How did you get involved in cooking to begin with? Was it something you learned to love early on or did you come to it later?
At first it was out of necessity: my first year at university was spent living in a student house with six other guys and a fully-equipped kitchen. It was truly a question of learning to cook or starving. My first efforts were a bit of both. My early career in publishing called for me to take out our biggest advertisers to lunch a lot. This was when the food scene in London was changing rapidly from its (mostly) deserved reputation for boring food and so I got carried away with the whole revolution taking place and would try to re-create many of the dishes I had eaten, at home.
Why is it so important to have the right ingredients?
For me cooking is all about keeping it simple. The ingredients are the star of the show, not the supporting cast in the shadow of some over-complicated, over-reduced sauce or some fancy origami-inspired presentation. So if they have nowhere to hide—they'd better be good!
How did you learn about grass-fed meat?
From a variety of sources (including restaurant menus). More recently, one of the stalls at New York's Union Square farmers' market on Saturday morning had a chalkboard and flyer explaining the benefits and attributes of grass-fed meat that really clarified the issue for me. My girlfriend then mentioned U.S. Wellness Meats and we decided we'd try it out. Our first dish was one for beef carpaccio that we make at least once a week—and with the filet from U.S. Wellness, it was better than ever (which we truly didn't know was possible).
Why is eating grass-fed meat different? How does it affect your cooking? Is it just about health? Or is there more to it than that?
Fundamentally I think it's a combination of taste and health. Knowing the story is really important these days. Ever since I bought the Real Meat cookbook in the early nineties, I've been much more aware of animal husbandry issues, the health and well-being of the animals that eventually make it to the table. You can taste the difference in grass-fed meat—the flavor is more intense and authentic. Clearly the health benefits are important too, especially if you are feeding your loved ones.
What are the most important keys to success for the home chef?
Apart from using only the freshest/best ingredients, I'd say keep it simple and don't be afraid to experiment and stray from the recipe you're using. Or even better come up with your own recipes. It's also important to have the right batterie de cuisine. They say a bad workman blames his tools. In the kitchen I'd say that's only half true.
What is the most helpful tip that you can pass on to fellow home cooks?
Be obsessed with sourcing the freshest ingredients, even if you have to go to five different places because you know each of them excels at what they sell, be it seafood, veggies, cheese or meat.
What is your favorite recipe (using a grass-fed meat)? What would you prepare with it for the perfect meal?
Seared carpaccio with Thyme Salmoriglio (see recipe). My girlfriend and I do a six or seven course feast every Saturday night. Our whole day is spent planning for it, shopping and toasting it in with wine. It's a decadent habit, but we take it out of our "entertainment budget" and go big. It always includes a starter of olive oil toasts topped with San Marcellin cheese and onion marmalade. Following that, a sample meal might include: raw Hamachi with pan-fried capers, avocado and green onions; potato pancakes with creme fraiche, chives and salmon eggs; the aforementioned filet Carpaccio; lobster with bearnaise (or butter & salt); Moroccan lamb meatballs with golden raisin and mint couscous; and, if we can take it, one final entree or dessert. It's a bit much to look at on paper, but I promise, we keep the portions pretty small!
What advice do you have for families in the kitchen? And for encouraging everyone in the family to eat the same meal?
Encourage your kids to help out and also do their own thing. My five-year old son loves to make his "concoction"—usually involving anything he can get his hands on. We bake it, maybe even take a bite, and he loves doing it. They see your passion and feed off of it. As for eating the same meals, be realistic. Schedules are often different, kids want to eat early, you may not get home from work till 7 or later, so pick days that work, weekends maybe. Then keep it tasty, fun and simple.