Q&A Nina Caplan

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Nina Caplan, arts, wine, and travel journalist; Louis Roederer International Food and Wine Writer of the Year

The cookbook that has most influenced your cooking

Moro: The Cookbook. There were plenty of classics in my childhood (Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Ken Hom) but I didn’t cook from them… just read them

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

Roast chicken. Because everybody loves it, except vegetarians, and I would find it hard to date a vegetarian. And it goes with so many different styles of wine…

Your top five dinner guests, dead or alive

  1. Mark Twain. Great writer, great talker, great drinker
  2. Elizabeth of York, who was daughter, niece, sister, wife and mother to English kings, including being married off to the man (Henry VII) responsible for the death of her uncle (Richard III) – who may in turn have been responsible for the death of her brothers (Edward VI, and Richard, the Princes in the Tower)
  3. Patrick Leigh Fermor. Again, great with words, great with wine, and what more do you want from a dinner party guest? Although he probably would have served himself sneaky helpings of Grand Cru Burgundy while offering everyone else Beaujolais. Still, the conversation would have been worth it
  4. My late father, from whom I learned what a good dinner party could be

Fast food –  your top snack tip

I try not to snack, although I do have a weakness for crisps. But tacos are great: warm, filling and can be healthy, if you include all the lettuce/peppers/onions and not too much sour cream or cheese

Most memorable meal in film/literature/painting

Film has to be Babette’s Feast. The generosity of it – inseparable from great cuisine, since a true feeder is someone who loves to give. And the dishes looked amazing, as did the wine

Costanza and her mother eating nectarines and drinking Sauternes with a young Englishman in Sybille Bedford’s A Favourite of the Gods. It’s not really a meal but you can really picture them, and the conversation is excellent

Art: Veronese’s Wedding at Cana. You can’t really see what they’re eating but everyone appears to be having a great time… and at how many parties does the wine get better as the evening progresses? Yet the Bible makes clear that the wine Jesus transformed from water was better than the stuff that the groom provided

Your worst kitchen disaster

Getting so enthusiastic about my new kitchen that I planned a very complicated meal… and plied my guests with wine while I cooked. For hours. By the time it was served my friends were too drunk to eat anything. Cue leftovers – and hangovers

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

I hate drinking without eating these days. But in my twenties I did lots of it and would either pick up chips or make a sandwich

What would you like your final meal to be?

A seafood platter, a really good one, followed by fabulous steak. I would drink excellent Champagne – Bollinger Grande Année, or something from Egly-Ouriet, or Philiponnat Clos des Goisses, or perhaps all three – and then fine red wine: Pomerol, perhaps, or Henschke Hill of Grace, and hell, at some point a bottle of Gevrey Chambertin would have to be in there since I’ve always said my last bottle would be red Burgundy…

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

Picking the right wine for the occasion

What did you eat for breakfast today?

A croissant from our local boulangerie (I’m in Burgundy)

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

Overrated: all forms of wine preserver. There’s never enough left to preserve…

Underrated: Decent-sized ice bucket, to prevent the distressingly prevalent consumption of warm wine. (Yes, you can chill red: room temperature, with central heating, is generally too warm for any room.) With water as well as ice in the bucket, so the whole bottle is chilled rather than just the lower third

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

Roast chicken with lemon and garlic. Ken Hom’s Pork Wok (not sure if that’s what he calls it but that was our name for it as children, a wonderful stir-fried smoosh of pork, omelette, rice and bean sprouts). Minestrone with a parmesan rind in the bottom, to thicken the soup, a recipe inherited from my grandmother


The Wandering Vine: Wine, the Romans and Me by Nina Caplan is published by Bloomsbury, £16.99. Nina Caplan will be reading from her book at Voices at the Table, No 5 on 28 March at The Corner Room, Town Hall Hotel, Patriot Square, Bethnal Green, London E2 9NF. Doors open 6.45pm, dinner served at 7pm

Photography, William Craig Moyes