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In this special episode, “The Great British Bake Off” winner Nadiya Hussain shares her hack for bread pudding and what happened when she baked for the queen of England. Plus, pastry chef Caroline Schiff tells us about her favorite treats and her time at St. Andrews; we visit a bar in London that was once an underground public loo; we chat with Yotam Ottolenghi about keeping it simple; and Angela Hui tells the story of growing up in her family’s Chinese restaurant in Wales.
This special episode of Milk Street Radio is made in collaboration with our sponsor Study UK, which encourages people from around the world to study, visit, trade, invest, live and work in the UK. You can learn more about Study UK at https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org
Christopher Kimball: I’m Christopher Kimball and this special episode of Milk Street Radio is a collaboration with our sponsor Study UK, which encourages people from around the world to study, visit, trade, invest, live, and work in the UK. Today, we’re sharing a few of our favorite interviews and stories from the United Kingdom. We’ll hear from British food star and restaurateur Yotam Ottolenghi. We’ll visit a subterranean bar in London that was once a Victorian bathroom. And writer Angela Hui ((HOY)) takes us behind the counter of her family’s Chinese takeaway in Wales.
Angela Hoy: Takeaways took over a lot of fish and chip shops. And they will kind of double up so there'll be like egg fried rice and noodles, but with like fish and fried chips, so it was this beautiful mishmash of the two. So, I guess it was very much like an Anglo Cantonese fare. That's what you would get.
CK: That's coming up later in the show. But first, it's my interview with Nadiya Hussain, she's a Great British Bake-Off winner and the author of Nadiya Bakes. Nadiya, welcome to Milk Street.
Nadiya Hussain: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: You're a very interesting person. I was looking at your history and resume. You got a place at King's College London to study psychology, but never did. And then you ended up baking. Why did you want to study psychology?
NH: I suppose back then when I think about it, I was quite interested in understanding the mind. But I realized that actually, I think I was really desperate to kind of know myself. As a young woman growing up in England from a Bangladeshi home first generation British, I think it was really hard to kind of really understand who I was. And I think that's, I think, partly the reason why I wanted to do a degree in psychology. And also, somebody once said to me that you could probably make loads of money as a psychologist. So, I was like, yeah, you know, when you're 18 you're like, that's what I want to do. I want to make lots of money.
CK: So, you said your mother used the oven to store frying pans (Yeah) You didn't realize the oven was actually used for baking, I guess early on?
NH: No, well, we grew up in a family where it was stovetop cooking. And we always had an oven, but I just didn't know what it was used for. So, it was really interesting, because when I went to my first Home Ec class, when I was maybe 12. And I saw the teacher mixing eggs and butter and sugar and, and then she then goes and pops it into this, what I call a cupboard. And I said to her, Mrs. Marshall, this is this cupboard’s hot. And she said, oh, you silly girl. That's an oven. And I was like, oh, and that was when that was like a light bulb click moment for me. It's like, oh, she's baking a cake. And I'll never that magic will never really leave me. I think it was something that was that will always even now when I bake a cake sometimes a smell when I forgotten that it's in the oven, and I go downstairs and I get that kind of slap in the face of butter and sugar and eggs, I think oh, wow. But yeah, my mom, I remember going home that day, and ripping everything out of the cupboard, I still call it a cupboard, the oven and saying, mum, you lied to me all these years. And I'd like to turn this oven on that was sticky shut with grease. And she just like no, we don't use the oven. And it kind of begs the question why? And I suppose for me, it was a case of well, just because we don't use it doesn't mean that it's a rule that I have to follow.
CK: We need to mention that you won the sixth series of the Great British Bake Off in 2015. I gather getting you to actually enter it was a chore your husband pushed you towards it. And you ended up winning it. How did you actually steel yourself to show up and do it?
NH: Well, I hadn't like it wasn't something that I ever wanted to do. It was my husband that actually put the application he kept it, we'd watch Bake Off together. And he'd say, oh, you've made that. But yours definitely looked better, or I bet yours tasted better. So, he would make comments and I wouldn't really pay any heed to them. And then one day, he just said, so you know, I've just done this application form. And I've done all the boring bits, but I can't actually do the actual baking questions. So, do you want to just do this? And I said, wait, this is for Bake Off I'm not doing this. And he kind of he did sit me down and say, look, you've kind of spent eight, nine years at home raising the children. I've been able to do really well in my own career. And I'm just desperate for you to be able to do something without me and without the kids. Before you know it. I've done three telephone interviews, six months worth of baking and screen tests. And then suddenly I get this call saying you've made it into the final 12. And I remember being completely overwhelmed and said to my husband, I'm not doing it. You're going to have to tell him I died. That's that's the only option we have. And he said no, you ring them and tell him you died. I was like, well, that doesn't work, does it? And then it was like just do it. What's the worst that's going to happen? And my husband said to me whatever you do that oh, don't get kicked out week one because that would be so embarrassing. I'm like, Oh great. Well even says that says that, honestly. And
CK: And then you end up baking Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday cake. So, it's an orange drizzle cake with orange curd and orange buttercream. Is this something that the royal family specifically requested, or it was up to you to cook any kind of cake you wanted?
