The Gannet Q&A

Laura Freeman

12th July 2018

Interview: Rosie Fletcher

Laura Freeman is a freelance writer and critic whose first book, The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite, was published in February 2018. She works and writes in London during the week; at weekends, she takes the train to Paris to visit her partner Andy. (“Home,” she says, “is the Channel Tunnel.”) She writes about art, architecture, books and food for the Spectator, the Times, TLS and other publications.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

On Wednesday afternoons in my second year at university in Cambridge, the section editors of the student paper – I was Arts – used to meet at The Maypole Pub by Jesus Green. Over Walker’s salt & vinegar crisps – two packets between five scrimping students – we would plan the next week’s pages. Not a proper meal, I know, but rarely have I been happier or in better company.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

Not so much a single cookbook as my newspaper cuttings file: a Now That’s What I Call Dinner greatest hits compilation of Diana Henry (My Mum’s chicken soup); Rowley Leigh (Parsley and smoked mackerel risotto); Yotam Ottolenghi (Pistachio and apricot wild rice salad); Delia Smith (Broad bean salad with pancetta and sherry vinegar); Angela Hartnett (Courgette, fennel, mint and hazelnuts); Honey & Co (Prawn, saffron and green pea tagine) and Nigel Slater (Black bean and onion soup).
Andy, my partner, has sneaked a couple of hint-hint recipes between the leaves: one for a sticky pecan, maple syrup and star anise tart, another for a New Orleans “Muffuletta” Sandwich to be made with provolone, mozzarella, salami Milano, sliced coppa and black olives in brine.

What’s your biggest food or drink aversion?

Petrol-station sandwiches. Grey cheese, grey ham, grey butter on grey loaf. Sitting in the chiller-cabinet since the dawn of time. And peeling stickers off fruit is like nails on a blackboard.

Describe your perfect breakfast.

Scott’s porridge and Jersey milk. Eaten before anyone else is awake. That’s the secret ingredient: not salt or sugar or cream, but the dawn chorus. Then, soft-boiled eggs for elevenses.

Of all the restaurants in the world, which makes you happiest, and why?

Patio, the Polish restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush, closed last year. I’ve yet to find a replacement. Andy and I used to go there for dinner after QPR matches at Loftus Road. Herrings, hunter stew and enough boiled red cabbage to feed Warsaw. Served among doilies, china cows, pink napkins, and artificial flowers blooming dust. Wonderful and warming. Where do we go now?

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

Private Passions, Open Book, A Good Read, In Our Time, the Beach Boys, Scott Joplin ragtime numbers and Andy’s cricket podcast Reverse Swept Radio.

Tell us about a dish you make when you’re short on time.

Rigatoni pasta. Lusso Vita tinned sardines. Cherry tomatoes. Sliced canned artichoke hearts. Chilli flakes. Cracked black pepper. And if I have them: olives, capers, basil.

If you could only drink one thing, aside from water, what would it be?

Earl Grey tea. Brewed very strong. Poured very milky. Or, new discovery: mirabelle juice from the Marché Bastille in Paris. Mirabelles are tiny golden, flecked summer plums. We finished the bottle in a day and were drunk on sweetness.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Pringles. Cadbury’s Crème Eggs. Kinder Bueno. A sophisticated palate.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

Sardines from the Marché Bastille, a dozen for €5. Split and stuffed with chopped tricolore olives, capers, parsley, mint, lemon flesh, salt, pink peppercorns and sweet, dried blackcurrants that were meant to go in the pudding. Olive oil, lemon zest, chilli flakes. Under the grill. Top notch.

Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

Three times in the last year, I have ordered fish or meat from a menu and the waiter or waitress has pulled a face. They explain that they are vegetarian or vegan and give you a pained look. That is their choice. I chose kippers, calf’s liver and roe. Deny yourself meat, if you wish, but don’t lecture, don’t hector and please don’t say “Ew!” when I order smoked mackerel.

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

May I cheat and chose a book? The bacon and eggs scene in Somerset Maugham’s Up At The Villa is a favourite. Fry-up as prelude to a murder.

Mary and the stranger, hunting about for food, felt like a pair of burglars. They found bread and wine, eggs, bacon and butter. Mary turned on the electric stove which the Leonards had put in, started to toast some slices of bread and broke the eggs into a frying pan to scramble them.

Maugham invests those eggs with such malice and suspense. Once read, you’ll never scramble with a clean conscience again.

The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Follow Laura: Twitter | website

Posted 12th July 2018

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Rosie Fletcher

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