The Gannet Q&A

Jenny Linford

2nd March 2018

Interview: Megan Honan

Jenny Linford is a London-based author whose prolific publishing career – she has written 15 books – reflects an insatiable curiosity about food. Her interest was shaped by a peripatetic childhood – she grew up in Ghana, Trinidad, Singapore and Italy – and a love of reading (Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David and Margaret Costa are among her favourite food writers). Her latest book The Missing Ingredient, an exploration of food and time, has just been published by Particular Books.

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

That’s a hard question! In 2016, my husband, son and I visited Singapore, which I hadn’t been back to for a few years. Within hours of landing we were sitting in a large family group outside, in the warmth of the tropical night, in a down-to-earth, bustling seafood restaurant called Chin Huat – located not by the sea but in the ground floor of a block of flats. We feasted on chilli crab – one of Singapore’s many national dishes – glorious sweet-fleshed crab, tossed in a tangy-sweet chilli-ginger-garlic sauce. My cousin Angela also ordered salted egg crab, a dish I’d never tried before and which was addictively tasty. Sitting there in that big, relaxed family group, chatting and eating wonderful seafood took me back to my childhood days in Singapore.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

I started cooking for myself as a hungry student in York, repelled by the awful bland food on campus that sat all day drying out under hot lamps. I was desperate for flavour and spice and my quest to find it took me to cookbooks. I still have what is now a very messy copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery, a BBC paperback. I remember that the first dish I cooked from the book was chhote kofte (cocktail koftas) and being amazed at how using spices had transformed my cheap mince into these tasty meatballs.

What’s your biggest food or drink aversion?

I love good smoked salmon, but low-grade smoked salmon – with that unpleasant greasy fattiness, fake smoked flavour and a smell that lingers far too long – is not for me.


Describe your perfect breakfast.

A cappuccino and a brioche, eaten standing at the marble-topped bar in Robiglio in Florence – the simplicity, the expertise, the excellence all make me happy.

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

Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon – fond memories of eating the best ever garlic prawns while enjoying ice cold beer with my husband on a trip to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

BBC Radio 3 and 4 and the World Service keep me company when I cook. Thanks to iPlayer I can catch up with programmes I enjoy – In Our Time, The Food Programme, Private Passions and A Good Read among them.

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

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncini – nicknamed spaghetti AOP by my father: spaghetti strands tossed with piquant, garlicky olive oil which you can cook in 10 minutes. Perfect for late-night eating.

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

A beautifully made cup of Yimu Oolong from Postcard Teas.

My perfect breakfast is a cappuccino and a brioche, eaten standing at the marble-topped bar in Robiglio in Florence – the simplicity, the expertise, the excellence all make me happy

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

The stuffed pancakes my mother made for me for birthdays and special occasions. A dish that still makes me smile.

ŸWho is your food hero?

Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy. He’s done so much to support and nurture farmhouse cheesemakers in Britain and Ireland, much of it behind the scenes. Over the decades, Randolph helped create a community of British cheesemakers, who are willing to share information and help each other. He has also made good cheese available and accessible to so many people. The excellent, genuinely friendly, knowledgeable service at the two Neal’s Yard Dairy shops, where you are offered tastings of the cheese to help you choose, reflects his whole straightforward ethos. He wants customers to know what they were buying and be happy with it.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

Little Bread Pedlar’s porter sourdough – rich, tangy, satisfying.

If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be and why?

Singapore – that way I get Chinese cooking (in all its regional glory), Indian, Indonesian, Malaysian and Nonya food.

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

Pushy, insincere service that “recommends” the most expensive dish or wine on the menu.

The Missing Ingredient is published by Particular Books

Follow Jenny: website | Twitter | Instagram

Posted 2nd March 2018

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Megan Honan

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