NH: Well, what's funny is that I asked for direction, and they said, we don't care. You just do whatever you like. Which was like, well, what if she hates oranges? I mean, that's orange, heavy, but bearing in mind, I never saw her actually ever eat any cake. But then I don't think anyone has ever seen the Queen ever physically eat anything. (good point) Weirdly, I took direction from my little girl who at the time was five, I'm going to say, and I said, so what do you think I should bake the queen? And she said, oh, but you've already baked for the queen? And i said, no, I haven't baked for the queen. And she said, yes you have Mary Berry's the queen. Mary Berry is the queen of cake. The queen is the Queen of England. So, she said, well, you made Mary Berry a lemon drizzle, so you could just make something with oranges. And I kind of took that, literally. And that's exactly what I did. So, I took advice from my five-year-old who thinks the Queen of England is just an old lady in a very big house.
CK: One of the things I love about your cookbook is you have influences from all over the world. I mean, you do a Bangladesh cake, a shiny cake. Yeah, could you describe what that is?
NH: That is one of my favorite things to make. So, it's a toasted flour cake, which is made with equal amounts of butter, sugar, and water. And then you keep mixing it till you get this gorgeous, sweet, toasted kind of batter. To me, it's a soft, spiced fudge. That's what it tastes like. And you just literally just throw it onto a plate. And everybody gets their hands in and they pinch and take pieces of it while it's still hot. But I wanted to make my version of it in a small kind of Bundt tin. So that was very kind of Bangladesh meets Britain for me.
CK: You know, I've done a lot of brownie recipes in my time and thought I had some pretty good recipes. This one is better. You want to discuss it. Its money can't buy you happiness brownies.
NH: Let's face it, everybody is on the quest for the best brownie. It's such a simple thing, but it can go so wrong. It should be chocolaty. It should be fudgy. Yet gooey, soft, yet firm. And this brownie is exactly all of those things. But it is topped with a Delta le leche, roasted hazelnut layer. And then on top of that it's got a really simple thin layer of orange cheesecake. There your money can't buy you happiness brownies, or what my daughter likes to call turn your frownie upside down brownie.
CK: She's going to have a literary career. It's obvious. (Yeah, yeah), that that caught my eye. You do a marshmallow buttercream? Yeah, you actually use marshmallows. (Yeah) Which seems a whole lot easier. How do you make a marshmallow buttercream with marshmallows.
NH: For me, as much as I love making marshmallows from scratch, it's something that I would very rarely do. And you'd have to be pretty special to get me to make marshmallows from scratch for you. And so just to be able to step back and say actually, let's go backwards. Let's take ready-made marshmallow. Let's melt that down. Let's cool it down. Let's add butter to it. Let's add icing sugar to it. And let's make it a delicious, rich marshmallow fluff butter cream. It's about making recipes easy for people as much as I love making a marshmallow. I'm a big fan of cheating and there's nothing wrong with it.
CK: Let's assume you don't bake, or you don't bake much someone doesn't. And they called you up and said look, I’ve got to throw something together for Saturday night. Is there something either out of your book or not? It's really easy to put together and something that's good for beginning baker.
NH: Absolutely. I think if I was going to pick one recipe from the book for me, it would be the croissant bread pudding. Because what I love about bread-and-butter pudding is that it has everything all in one. You've got the custard, you've got the bread, buttered bread, you've got fruit, you've got a little bit of everything all baked in one. But what I really love about this recipe because it is all about cheating. And remember, we're allowed to cheat in food. But you take ice cream, and you melt the ice cream down because essentially a bread-and-butter pudding is a custard, and an ice cream is a frozen custard. So, I kind of worked backwards and thought well, why can't I just use melted ice cream because that's exactly the same thing. And now you see how my mind works right? It kind of works. It's a weird way of working but it works for me.
CK: Well, you work backwards.
NH: Yeah, I always really work backwards. Backward baking that's it.
CK: That's the next book.
NH: That’s the next one.
CK: Is your family. completely sick and tired of you baking all the time or they just can't wait to come up with your next recipe.
NH: Well, when I'm recipe testing, I am like a woman possessed. I spend about two months at home just testing, testing, testing, and so they could wake up to shrimp for breakfast and cake for dinner. But they don't complain. They don't complain. But I've got to say, on an evening when they come back from school, they kind of walk through the door and they go past seven, eight different dishes, cakes, starters, main dishes, you name it all laid out there, and they go straight for the fruit bowl and say you were right mom, we’ll just have an apple. Really?
CK: Nadia, it's been fun and just a great honor having you on Milk Street. Thank you so much.
NH: Thank you so so much.
CK: That was Nadiya Hussain, author of Nadiya Bakes Nadiya baked for Queen Elizabeth in 2016. But last year at Buckingham Palace serve one of her recipes at King Charles coronation lunch, a vegetarian take on coronation chicken made with eggplant.
