Perfect timing in the run-up to Christmas, Tom Parker Bowles has a new book out, entitled Let’s Eat Meat. Sounds simple? Expect plenty of meaty dishes, but Mark Kebble also finds a few surprises
Interviewing Tom Parker Bowles is a whirlwind experience. Sitting in Carluccios on Westbourne Grove, Tom talks at pace – and with such passion – about all manner of things to do with the food industry he has worked in for nigh on 14 years. The conversation often goes on tangents – such as talking about McDonalds when praising London’s diversity – but it’s anything but boring as we talk about his latest book, Let’s Eat Meat…
Are you happy to see Let’s Eat Meat published?
My wife is always amazed that I get a book out! But writing a cookbook is so much fun. It’s not like writing a history book – you find all the recipes you love, you go and cook them, put in an introduction, and that’s it! It’s food and cooking, which I love.
What inspired the book?
This is the thing. I was sitting with my editor, at Mark Hix’s Tramshed, and we were thinking about the new book and she was saying it can’t be just more recipes. We were looking up, I was looking at the Damien Hirst piece [Cock and Bull], and she was looking behind at a picture of a chicken, and we started talking about meat. Lots of people have done brilliant meat books and these are serious writers, but I thought, as I get older, I find I eat less meat. When I was younger and marginally more stupid, I thought ‘men meat’ but as I get older I realise what a load of rubbish that is. My family and I eat more and more vegetables now.
I do believe you should eat good meat. Eat less meat, but eat better, and also go to your butcher, find those nice cheaps cuts and cook with them. You start with meat in the book, then less meat and cheaper cuts, and then meat as seasoning which is basically how the world cooks, and then there’s a chapter on no meat, which might seem odd in a book about meat! It’s all about this thing: I love meat and there are recipes from all over the world, but if there is anything – I hate finger wagging – enjoy meat, but if you eat a bit less and eat better, then that’s the thing. You can’t write a piece or a book or anything unless you really believe in it.
This book may even appeal to my vegetarian wife…
That makes me happier than anything else in the whole world. I couldn’t go vegetarian I will be honest, I would miss bacon too much, but I actually look at what we eat in the week. A lot of time you have spaghetti with a tomato sauce, or you have some sort of Indian veggie curry and you forget you are not eating meat. If you look at all these restaurants opening – Bruno Loubet, the great French chef, he now does Grain Store and I really love that place. There’s top chefs like Alain Passad in Paris doing mainly vegetables. I’d far rather eat good veggie food than rubbish meat, especially pig and chicken. It doesn’t taste of anything, the animals have been brought up in unimaginable squalor and horror, and it ruinous in every way. Again, I can’t bear hippies banging on to me about what I should or shouldn’t do, I don’t think anyone can say actually yes it’s fine to have cheap meat. The British welfare standards are very high compared to the rest of the world. Some of this imported meat, you don’t know what’s been pumped into it, how it’s been raised, it’s cruel, it’s bad – and it tastes bad.
In terms of the recipes, have they come about over time?
Here’s one example [pointing to the Harissa and Za’atar marinated chicken kebab recipe, pictured at the top of the page]. I was walking along and my wife said can we eat healthy tonight. So I am walking along thinking chicken, and I was walking down the Uxbridge Road and thought hang about, all I have to buy is fresh flatbread, all the herbs at the shops down there, I will make a kebab and do it with chicken on a griddle pan, how they cook it, and add a bit of that onion chilli relish. When I started in this industry 14 years ago I was always really impressed by chefs. You can see their mind working, how can I turn this into a restaurant dish? I can’t stop thinking about it now. I am not a chef, but I am getting into that mindset. Abroad I have scraps of paper all over, napkin, side of my hand – I am always picking things up. Probably Heston and a few others have some original recipes, but all recipes are adaptations or versions of something, there are very few unique recipes.
Also a lot of chefs books forget that you don’t have a thermo mix to hand, you don’t have 50 litres of stock to hand… When you are a chef you are not afraid of heat. They forget that us lot don’t have that. My heroes when it comes to home food, I love chefs, are Nigel Slater and Nigella, all those people who talk to us as cooks, not as chefs – although I still collect every chef book that’s been published! They just write nicely, rather than just shoving in a recipe.
How does London fit in with your love of food?
I love Shepherd’s Bush. This whole community of Lebanese, Syrian, Somalian, it’s a wonderful mix. That’s what I love about London and this is why for me London is the greatest city on earth bar none. Most of us were born in London, but we are really open minded. Immigration – it was a city that was built by invaders, and the whole of London’s history has been about immigrants and making it great. That’s the reason why London is so great, all these different communities and everyone gets on. You can walk from Uxbridge where everything is in Indian, to an area that’s very Polish, and for the eater it’s just genius. My next cookbook I am pitching I want to do a London cookbook, and go into Bengali kitchens, or Chinese kitchens, to find out what makes London food. Walking from the Tube to our house, you are walking past mosques, the smell of grilling meat, there is nowhere on earth I’d rather live than London. You can’t help but be inspired.
Who are the meat champions across London?
I love Moens down south. I love the Ginger Pig – expensive but good meat is. Lidgates is Holland Park is an institution, they know what they are doing. I love going into a butcher’s. Butcher’s are the heroes of the meat world. Yes you can get decent stuff at Waitrose, Co-op and Morrisons in their free range stuff, but I don’t think you will ever beat a butcher. He or she knows more about the cuts and how to cook them, they want to share their knowledge. Find you butcher, love your butcher… We have some of the best meat in the world. I think our farmers are magnificent and in London we get the cream of the crop.
Tom Parker Bowles’ Let’s Eat Meat is out now