Q&A: Felicity Cloake

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Felicity Cloake, food journalist and author

The cookbook that has most influenced your cooking

Nigel Slater’s Real Food came into our house in my mid-teens and frankly blew my mind – I’ve always loved reading cookery books but for someone brought up on Delia and the Dairy Book of Cookery from the milkman, the passion and humour with which he talked about food and cooking was as much of a revelation as his bold flavours.

 The food of love… What would you cook to impress a potential date

Nothing too complicated – I don’t want to be worrying about food when I should be busy being fascinating. I always think getting a bit messy is a good sign on dates, so I might go for the moules marinere ecossaises from the A-Z of Eating, which replaces the more usual white wine with malt whisky, plus a salad and some really good bread. Followed by my lethal rhubarb gin granita. Not that I’d be trying to get them drunk, obviously.

Your top five dinner guests, dead or alive

Jane Grigson: one of our most underrated, and almost ridiculously erudite food writers. That said, I’d be pretty nervous cooking for her

The comedian Adam Buxton, because he makes me laugh (though I reckon he’d be nice enough not to make jokes about whatever inevitably went wrong in the kitchen with Jane in the other room)

The travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor – how could a man who walked from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul as the shadow of the second world war was falling across Europe be anything but absolutely riveting?

Keith Floyd. He’d surely be good fun, and also very helpful at keeping everyone’s glasses topped up

My dog Wilf. His small talk may not be up to much but he’s excellent at hoovering up crumbs and leftovers

Fast food –  your top snack tip

Try putting marmalade and English mustard in your next bacon sandwich. Trust me, it will change your life.

Most memorable meal in  film/literature/painting

The wonderfully awkward meals shared by Charles Ryder and his father in Brideshead Revisited. Dreary food (‘white, tasteless soup, overfried fillets of sole with a pink sauce…’) and an atmosphere you could cut with a fish knife, made all the more hilariously awful by the honeyed atmosphere of buttered crumpets and plover’s eggs that precede them.

Your worst kitchen disaster

Accidentally leaving out the sugar in a mince pie recipe published in a national newspaper – I only realised when someone tweeted me saying how interesting they sounded and how much they were looking forward to trying them. Thank God I was able to set them straight in time.

What do you eat  when you get home from the pub [or similar]

Toast. Always toast, in embarrassing quantities. If there’s no bread in the house, crackers. As long as I can cram lots of salted butter on top, it’s fair game. (Confronting the greasy crumbs in the morning is always a joy.)

What would you like your final meal to be?

A big plate of hot garlicky baby squid, followed by rare onglet steak with deep golden triple-cooked chips and creamed spinach with lots of nutmeg, and then my mum’s raspberry trifle. Not the lightest, more sophisticated or even coherent menu but it would make me very happy.

What is your secret talent [in or out of the kitchen]?

Trust me, you want me on your pub quiz team.

What did you eat for breakfast today?

Trying to use stuff up this month, so the last of some rye flakes I bought for the homemade granola I take out cycling with me in better weather, cooked into a porridge with the whey from making fresh cheese last week, topped with sheep yoghurt, chopped apple and cardamom, which is probably my favourite spice. This definitely isn’t typical though – I quite often just have toast, butter and Marmite. As I said, I love toast.

Most over-rated/ under-rated food/seasoning/gadget

Most overrated – vanilla. Or, at least, overused: it’s become the default to flavour cakes and custards and other sweet spices, like my beloved nutmeg, barely get a look in. The same goes, in a savoury context, for black pepper. Great, but it doesn’t need to go into everything.

Underrated… measuring spoons. Cheap, durable and absolutely vital for accurate spicing and baking.

Your inheritance recipes – the one you inherited [and from whom] and the one you’d like to pass on to your children

My mum makes this wonderful tomatoey, garlicky courgette bake with crispy cheese breadcrumbs which I’ve loved for about 30 years. I’d like to pass something simpler on though; if you can make a decent omelette, you’re never more than two minutes away from a good, satisfying, and thrifty meal.


Felicity Cloake’s The A-Z of Eating is shortlisted for the 2016 André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards visit www.andresimon.co.uk for further details

 The André Simon Food and Drink Book Awards were founded in 1978 to recognise the achievements of food and drink writers. It is the longest running award of its kind. Previous winners have included Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume (the very first winners), Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater and Rick Stein