You’re listening to a special episode of Milk Street Radio. My next interview, with pastry chef Caroline Schiff, is a special collaboration with our friends at Study UK. Caroline Schiff is the executive pastry chef at New York City’s Gage & Tollner. Before her career in pastry, Caroline studied French at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and graduated with a four-year degree. She also spent one year studying abroad in France. Caroline, welcome to Milk Street.
Caroline Schiff: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: You know, one of my great regrets in life that this explains a lot about my life is I've never been to Gage & Tollner.
CS: Well, you’ve got to come.
CK: Yeah, I just I love it's everything I love. I like it's old fashioned. I like its old fashion New York. And the food obviously. So, I you know, I'm just going to have to come. So, let's talk about the desserts. The desserts, sound normal. Chevre cheesecake. But then you go grapes, walnuts, sumac, and tarragon (yeah) you know, and there's a little surprise coconut layer cake. Has cashew pink peppercorn brittle in it. But the thing I think you may be best known for. One of the things is the Baked Alaska. So Baked Alaska was a fairly straightforward thing when it was invented. But yours sounds like it's not at all straightforward.
CS: Well, you know, it's a Victorian era dessert. And the way I wanted to approach it was just really from these are just flavors that I love. It's got a vanilla cherry layer. The middle is dark chocolate, and then a fresh mint ice cream, which is actually my favorite, and we just infuse the milk and the cream with a whole bunch of fresh mint. And then we make the ice cream base from that. And instead of a cake layer, I do like a chocolate cookie crumb.
CK: So, let's back up a little bit. You were born in New York City. (Yes). But then you ended up at St. Andrews in Scotland. (Yes) You were there to study French. (Yes) And how old were you when you went? How did you figure out you wanted to go do that?
CS: You know, I graduated high school. I graduated from New York City public high school. Shout out to LaGuardia for the Performing Arts
CK: Wait, wait, wait performing arts?
CS: Yes. I was I was like such an artsy kid. And I loved the theater and acting. And I think you know, it all it all kind of like comes together. I think like pastry in a way is a I mean, it is an art. And I think restaurants are almost like a performance. And put on a show every night. So yeah,
CK: Except if you're the pastry chef, because you get in really early and you're gone by the time dinner served. Right.
CS: Right. Well, sometimes it's you know, I I love working dinner service. Oh my god, it's the best.
CK: Okay, that's because you're a performer. So, why St. Andrews in Scotland. How did you end up there?
CS: Yeah. So, you know, I was really lucky that I got to travel a lot growing up, it was sort of like ingrained in me almost that it was like you should always take the opportunity to travel a bit and experience something that is far from what your norm is. And St. Andrews. I knew of it I went to I was able to go visit it and kind of fell in love with the place. It's like absolutely stunning. It's on the coast of the North Sea, and it's just really beautiful place. But I wanted to go there because (one) it was beautiful. And it was a great school. But it also brought me to the European continent. And then from there, I knew that I would be able to have more and more of these experiences traveling. You know, once you're there you have these really short cheap flights to places, you can hop on the train, and so I just saw it as like a whole other layer to my education.
CK: So, St. Andrews, I always think about, you know, King Charles now, the stories of the royal family kids and they go to these schools and they’re cold showers and you know, in the middle of February and they're freezing to death, their covered with mud and it, you know, it makes it builds character. Was Saint Andrews these light years from that. I mean, what when you got through the first day, what like, what was it like the first day?
CS: It was it was quite muddy, but it's also beautiful, and the sun comes out and they're rainbows. But no, I mean, you know, it's a very, very international community, you know, for a very small town in the countryside, you know, to walk down the street or walk through the library and hear all these different languages. It really was quite a community.
CK: You know, I've had some great experiences in London, etc. with food. I've had some horrible experiences at a Sunday afternoon pub in Manchester. But I think in general, the food in London is just outstanding. What was the food like in Scotland?
CS: Well, you know, St. Andrews is this small town and there was this bakery, Fisher and Donaldson. And you could get like a mixed box of like all the short breads and little like tea cakes and sponge cakes. And they made these great Millionaire Shortbread, which is the greatest food on earth that's shortbread with like a layer of toffee and then layer of chocolate on top. And, yeah, I would just get a box and go sit by the water and just like enjoy all of these sweets. And I think that having these experiences in such a beautiful place really started to solidify for me what I was going to do and what kind of chef I was going to be.
CK: So, let's talk about being a pastry chef. So, you said was interesting. You said you'd love being there during service is that because you get to see people eating what you've created. Or you just like the hustle and bustle of service.
CS: I love all of it. I mean, I am such a restaurant person through and through. I love the love the energy of dinner service. I love the pace at which the kitchen has to move. And I also just I love the act of plating the desserts and bringing that piece of art together on the plate for me is so fun. I love you know, covering the Baked Alaska with meringue and blow torching it. It's just like each plate is a little art project for me.
