a grudging smile and shake of the head at this brazen generosity that made good on the earlier crime.

First, for curing olives, make a brine by dissolving the sea salt in 4 litres of water in a large pan over a low heat. Once the salt has dissolved, remove the pan from the heat and let the brine cool.

Cut a tiny slit in the side of each olive. Be careful not to cut the pits, which if damaged will release a bitter chemical that will ruin the entire job. Tip the prepared olives into a sterilized glass jar (or two) and cover with the brine solution. Store the jar(s) in a cool, dark place (or at the back of the fridge if your house gets too hot) and turn over the olives once a day.

After a few weeks, begin taste-testing your homemade olives until they have reached the desired stage of curing (leave them longer if you want sweeter olives or remove them earlier if you like them bitter like me).

When you’re happy, drain the homemade olives, discarding any that have spoiled, then rinse with fresh water and leave to dry. Wash and sterilize the jars with boiling water and then leave them to dry. Fill the jars with the olives and top with olive oil and your choice of flavourings (lemon peel, bay leaves, rosemary, chilli peppers, garlic cloves, peppercorns or whatever you like).

homemade olives

Enjoy homemade olives the natural way and the oil for amazing flavoured dressing on green leaf salads or baked potatoes.

Combining food with watercolour to create delicious food illustrations

I’m always on the look-out for creative people that combine food with every form of art. Artists that create vibrant and almost edible food illustrations. Musicians that compose with the plate in mind, writers that blend the pleasure of eating with the intellectuality of prose, and photographers that let food be the basis of their work.

food illustrations

If you enjoy the wholesome act of cooking, the gluttony that goes with eating or simply the beauty that the earth and the sea provide, then you will appreciate artists like Kari Gale who illustrate with fine watercolour and pen. Her drawings have a distinctively natural raw style and prove the perfect contrast to the finely-filtered images that fill our collective visual memory. Read more

The Ultimate ‘Brain Freeze’ via Three Fresh Sorbet Recipes

Ice-cream is an evergreen, an all year rounder, but even in the heat of Spanish summer, it sometimes fails to take the edge off; melting as quickly as it’s scooped and doesn’t guarantee that ‘brain freeze‘ every gourmet seeks via icy treats. This is not the case with sorbet, which offers a white-hot icy coldness that can counter the midday sun. There are no tricks – it’s water, sugar, flavour and a freezer, and this clarity is exactly what I’m looking for in the middle of summer. Ice-cream is made to be licked and slurped – and can even be comforting in the depths of winter, while sorbet is seasonal and limited to the peak of summer when carved curls of sweet ice push you closer and closer towards that painfully good ‘brain freeze’.

sorbet recipes

As I sit here slowly melting in the Barcelona sun, sucking on mojito-flavoured ice-cubes and dangling my feet in the lukewarm Mediterranean, I’m dreaming up a few new flavours for my icy crush.

Honey and Thyme

No bee ever attacked a delicate petal only to have their hard labour strangled into molded yellow plastic tubes. The bears got it right all along; honey with its intoxicating sweetness deserves to be uncontrollably scooped from jars and licked from sticky paws. Read more

Why the World Needs an Atlas for the Future

Maps set out the historical context and lay out a path to arrive at a beautiful future (we can’t afford to imagine the future any other way). I’ve been lucky enough to make multiple creative connections over the years and have worked for a couple of futurists in my life, each with their own vision of how things might be. My first boss had a business card that actually read “Futurist” and as the economist of the company, I crunched the numbers of the past, which served to inform the future. The second boss didn’t label himself as such, but as a demographer he reached beyond the facts to present his own versions of how the future might present.

creative food

Atlas has a grand vision of democratising the future. Because no matter what democracy serves up, we have to keep believing that it is the only way to evolve as a united species.

Atlas is what Vice would be like if it had a soul, so truthful it hurts, but also visionary with a dark optimism. Shining the spotlight on projects that range from ageing to augmented reality, fungi to finance, and blockchain to bees. And, of special interest, they think about the future of food and who’s creating it. Read more

How the Independent Chef is Cooking a New Kitchen World Order

To be a Chef

To be a chef is to cook. To chop, cut, slice, dice, whisk, whip, fry, flip, grate, grind, bake, baste, plate and finally to pleasure the diner. But in today’s world where everyone has avocado toast for breakfast and expects Maldon to pre-flake their salt, what’s on the plate is just the beginning. While you can rely on the cook for what’s on the plate, the independent chef is what makes food truly existential.

A chef must do more than cook. A chef must conceive, communicate and execute the entire experience and briefly transport the diner into their own magical world where flavours mix with memories and emotions. Because eating is a basic human need, but eating out under the spell of the chef is an escape that allows us to forget about setting the table, an indulgence that permits us to dress up and get messy, a luxury we can consume.

The chef is the ultimate artist, playing on all the senses including the most personal one, taste. But demanding any artist, particularly a chef, to reproduce their creativity over and over again is a recipe for consistently good food and efficient service, but not for the culinary escape we sometimes seek.

independent chef

In today’s democratized world, where a camera makes you a photographer and a keyboard makes you a writer, those armed with a sharp knife who know exactly what a pinch of salt looks like are well on the way to calling themselves a chef, but the road to become an independent chef might begin in the kitchen but leads to new and unknown destinations. Read more

How to make Spanish Seafood Fumet, the Ultimate Seafood Stock

An Essential Recipe for Seafood Lovers

For anyone that loves seafood, this recipe is makes so many delicious dishes possible and mastering it is as easy as making stone soup. So how do you make Spanish Seafood Fumet, the ultimate seafood stock?

seafood fumet

Spanish Fumet, is an antidote for our times. For most of the world, fish stock comes in cubes and cartons, but in Spain, fumet comes from the heads and tails of the sea. Watching my adopted godmother Maria-Angeles prepare her fumet remains a culinary highlight that flashes back every time I feel like lazily turning to the packaged version. First, she warmed olive oil in a cast iron pot then added onions, leeks, carrots and bay leaves until starting to soften, then all manner of sea creatures were thrown in – prawn heads, baby crabs, monk fish tails, empty mussel shells and, perhaps most impressive, lobster claws, which every gourmet has hiding in the back of their fridge. With a flourish, she pitched in the final seasoning (lemon, white peppercorns and parsley), before covering with water and wine and bringing the pot to a simmer. When strained two hours later, the liquid could have easily passed as a soup, but instead formed the base of an arroz de sepia (squid rice) that left each grain bursting with the flavour of the ocean. Read more