French master chef Bruno Loubet on why he’s crazy about veg, checking out Korean ingredients, and how it always pays to be prepared in the kitchen.
Born in Bordeaux and trained in the French tradition, Bruno Loubet has made a name of late for championing vegetables, his inventive dishes at Bistrot Bruno Loubet in Clerkenwell and Grain Store at King’s Cross making veg the star rather than simply a garnish. So it’s no surprise that he has recently been announced as one of the judges of a new Vegetable category in this year’s Young British Foodies awards (the YBFs). Flavour catches up with him to pose ten pertinent questions.
1. Where do you eat out?
I’m always being asked about my favourite restaurant — but it all depends on the occasion. If I wanted to go somewhere posh to celebrate, then maybe The Ledbury or Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. But if I wanted to go for a nice meal with friends and family we would choose somewhere like The Dairy in Clapham.
2. What’s your favourite cookbook and why?
Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion is the best book ever. It’s really useful for reference: there’s so much knowledge in there, and it’s well written. I don’t know how long it took her to write – it’s easily a few years of work.
3. What ingredients do you always have to hand?
I can’t pick one thing, I use hundreds of ingredients all the time. You should see my kitchen – it’s so full of ingredients that I can’t actually use everything I have. Actually, I know it’s boring for a Frenchman to say this, but the thing I use most is garlic. I love the flavour, and it works in so many things.
4. What is your favourite food shop?
My favourite is a Korean shop in New Malden, a part of London just past Wimbledon. I go a couple of times a week. The quality of their ingredients is amazing, and they have a lot of things there that you can’t find anywhere else, like brown and yellow millet, and rolled barley, which isn’t common at all. They sell lots of grains and spices, lots of foods that have been fermented, and things preserved in salt that will keep for years. I like to walk around, pick up things and try them to see where they might work and how I might use them.
5. What is your favourite food destination?
At the moment I like Mexican flavours because a couple of months ago I went to Mexico. I was staying in a tourist area and I didn’t feel as if I was “getting” the food. So I took a bus to the end of the route and arrived somewhere dodgy, where there was a little market with a lady selling molé paste. I ate at the market and I tried to communicate with the people there to find out how they cook. I didn’t understand much! But it was good to go and see how local people use all the different flavours.
6. Do you have a particular food obsession at the moment?
My wife thinks I’m crazy because I spend so much time in Korean shops trying different things. I’m interested in Korean cuisine because the way they use vegetables is so exciting. I believe vegetables are very important. Over the years with my job, I’ve come to see more and more that vegetables are undersung, particularly in French cooking, where the meat is the focus and vegetables are the garnish. That’s the word they use: garnish!
7. Are there any chefs you are currently excited about?
There a lot of people doing amazing things around the world. One of those people is Simon Rogan [chef-proprietor at L’Enclume in Cumbria], especially if we’re talking about vegetables. He deserves praise for what he has been trying to do. I like the way he grows his own stuff, then on top of that he is still putting out fantastic food.
8. Is there anything you never cook?
Dog. I love dogs, we have three of them, and my wife would never forgive me if I did. Cooking dog would be like eating someone in your family. Maybe cat, as well, but I’m not as sure about that…
9. Can you give us a cooking tip?
Cooking at home is different to cooking in a restaurant, but it’s still helpful to have everything mise en place – ready to use – as far as you can: pre-cut, pre-blanched and so on. Get things ready the day before so that, on the day, you only have to put it together. Then, when you’re cooking, your mind is free and not mixed up with what you have to do at the last minute. People try to do too much at once, put themselves under pressure, and don’t enjoy it once they sit down to eat. If you’ve prepared ahead as much as you can, you can enjoy cooking and be in control.
10. Do you grow anything yourself?
I like to cook what I grow. I’ve not grown much this year because we’re moving house, but I usually grow salads, tomatoes and courgettes. I love gardening. That was how I kind of became more interested in vegetables and started to look at them it in a different way for Grain Store. It’s what started me doing research – I then realised that vegetables are more important than I’d thought, for our health and for the planet. It was clearly the way to go. And, because of my garden, I discovered that I found it more interesting to cook this way than the way I had been cooking for years. In my new place I’ll be able to grow a lot more than I can in London, where I have just been playing around in a small garden. I’m looking forward to having a nice big vegetable patch.
Find out more about the Young British Foodies awards here. Entries close at the end of June.
Read this article as it originally appeared on Flavour