CK: So, looking back at St. Andrews, obviously, that was a game changer for you, I would assume. And looking now where you are today in your career at Gage & Tollner. Can you look back at St. Andrews at that time and say, you know, if it weren't for St. Andrews, you know, fill in the blank, that things that maybe helped you get where you are now.
CS: Yeah, I mean, I think it definitely gave me a sense of independence. great sense of being a bit adventurous. And for me, I think it just set me on this trajectory of really like following the things that I'm truly, truly passionate about. And I think just really shaped me both personally and professionally. It was it's to this day, I think it's like the best decision I ever made.
CK: Caroline, thank you. It's been a pleasure chatting with you and I am going to take you up on Gage & Tollner I just feel I just don't know why but the next time I go to New York, that's where I'm headed. Thanks.
CS: We'd love to have you.
CK: That was Caroline Schiff, the executive pastry chef at Gage & Tollner. Our interview with Caroline was a collaboration with our sponsor, Study UK. Next up in this special episode of Milk Street Radio, we're going out in London. Reporter Amy Gutmann takes us on a tour of Cellar Door, a bar that was once an underground public loo. Amy, great to have you on Milk Street.
Amy Gutman: Thank you, Chris.
CK: So, this is a story about underground bars in London, that are in abandoned Victorian bathrooms among other things. So, let's start with the Victorian London. Where were these bathrooms? What were they like?
AG: Well, these bathrooms were built all over London sometime after 1850. And it came about because in the mid-19th century of the Victorians used water closets, but there wasn't anything to use out in public. So, these were designed to be very discreet. They were Black wrought iron, which was typical of the era, with steps going underground to separate the bathrooms from civil society.
CK: So, this particular place the cellar door, where is it? How do you access it just give us a visual image of going to the Cellar Door.
AG: The Cellar Door is a place that you could easily walk past. It's just at the edge of the theater district, sort of bordering Covent Garden and The Strand, there's a pink flashing neon sign outside that says Cellar Door. And just below that pink neon sign is a set of stairs going down on the diagonal, taking you into a subterranean bar. There's a red velvet curtain, and I was immediately greeted by one of the co-owners Gordon Anderson.
Gordon Anderson: Good afternoon. Good evening. Welcome to the Cellar Door. We are at London's premier, cabaret and burlesque cocktail bar.
AG: So, take us on a short tour. This won't take long, will it?
GA: So here we go. A couple of steps into the main bar. And we've sort of we say 1930s, Berlin meets New York dive bar, bar staff are all kitted out in bow ties and jackets, we serve very much traditional cocktails, we sell snuff. Snuff is a tobacco substitute that is ingested through the nose, get some very funny looks when we serve it. Everything slightly different here to a normal bar
CK: Did he talk about the process from the beginning, having found this place bidding on it, coming up with plans for renovating it,
AG: It definitely went through a process of adaptation. Now in terms of the way the building was transformed, there was a lot to figure out.
GA: It was a gent’s toilets up until about 15 years ago, when the the council moved their priority on providing public toilets up to street level. And so, these basement toilets all started closing. So it was an asset for their council. But obviously, nobody wanted a sunken basement toilet. Until particularly my business partner, Paul Cola came along. He used to walk past it, it was boarded up, covered in graffiti and looking very sore. And as soon as we walked in and saw this place, complete with its white tiled walls, its rhinos and toilets. And Janitor’s office, I knew, and he knew we both wanted to do something here.
CK: So, the big challenge here was taking very small space and making the most of it. Exactly how did they do that?
AG: They used the magic of mirrors
GA: We 54 square meters surrounded by mirrors to make it seem bigger. We have all sorts of low-level lighting, colored lighting, lights which are setting to the floor, because that's where the gents urinal trough used to be.
CK: So is this now spread throughout London, and there's hundreds and hundreds of these places being leased out.
AG: There aren't hundreds and hundreds of these former public lou’s being transformed because again, a lot of these spaces are so tiny. And if the layout isn't right, it just doesn't work for anything. But it's enough of a trend that we're definitely seeing more than a dozen of these around the country being turned into interesting spaces. There's an art gallery, for example, there's a member’s club, there's a hair salon, you name it. I think in general; the whole notion of repurposing vacant spaces has taken hold in the UK and more specifically, with the use of former underground carriages from the London tube. Many of these spaces are being used for restaurants for shops, for startups, it's workspaces. And they actually lend themselves quite well because there's built in seating. So, a lot of this really works. And I also think this speaks very much to the British spirit of make do and mend. Let's not just throw something out because it doesn't work. Let's actually turn this into something else that works.
GA: I think repurposing building is actually a good idea from an environmental perspective. Also, entrepreneurs are always trying to find something different for the public to do. The public are always trying to find something different to do. In this age of social media, you can't wait to see your friends what you found that they haven’t heard of.
CK: So, you visited there. I assume you bellied up to the bar and had a drink.
AG: Well, Chris, I didn't want to disappoint you by not doing thorough research. So of course, I I hung out with a lovely barman named Andras, who made me one of their classic cocktails called London Calling.
