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Food + Drink

The Chef's Table: Alexandra Dudley

Alexandra Dudley joins us for the latest instalment of The Chef’s Table.

A champion of seasonal, sustainable ingredients, cookbook author and chef Alexandra Dudley is known for her moreish meals and memorable suppers.

A dab hand when it comes to entertaining, Dudley is also the host of Come For Supper, a podcast which “delves into the lives of chefs, restauranteurs, authors, actors, and artists revealing their most memorable dinner parties, kitchen catastrophes, and ultimate dinner party invitees”.

Here, we take a tour through her kitchen to learn about Dudley’s go-to meals, the cooks that inspire her, and how travel informs her menus.

How did you first get into cooking?

My mother is a wonderful cook and I was lucky enough to be brought up on lots of homecooked meals. She is also a fantastic entertainer and it was watching her entertain that really ignited my interest in cooking. I used to stand on a kitchen chair to reach the countertop and assist her with canapés whenever she hosted parties. I started cooking for family friends when I was in my late teens and started my own pudding and cake company. I remember I hand drew all of my business cards. I specialised in three puddings: an apple tart, an almond frangipane tart, and a flourless chocolate torte. The idea was that they could be delivered fresh to be eaten on the day, or frozen for a dinner party further down the line.

What are some of your childhood food memories?

I have many. Almost all of them include my siblings and many of them are picnics. We spent a lot of time in Switzerland and lived there for a short time. In the summer we spent a lot of time walking and hiking in the mountains. My mother would pack us each rolls and label them with our initials so that there were no squabbles at the top. When my brother was about six or seven, he left his backpack undone and half way up the hill a mountain goat had dug his way eagerly into the back of my brothers backpack, my brother still attached. My sister and I were in stitches but paid for it later when we had to lose half of our own sandwiches.

Who, what, or where most influenced your cooking?

I am constantly influenced. I have an insatiable appetite for cookbooks, especially older ones that influenced many of my favourite chefs living and cooking today. Elizabeth David is the cook and writer that I aspire to most of all I think. Her books on Italian and Mediterranean cooking are faultless and I love the wit of her writing too.

The food that makes you happiest and why?

I love anything that comes on bruschetta. There is something joyful about tomatoes sliding about a gorgeously crisp, garlic rubbed piece of toasted sourdough or baguette. Sloppy burrata or a loose herby oil makes it even better. I also love the combination of roasted apricots, ricotta, honey, and a little mint. It is something I have been craving a lot as of late. Most of my favourite foods allude to summer. The kind of food one might enjoy alongside a Campari spritz. Or glass of Pimms.

Favourite cooking gadget?

A tough one. Can I have three? I’d say my Magimix – great for salsas, pestos, pulsing nuts. My Nutribullet – excellent for sauces, curry pastes, purees. Lastly my microplane grater – essential for lemons, nutmeg, cheese, and even garlic.

Favourite cookbook(s)?

Everything by Elizabeth David and Nigel Slater (for the writing as much as the recipes). I also love Romy Gill’s Zaika. Her techniques and flavours are sublime.

What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?

Again, I would love three. They would be garlic, lemon, and good olive oil. If I really had to pick one, I would say good olive oil.

Where are the best places to shop for produce in London?

I am very spoilt where I live and there is a hub of wonderful suppliers right on my doorstep. I get all my fruit and veg at Newington Green Grocers, where they have every fruit and vegetable you can imagine but always prioritise seasonal produce. I get my fish from Steve Hatt, Fin & Flounder, and Jaines & Son. I make my own bread but cannot resist the pastry and loaves from Jolene, Dusty Knuckle, and Pophams. For cupboard items I go to Stokeys Deli, De Beauvoir Deli, and Yield N1 (which also does excellent wine).

How does travel influence your cooking?

In every way. I am always inspired when I travel. It is often the food that draws me to visit a place in the first place and where I will eat is always the first thing on my mind. I’m largely influenced by flavour pairings when I travel but also the tradition and original way of cooking things. We have access to many incredibly ingredients and recipes living in the west, but often the story and soul of the dishes are missing. Wherever possible I think it is important to know where a dish really came from and how it is traditionally made.

Where are your favourite places to dine in London?

The River Café – a place I wish I could dine at regularly, but one that is usually reserved for special occasions. Duck Soup – a wonderful restaurant and wine bar in Soho where they serve small plates heavenly food, often influenced by the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Café Cecilia – my newest obsession, with delicious food headed up by Max Rocha. It’s the type of food you eat and immediately want to eat again. I also have Sessions Arts Club on my list where Florence Knight is cooking. Her food is equally full of vigour and elegance. It is near impossible to get a table but I am on the waiting list.

What do you always avoid ordering on a menu?

Red meat. I haven’t eaten it since I was about five and do not see the point in starting now.

By contrast, must-order items on a menu include…

Fritters (especially if they are made at Duck Soup).

Why do you think it’s important to gather round the table to eat?

Food is such a conversation starter and is a language in its own right. Even if you have nothing in common with the person sitting opposite you, and perhaps cannot even speak each others language, there is immediately something shared when you enjoy a meal together.

What is your go-to meal at home when you’re low on time?

An omelette packed with herbs and a big spoonful of Belazu’s rose harissa or a risotto. I often cook extra for dinner so that I can enjoy if for the next days lunch. I am very into making a smoked garlic yogurt at the moment. It goes wonderfully with roasted veg.

Do you find cooking therapeutic?

Incredibly so. In fact, I feel quite unsteady when I have been out and about all week and find I haven’t cooked for myself in four days. There is something incredibly nourishing about cooking for oneself. We hear about practising self-love all the time and for me cooking is the ultimate act of self-love.

Advice for women thinking about starting up a business in the food or restaurant industry?

Listen. I think a few years ago I would have said ‘ask questions’. I still do but I think it is so important to listen. Often we only hear what we want to but if you really listen to what people are telling you when they share their own invaluable experiences and advice, you will definitely be in better stead to move forward with success.


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