The Gannet Q&A

Rachel McCormack

29th August 2017

Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Del Sneddon

Food writer and broadcaster Rachel McCormack had “the good fortune”, she says, “to be born and brought up in Glasgow and the good judgment to spend most of my 20s living in Barcelona.” After nearly a decade in London she has moved back to Scotland but would probably have to call Euston station home. Rachel is mostly known as a panelist on BBC Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet and she has just published a whisky travelogue with recipes called Chasing the Dram. “Someone (Simon and Schuster) actually paid me to go round Scotland drinking whisky and cooking with it.”

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

I first travelled to Spain on my own when I was 19 and went with a friend to Sitges for the afternoon. We had fidueà[footnote]A seafood dish originally from the coast of Valencia which is similar to paella, and even more to arròs a banda, but with noodles instead of rice [/footnote] and cava on an outside table on the pavement by the San Sebastián beach watching the sea and the autumn sun. I realised this was the life I wanted and that I could have it. I was just thrilled. I’d like to revisit that meal, but mostly I’d like to revisit that feeling.

What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

El Romesco, a tiny book about romesco and dishes from Tarragona by the long deceased writer Antoni Adserà. It was the first book in Catalan that I could understand and it encapsulated an entire way of life and the food of a people in very few words. The recipes are all a joy and the romesco sauce I make from it still shocks Catalan Grannies today.

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

Sea urchins. They are such an expensive delicacy in southern France and northern Spain and I do not see the point of them. I might as well have a mug of sea water.

She ends up slumped on a chair on the terrace having the most extraordinary erotic dream. Every time I drink gazpacho I have the tiniest hope that it will happen to me

Describe your perfect breakfast.

I should probably say porridge with a teaspoon of Lagavulin in it, but you still cannot beat proper Catalan country bread smeared with tomato and good olive oil and slices of Iberico ham. Maybe it would improve with a wee Lagavulin on the side.

No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

The Mexican restaurant El Cartel in Edinburgh. You can’t book but they take your name and then come and get you from the bar across the road to let you know your table’s ready. The place is always full but the service never seems rushed or harassed and the food is good proper straightforward tacos. It’s not a place to go to and linger and contemplate life and gastronomy but I do love how reliable and stable it is.

What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

In one of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s films, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, Carmen Maura makes a gazpacho in her apartment with a load of barbiturates that Rossy de Palma drinks. She ends up slumped on a chair on the terrace very obviously having the most extraordinary erotic dream. Every time I drink gazpacho I have the tiniest hope that it will happen to me.

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

Scrambled eggs are one of the most under-rated quick lunches to make. Too often in this country they are left to breakfasts with the only addition being smoked salmon. You can quickly fry all kinds of vegetables, chorizo, black pudding, and then scramble an egg in with them. If you really don’t have time, roasted peppers or artichokes from a jar are great to throw into a pan and scramble eggs with.

What’s your favourite food and drink pairing?

My new(ish) favourite is oysters and either Talisker or Old Pulteney whisky. The brininess and saltiness of both whiskies make them an excellent accompaniment to oysters and even better when you put some on top of the oyster and have them both together.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

I am trying to get to grips with bread at the moment, especially flat breads, and have been listening to Hilary Mantel’s Reith lectures on iPlayer while making them. I listen to a lot of BBC Radio iPlayer and made my first decent lavoush bread along to a reading of The Wide Sargasso Sea. Antoinette was quietly going crazy and I was munching crunchy flatbread covered in coriander seeds.

The brininess and saltiness of both whiskies make them an excellent accompaniment to oysters

Who is your food hero?

Shirley Spears. She opened The Three Chimneys restaurant on Skye serving freshly made, high quality local produce at a time when almost all the food being served around her was frozen lasagne and chips. I don’t think any of the Highlands and Islands would have even a fraction of its fresh food and half-decent restaurants had it not been for Shirley starting The Three Chimneys.

What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

Whisky in food is still something I am playing around with  – I’m still fascinated by how much it adds to the taste of food and how different whiskies add completely different flavours to food.

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

Spain. Despite all the fantastic Spanish restaurants in the UK, especially in London, the sheer range of Spanish food is still very much unknown here. I’d never get bored eating Spanish food and the range and variety of its cooking methods and flavours is amazing.

Follow Rachel: Twitter | Instagram

Posted 29th August 2017

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Del Sneddon

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