Andras: London Calling is a very refreshing drink. muddled with grapes and mint. Also, it has a bit of refreshing lemon juice, honey syrup, and a very, I would say, tea infused and botanical infused gin. Beefeater 24.
CK: So, okay, it's underground it used to be a public loo. But after a few minutes, do you sort of forget all that it's just being in a small bar? Or does this experience stay with you, it's really a very different place to be.
AG: It's really a very different place to be. But that's more because of what the the co-owners have created.
GA: We're a fun place to come down and have a cocktail. It's a very easy place to start conversation, particularly with a backdrop of very comical cabaret. We're now on I think, our fifth marriage. We've got gay couples who've met here and married, we have straight couples who've met here and got married. In the evening, when we're full you can't help but meet the person standing next to you.
AG: In the UK, we don't talk to strangers, you don't pick someone up at the bar. And so, being forced into the same space together in such a tiny space, it lends itself to a much more social environment, which is rather unique.
CK: Amy, thank you so much. It's been a real pleasure.
AG: Thanks, Chris.
CK: That was reporter Amy Gutmann. Across London, you'll find more Victorian bathrooms turned into restaurants, coffee shops, and soon an exhibition space for the National Portrait Gallery. I'm Christopher Kimball and this special episode of Milk Street Radio was a collaboration with our sponsors Study UK. Right now, it's Yotam Ottolenghi born in Israel, Yotam moved to London to study French pastry in the Cordon Bleu. Since then, he's opened several of the UK's favorite restaurants and delis, including Ottolenghi Notting Hill and Nopi. He has reshaped British cuisine with Middle Eastern flavors or with the last 20 years with his longtime collaborator, Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi. In this interview from 2018, Ottam had just released his seventh cookbook. Ottolenghi’s Simple. Ottam, how are you?
Yotam Ottolenghi: I'm very good. Thank you.
CK: Thanks for coming back on the show. So let me do something. I went through your book very carefully. Actually, you know, I cooked Sunday in this I thought this was brilliant and simple. You had a cherry tomato sauce for pasta, right? (Yeah) and I never thought of this. You took five tablespoons of oil, a little less than a cup of water. And you cook those cherry tomatoes for an hour. And the water allows you to quick with yeah, (yeah with some chilies) with some chilies. Yeah, that's right. And, and it was unbelievable. And then you throw in a couple handfuls as as Ottolenghi books do of basil, whatever, but the long cooking and I had pretty crummy supermarket cherry tomatoes. It was really good. It was absolutely fabulous. Anyway, so that was a concept to take away but let's go through I made a list of things (Yeah0 you know, ideas that you use in cooking that maybe other people at least this side of the Atlantic haven’t thought of. Roasting a whole vegetable, you know you like it's very common as you know, to do eggplant for example, but could you just talk about roasting an entire vegetable in one piece?
YO: Yeah, so I find that one of the most, you know, the easiest way in the kitchen so if I have a little bit of time, which is not it's not ideal if you want to put something on the table within 25 minutes, but if I have a little bit of time, I take a whole vegetable it could be anything from a cabbage to a cauliflower to a rutabaga or celery root. And I know I drizzle them with oil and put lots of really good salt and they either cover them with foil individually or wrap them in a tray and just leave them there for good one or two hours or three hours. It depends on the vegetable. And that's actually almost all the cooking you need to do. I mean after that you could do a few other things. You can make a salsa or sauce to go with you can serve it with some crème fraiche and and a drizzle of you know lemon or something along that line. But but it is really as simple as that and and what happens is that with a long cooking everything kind of the sugar is taught to make to give you characterization and and the vegetable just tastes more and more of its own self. If you see what I mean and everybody I mean many people have discovered this recently with a cauliflower that and I've got a recipe in the book as well if you put in a pot in a in a pot of water and boil it for three minutes and then roast it leaves and everything for a good hour after that with lots of olive oil, you get the most the sweetest, most delicious cauliflower that really doesn't need anything else apart from that.
CK: You mentioned drizzles and that's you know, in Southern India, they use tarka which is, you know, flavored ghee or oil with spices. And you do that very often in your book Simple. So, the idea of drizzling something flavorful at the end before serving you want to talk about that?
YO: Yeah, because if you're if you want to give yourself an easy life and not work too much on building up flavor over a long time, or with too many ingredients, I do what they do a lot in Turkish cooking, and that is take a little bit of butter or oil and put some flake chilies I like Urfa chilies, but any kind of flaked chili does the work. And the moment that you throw the chilies in the butter, or the oil turns a really deep, beautiful red color and starts to flavor the oil or the butter and that spooned over something from vegetables to meat or stew to eggs just really transforms the dish and it's a simple trick, then it has a real transformative effect. I mean, you can also drizzle a bit of lemon juice into that bubbling butter. And then you've got heat, you've got from the chiles, you've got the acidity from the lemon juice, and you've got the bubbling beautiful fat over it and that just coats whatever you need to coat and you don't need much else really.
