Thomasina Miers’ Wahaca restaurants continue to sweep across London, but now she turns her attention to one small ingredient: the chilli. She shows her obsession when talking to Mark Kebble
It’s strange to admit it – even stranger admitting it to the queen of spice – but the first time I decided to add chilli to a meal was because I heard about its health benefits and nothing to do with taste. ‘I discovered the same thing,’ insists Thomasina Miers. ‘Not only do they make your metabolism much quicker, they are anti-carcinogenic, anti-diabetic, anti-bacterial, they release endorphins… I think we underestimate them. It’s mind boggling, the huge range of chillis.’
It’s why Thomasina put her heart and soul into new book, Chilli Notes: Recipes to warm the heart (not burn the tongue), which is choc-full of wonderful dishes that also make you realise how great the humble chilli tastes too. ‘It is fundamental,’ Thomasina says on its importance as an ingredient. ‘I still travel to different countries to find more of them! You can see chefs all over the world are keen to add that sparkle and accentuate the flavour.’
It was Thomasina’s trip to Mexico, aged 18, when she first discovered this passion. ‘Chillis are used in pretty much everything!’ she exclaims. ‘They use fresh chillis slightly chopped or pureed or roasted – they dry roast them to bring out the flavour. There are over 200 varieties of chilli in Mexico and a lot of them are dried in the sun. The way I look at it is you use fresh chillis to add that sparkle, and then dry chillis for background flavour.’
Talking to her about the book, it’s clear how far that passion has come – but the genesis of Chilli Notes began right here in Kensal Rise. ‘The recipes in the book are what I cook at home,’ she says. ‘What’s so great about chillis is that they are so versatile – I really can use them for everyday cooking. When I am making noodle dishes, soups, eggs… They can be used on almost everything.’ Thomasina proceeds to reel off a dish that involves chilli and chocolate: I have never tried it, but it sounds amazing.
When she does get out of the kitchen – and is not busily working away at one of her many Wahacas – Thomasina can’t big up the foodie scene around West London enough. ‘I was just having dinner at Parlour the other night, Jesse Dunford Wood’s new restaurant. The food is so great there,’ she enthuses. ‘The area is really coming up in terms of food. There’s Dock Kitchen, Stevie Parle’s restaurant, the food market at Queen’s Park is amazing, and the incredible butchers, Brooks…’
We could talk all afternoon and night, but final word must go back to where we started. ‘The longer I have cooked with them, the more interested in chillis I have become. Then there’s the story of how they have travelled around the world… I am obsessed with them really!’ That’s a statement that doesn’t seem strange at all.
Chilli Notes: Recipes to warm the heart (not burn the tongue) is out now