Q&A Diana Henry

Posted · Add Comment

Diana Henry, award-winning food writer and author of eleven books

The cookbook that has most influenced your cooking

I bought the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook and Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern Food on the same day, when I was about 22 years old. Claudia’s book I found intoxicating because it was food in a cultural context and it was so exotic. I cooked my way through it. But it was Alice Waters’s book that really had an effect on my personal style. The simplicity, the clarity. I’ve regarded it as a lodestar since I first read it. It keeps me on the right path

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

Always roast chicken (and I wouldn’t think in terms of impressing him!) Done well, there’s nothing to beat it. And if he couldn’t understand that then there wouldn’t be much hope for us. I’d serve it with a green salad (one kind of leaf), olive oil roasted potatoes and a jar of Dijon mustard. For pudding some kind of baked fruit or fruit compote (my favourite kind of pudding)

Your top five dinner guests, dead or alive

Irish poet Seamus Heaney

Irish writer Flann O’Brien

American writer Ariel Levy

American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman

American memoirist (and friend) Elissa Altman

I think you could say there’d be good craic

 Fast food –  your top snack tip

Toasted sourdough, crème fraiche, good smoked salmon, dill, salmon caviar. If there’s no bread but there are cooked waxy potatoes in the fridge I might go for those instead of the sourdough

Most memorable meal in film/literature/painting


So many. The dinner in the Danish film, Festen, where an entire extended family implodes because of terrible secrets disclosed. What they’re eating is neither here nor there, but that kind of thing happens at the table

The making of the crazily rich, layered timpano in Big Night – I love the ritual and the care that goes into this. And boy, do I want a piece

The eating of wild strawberries with cream in Elvira Madigan (even though it’s better if you watch this when you’re a teenager. Very sensuous)


It’s not a meal but I’ve always adored the scene where they make sugar on snow – boiled maple syrup poured onto snow where it sets – in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. It’s one of the reasons I wrote my book ‘Roast Figs, Sugar Snow’. I also love the breakfast in Cairo at the beginning of Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz – ful medames, warm flat bread, preserved lemons


Eggs by Cedric Morris. It’s on the cover of Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine. I don’t love Elizabeth David the way other food writers do – I find her tone rather snobbish. I bought the book because of its cover. I’d never seen it before. I have a small framed print of it in my living room

Your worst kitchen disaster

Setting fire to my hair when I was trying to do too many things at once. I rescued the situation quickly, but every guest must have been able to smell what had happened

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

Cheese on toast. Always

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

Getting horses to be calm and to eat from my hand. My grandfather was a ‘horse whisperer’ of sorts (he trained them, among other things). I used to watch

What did you eat for breakfast today?

Summer berry trifle. I had to test a recipe yesterday. Not very healthy. But I had boiled eggs for lunch to make up for it

What would you like your final meal to be?

I would have roast chicken, for the reasons given above. If this meal is in the autumn I would like to have vincisgrassi, an elaborate lasagne made with fresh pasta, wild mushrooms, Parma ham and white truffles to start (the recipe is in How to Eat a Peach). I’d like pears baked in Marsala for pudding

If the meal is in the summer I would like fresh lobster to start and baked apricots with Muscat de Beaumes de Venise ice-cream afterwards

I would drink Guigal’s Condrieu La Doriane (viognier is my favourite grape) and Domaine Weinbach Alsatian Pinot Gris (my second favourite grape variety)

Hungarian Tokaji, 5 Puttonyos, after the dessert, please.

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

You can’t cook properly without lemons. They can do what salt does – heighten and season – but lemon juice also pulls flavours together. Lemon in the great culinary connector

It’s not considered necessary – and most people don’t have one – but I adore my Gaggia ice-cream machine. It’s now 25 years old. I love making ice-creams because you can fuse flavours (suspended in the cream) – they’re a poetic thing to make. I don’t have many bits of equipment that have lasted this long

I would never want anything really fancy, such as a Vitamix, but wouldn’t be without a blender and a food processor

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

My mother’s chicken soup. I am not sure I make it as well as her – I think I am always overenthusiastic with the parsley – but to me it smells of care

I would like to pass on my recipe for Irish stew. I hope my children will always cook it and pass it on to their children. It’s one of my favourite dishes

Diana Henry’s new book, How to Eat a Peach, Menus, Stories and Places is published by Mitchell Beazley, £25

Photo: Chris Terry