CK: Could you give our listeners a 15 second commercial for Urfa pepper.
YO: Yeah, so Urfa peppers are chilies are essentially a variety from Turkey. And they're dried in the sun with a bit of salt and then blitzed up into flakes and it's they're extremely dark. They taste smoky. And they're not very spicy. So, they're really beautiful when sprinkled over anything with a light color like in yogurt or, or eggs. So, they're nice, like bright, dark jewels. And they're really, really beautifully smoking. So you know from the Mexican side, if you find ancho or Cascabel chiles, it's kind of the the Middle Eastern equivalent to those Mexican flavors.
CK: And a little chocolaty to it has sort of
YO: Yes, it's got it's got a really nice sweetness and depth of like a chocolaty flavor or licoricey flavor.
CK: You taught me that salads are not green lettuce with a dressing, you have a slightly more global view of it. So how do you think about a salad because I know you do all sorts of great things, but you think about them differently.
YO: I think for me a salad is any dish that is made out of vegetables that are served cold or at room temperature and so in my cafes and restaurants up to big platters of roasted vegetables or fresh vegetables, and I dress them lightly with pastes and salsas and different for dressings. And for me, that is essentially a salad something that you eat at room temperature and is vegetable based, it doesn't need to be assigned to anything. So, I mean, traditionally, in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, a salad would be served next to something you know, more substantial. But really, it really doesn't need to be the case. You can take a whole lot of wonderful vegetables and cook them and dress them nicely and you have a whole loads of salads that just make up a meal you don't need really anything else apart from that.
CK: You know, we're on the verge now in the states of sort of a spice revolution partially due to you. So, let's take five spices the typical household may not have on hand, what should they buy and why.
YO: So, I divide spices into it's a very crude differentiation but to sweet and savory. So for on the sweet side, you'd find things like like cinnamon, and all-spice and nutmeg. So from that department, I really really love star anise. Star anise is used a lot in Asian cooking and Southeast Asian cooking, and you can buy it as you they look like beautiful stars, but you can also grind it into a powder or buy it as powder. That's a really great, great spice to have. And another one from the anise seed department is either fennel seeds or anise seeds, you know they're quite similar in flavor. And we are all familiar with an anise flavor from tarragon from basil from chervil. So, if you take those herbs and mix them together with fennel seeds or with anise seeds, you get another layer of dough and see the flavors which are really great with both vegetables and meat and fish. Then I really like moving from the sweet to the more savory. Another sweet dish is cardamom ground cardamoms are the most wonderful things and for both desserts and added to I've got a recipe in this book for soba noodle salads with avocado and lots of cilantro, lots of onion. And I add some ground cardamom to it and it with the addition of a squeeze of lime. It's like heaven. Really, really good.
CK: Sumac roasted strawberries, talk about that.
YO: Delicious. So, you know sumac is such a great ingredient. Because it's dry. It's there. It has quite a long shelf life. But it brings a lot of wonderful acidity and grit and great color,
CK: Do you want to explain what it is just explain what it is?
YO: Sumac yeah, are the crushed dried berries of a tree that grows, it actually grows all over the world. But it's mostly found now in the Middle East and Iran. It's got a really sharp, sharp flavor. It's great with meat, but it's also wonderful added to salad dressing and to roasted vegetables. So that what you were referring to is a dish that I have a dessert that I have in the book, where you take strawberries, and you roast them with sumac. So, the redness is even more amplified by the redness of the sumac. And the acidity is heightened by the sharpness of the sumac. And that served with plain yogurt to take really rich yogurt and get those roasted strawberries with a bit of mint. And it's an, it's a really kind of straightforward dessert that is just really wonderful.
CK: Is you're cooking, or the way you like to cook, let's assume you're not publishing books, you're not doing restaurants or delis. You're just home and you're cooking with family. How do you cook now versus 20 years ago, I assume it's different.
YO: Yeah, it's true. I've got young children; it does affect the way you cook quite dramatically. So, it explains a bit about this book and how it came to be. And that is that I think is someone who's turning 50 this year, I tried to probably impress a bit less with my food and think a bit more about the function and how it functions in in people's lives. And when I come home from work, I don't always make dinner mostly, it's Carl my husband who makes dinner. But if I do need to make dinner, I would make something that I know the kids will definitely eat and won't be thrown away. I know that if I make something that can be done within 30 minutes and doesn't involve a whole lot of washing up afterwards I become very pragmatic about it. It still needs to be delicious and special. So, I make something like like a madraga which is a very simple Middle Eastern dish of rice and lentils with some fried onion in it and it's got sweet spices, but not much else. And the kids love it. It's not fireworks, but it's really really good. It's really delicious. And when you put a dollop of good yogurt on it, you've got a wonderful meal and you know I said my kids are not especially picky. This is a dish they’d have any day and I can easily make within half an hour but the trick is the fried onion. I mean, it's not going to be as good if you don't add some fried onion to it.
CK: Yotam, thank you so much all the best. I know your book Simple’s doing very well. Well-deserved and we'll catch up with you next year.
