Posted by adam
25 June, 2013
Category Our People
James has devoted the last decade to developing menus for Piccolino that are varied, innovative and broad in appeal. He is passionate about Italian food and uses his home in the Abruzzo region to bring inspiration and authenticity to his work.
Did you cook growing up?
My parents weren’t brilliant cooks as most stories go! But my uncle was a great cook who lived his life travelling the world cooking for presidents and famous people. He would visit us every couple of years and insist on cooking every evening. Sometimes he would use extravagant ingredients such as lobster, where he would extract the succulent meat then use the shells to make this amazing soup. I would be strapped to his side in awe, hanging on every word and move he made.
What made you decide to become a chef?
My uncle obviously played a huge part in my becoming a chef, even though he warned me that there were much easier ways of earning a living. I loved the idea of the freedom and using cooking as a passport to travel. But what hooked me was my first experience in a professional kitchen with the noise, hustle and bustle, camaraderie and constant banter amongst the staff.
Who have been your major influences?
As a young chef I was very much influenced by the excitement of an upcoming chef called Marco Pierre White: he broke all the rules. Also Alastair Little, the founder of the modern English brasserie. I admire the simplicity of his dishes and his respect for ingredients.
Best cooking tip for the home cook?
Don’t add oil to water when cooking pasta, it doesn’t actually do anything. Thin any pasta sauces with the water you cooked your pasta in – the gluten from the pasta helps the sauce stick.
Favourite piece of equipment?
Imperia pasta machine.
Tell us about one of your worst kitchen disasters
Whilst working in a kitchen (to remain nameless) I was preparing a pressed terrine of ham and confit chicken livers. The chicken livers had been totally immersed in duck fat then cooked at a low temperature. It was all going well until I removed the tray of chicken livers and duck fat from the oven and then placed on a shelf above the chargrill. In the time it took me to turn my back the full contents of the tray was pouring directly onto the chargrill. The colour totally drained from my face as the kitchen went up in flames. Luckily no one was hurt and I kept my job, but I am now very wary of duck fat.
Three things we will always find in your fridge at home?
Marmite, Peroni beer, lots of cheese (especially Parmigiano Reggiano) and always a jar of homemade pesto – it means I can always make a simple pesto pasta.
Keep It Simple by Alastair Little
Favourite item from the Piccolino menu and why?
Brasato – slow cooked feather blade of beef in Barolo wine from Northern Italy. It is melt in the mouth, with a rich full bodied red wine sauce, earthy porcini mushroom back notes. It is served on creamy mashed potato and garnished with mustard fruits. Real comfort food.
If you could invite 3 famous people to dinner, who are they and what would you cook?
Robert De Niro, Ray Winstone and Anthony Bourdain
We would obviously eat Italian in the Italian way…
Antipasti: Hams, salamis, cheeses and roast vegetables, eaten with finest olive oil and home baked breads
Primi: Lobster ravioli
Secondi: Tournedos Rossini or roast whole baby turbot with porcini mushrooms
Dolci: Bomboloni – these are deep fried mini doughnuts filled with custard.
All washed down with copious amounts of wine and spirits!
How do you stay on top of food trends?
I read all the food magazines. Always purchase the latest cook books. Try and visit Italy as often as possible. This week I’m going to Turin in northern Italy to the Slow Food Trade Show where artisan suppliers from all over Italy gather to show their great ingredients.
Italian culture plays a huge part in their food – how do you bring this to Piccolino?
When you pick up a Piccolino menu it should read how Italians eat, starting with your bread and antipasti dishes, then followed by a selection of pastas, followed by main course dishes or (secondi), ending with your desserts or (dolci). At Piccolino, we like the menu to be full of the classics, so there is something for everyone. My numerous trips to Italy visiting the different regions enable me to rediscover these classics and bring them back to the Piccolino menu.
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