YO: Thank you.
CK: That was Yotam Ottolenghi author of Ottolenghi’s Simple, Milk Street adapted to Yotam’s cherry tomato sauce recipe. Our version features smoked paprika and fresh sage. You can find that recipe on our website Milk Street Radio.com. You're listening to a special episode of ministry radio made in collaboration was Study UK. Next up it's my interview with Angela Hoi. In 1988, her parents opened a Chinese takeaway restaurant in Wales called Lucky Star. Her memoir about the restaurant is Takeaway Stories from a Childhood Behind the Counter. Angela, welcome to Milk Street.
Angela Hoi: Hi, Chris. Thank you for having me.
CK: I love your book Takeaway. I just wanted to read a couple sentences and ask you about it. You wrote, I desperately wanted to hide the kind of person I was at home with at the Takeaway, impatient selfish and a stick of dynamite waiting to go off. I became paranoid that I was shouting all the time. Like my parents tried to speak above the deafening sounds of the kitchen. So that experience you know people usually write books about how was so wonderful working in a restaurant as a child. This this had a dark side to it, I guess as well, right.
AH: Yeah, I mean, I wanted to show the other dark side but just how hard working and tenacious like the hospitality industry is especially the immigrant businesses, the smaller takeaways, I don't get as much, you know, in recognition as like Michelin stars or like the big name restaurants. But yeah, I feel like it was a unique experience. Like I started working in the Takeaway when I was eight years old. And I would like stand on a plastic stool struggling to, you know, hold like a big like, massive bottle of Coca Cola serving customers being on the phone, and I wasn't like tall enough to reach over the counter. So, it's a very odd experience being in a Takeaway when you work and live in the same place. And I really wanted to show the blurred lives of like working and living in the same space.
CK: So maybe you could just paint a picture for us how big is the Takeaway? How many people were cooking? Just physically, what was it like?
AH: It was tiny, I don't know how the five of us fit. So, I've got two older brothers and my parents, and I'm the youngest. But as you walk in, there's like a big waiting room counter space, which is probably the biggest room in the house. And like underneath the counter, no one really sees behind the counter but honestly, it's like full of junk. It's like, it's a mishmash of like our personal things because we just didn't have enough space, but also some professional things. So there'll be, you know, crates of cans, and there'll be like packaging for like chopsticks or like soy sauces. And then you'd have like the big kitchen. I say big but it's not that big. It's just the red floor, anti-slip tiles. You have a lot of silver worktops. And then there's Island and then a row of woks. So normally, my dad would be on the wok. So, he'd be like stuck in the corner, he can't really get out. So yeah, it was just very cramped living quarters. And we would always constantly, you know, be climbing over each other knocking into each other. And just wanting some privacy, and like we never had any privacy because everything was you know, everything was shared.
CK: So, after World War Two in the UK, many Chinese families took over the old fish and chip shops. And then they converted them to Chinese Takeaway restaurants. Is that right?
AH: So, a lot of them did. So, in the I think it was from the 60s to the 80s it was like a really big Chinese takeaway boom in the UK after the war. And a lot of fish and chips shops used to be Jewish owned, and they started to retire. And so Chinese Takeaways took over a lot of fish and chip shops. And they will kind of double up so there'll be like egg fried rice and noodles, but with like fish and fried chips. So, it was this beautiful mishmash of the two is that I guess it was very much like an Anglo Cantonese fare. That's what you would get.
CK: You mentioned once like you said, my mom was even working with crutches on her arms work in the deep fat fryer. Just give us an example of what it was like in that kitchen cooking.
AH: I appreciate having my family and I think we wouldn't be so close if we didn't have the Takeaway but yeah, like, you know, I it's it's an odd place to be kitchens. You kind of love it or you hate it and (or both simultaneously) Well, yeah, but it's like a roller coaster. It's the highs are very high, and the lows are very low is what I'm saying. It's like when you're flat out busy and everything goes smoothly. The customers are really happy, and you managed to bash out all your orders. Like you feel euphoric. Like it's such a great feeling working under pressure to get everything done. But when you know it's like a domino effect when one thing goes wrong say I don't know like you're missing this order, or the customers are unhappy because I was like the peppers were missing or like there was peas in it what I didn't ask for peas like it can be very chaotic and very difficult environment to be in.
CK: Let's talk a little bit about recipes four seasons is sort of I guess, probably a poor description but sort of like a surf and turf it as a little bit everything in it. Yeah, what's four seasons?
AH: So, it's a chop suey essentially but that was our take on a chop suey and chop suey is it's very Asian American dish. It was a lot of the Asian people that settled in America. That was kind of the first and most like ubiquitous Chinese Takeaway dish. It was essentially just like odds and ends it was like bits of cabbage, butter, bean sprouts, carrots, and bamboo shoots.
CK: And was it based on an actual recipe in China or was it completely made up for a western audience?
AH: I think it was completely made up like I actually think it was completely made up but uh, took essence from Chinese techniques. So yeah, so it'd be like very western ingredients using what was around so using because it was like after the war, right, so there wasn't that much like fresh produce readily available. So, there was a lot of like tinned bamboo shoots or like water chestnuts and green peppers. And I guess like for my parent’s dish, they kind of added their own take to it So they added chicken, added duck, they added woody mushrooms and prawns to the dish. And that was our take on Chop Suey, I would say.
CK: Any other recipe that comes to mind that was particularly interesting at the Takeaway.
AH: We had a dish called a chicken Maryland, which was essentially just like, chicken breast, but it was breadcrumbed deep fried.
CK: This is the dish you referred to isn't as annoying, right?
AH: Yeah, we call it annoying because it was just like fussy to make. But yeah, it was actually very, very Western. And it wasn't Chinese at all, I would say, but people loved it. But yeah, it's all fried things. And I think it was a very Welsh appetite. And then we get a lot of like variety meals where you get a bit of everything in one tray. And people loved that.
CK: So, you have a tiny little kitchen with all these people in it. And you said you had over 100 items on the menu. What's the trick for people who are not in the restaurant business? What's the trick to turn out 100 different dishes in a small kitchen.
AH: I don't know, you might have to ask my dad on that. My dad had almost like a periodic table, like graph on the side over the wok. And you can see all the like bullet points of like the basic recipe. So, for example, like four seasons, which will be number one on the menu that it just says like prawn fish, chicken, so you can like just whack it out under pressure in like under five minutes.
CK: After 30 years, he probably (Yeah, yeah) he didn't have to look at that chart anymore. Yeah. So the Takeaway gets sold in 2018 and in the book, you ask a really interesting question, which is who am I without the shop? So, did you ever answer that question?
AH: I don't know. Like, I'm still figuring it out. Because it's such a huge part of my life. You know, I worked there until I was 26 years old. And I think the takeaway has kind of shaped who I am as a person, like, in a way like I had to grow up, me and my brothers had to grow up quite quickly, we had a parent our parents, because they couldn't really speak English. So, we had to look after them. And we had to, you know, translate everything, and translate letters, translate bills, or speak to customers and I still do now like in our family, WhatsApp, and my parents will still send her a blurry electricity bill or like, I can't read this or something or I buy their car insurance. It's like little things like that. And, you know, in a way, like, I'm really grateful for everything that they've done. And I'm you know, very glad that I grew up at a takeaway of when change it for the world.
CK: Did it change your how you cook now, all the things you made the Takeaway, you just never want to eat again, or (oh, no) like some way influence your current menus.
AH: No, like, I absolutely love Takeaway food. It's such a treat its street food. It's not healthy to eat everyday but there's a really great Chinese takeaway where I live down the road. And I always try to go to support and like, it just brings back so many nostalgic memories for me. And I love Chinese takeaway food, and it has helped me become a better cook. You know, as much as I didn't want to be involved within food, especially, you know, growing up when you're surrounded by food. And when you leave the shop, you try to find your own way, you wanted to do something completely different. But it's more about like coming to food on your own terms. And I guess like through this book, it's definitely brought me and my family closer, like developing the recipes with my mom learning about her past learning about their history, and it's definitely made me a lot more confident in the kitchen. It's okay if it's not perfect you know, I think that's the mentality I've taken on with cooking.
CK: Angela it’s been just a great pleasure, thank you so much.
AH: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Angela Hoy, her memoir is Takeaway: Stories from a Childhood Behind the Counter. Angela has also reported in what she calls the UK is Chinese food renaissance. Today, there are more regional Chinese restaurants across London from Sichuan noodle bars to Chinese street food. She attributes this in part two, the more than 120,000 Chinese international students who are studying in the UK and looking for a taste of home.
That's it for today. Thanks for listening to this special episode of Milk Street Radio. And now I'd like to tell you a little bit about our sponsor, Study UK. You know, a good American friend of mine attended Oxford and it was one of those moments that really changed his life. And ever since I wished that I had done the same. Now the best way to do this is through the Study UK campaign, which encourages people from around the world to study visit, trade, invest, live and work in the UK. Of course, Great Britain has world class universities and international students who study in the UK will join the ranks of the most employable in the world. Plus, the average costs are lower than in the United States and scholarships are also available for us students, and their one-year master's programs have fewer associated costs and faster entry into the workplace. And in terms of food, my area, there are fewer meal plans and more opportunity to cook on your own or to experience the diversity of the local food, which as we all know is now an exciting option. London for example, is one of the great culinary destinations with cuisines from all over the world. Plus, a UK education shows that you took the time and effort to pursue a rigorous path and that you stand out from the crowd no matter what your chosen career path. The Study UK campaign is delivered in partnership with the UK government's great campaign for Britain and Northern Ireland. So, visit the Study-UK website that's Study-UK.BritishCouncil.org To hear more students’ stories and learn more about studying in the UK, from world class teaching to making memories that last a lifetime. One more time it’s Study UK-BritishCouncil.org